How the Falun Gong cult gently manipulates the media

29 Dec

The voice sounded conspirative. “It’s about the group whose members have been arrested on the big square in Peking,” said the man on the other end of the telephone line. He said he was a Sinology student from Frankfurt just back from a trip to China and he would like to have a conversation “about the reporting by German newspapers.”

The young German who introduced himself as Peter Recknagel said he had good reason to be careful. The “group” which he mentioned on the telephone was the Falun Gong movement, which is banned in China. Thousands of Falun Gong adherents had been taken into custody and the state media resound with a propaganda war against the alleged “devil’s cult” (“xiejiao”).

So what does Peter Recknagel have to do with that? It wasn’t long before the small, wiry man got to the point. The German media did report on the persecution of the Falun Gong movement in China, said Recknagel and looked quite concerned, “but they write that we are a cult.”

Journalist in Peking are familiar with the arguments which the young man brought forward. When the Chinese banned the movement in June 1999, adherents from overseas launched a media counter-campaign. Journalists who described them as a “cult” or “sect” received letters, e-mails or telephone calls from disciples of the Falun Gong. The movement, founded by “Master” Li Hongzhi, living in exile, is said to be neither a religion nor a cult or a sect, they say. “We are a harmless meditation movement,” stated Peter Recknagel.

But the Falun Gong is probably not that harmless. The movement, which says it has gained several dozen million adherents worldwide since 1992, has elements of Qi-Gong, Buddhism and Taoism, and it fixates upon its founder Li Hongzhi in a bizarre personality cult. Indeed his meditation exercises basically aim for a “moral improvement” of the practitioners. But racist and discriminatory elements also surface in his teachings. The Master describes half-breeds as “defective persons.” As far as he is concerned, homosexuality is as bad as murder or using narcotics. “Falun Gong can be described as a sect – it is a community with common beliefs, rituals and assemblies,” says Sebastian Heilmann, professor of Sinology at the Trier University. But it is not to be regarded as a “Chinese Scientology.” The adherents are subjected to neither financial nor to emotional pressure.

A string of evidence points to there being a powerful organization which directs the Falun Gong disciples in the background. The center of the movement, which makes considerable income through book rights and videos, is in New York, the place of exile for Li Hongzhis. Apparently it is from New York that the demonstrations of Falun Gong disciples on the Square of Heavenly Peace are coordinated.

There also appears to be some calculation behind the media work by the Falun Gong disciples. The cult is presented solely as a victim in the constant operations and provoked arrests. Background on Master Li, the organizational structure or the psychic results of the teachings of salvation upon the disciples can barely be found in the media. Peter Recknagel, chief of the Frankfurt section of the Falung Gong association, also keeps that to himself. He either cannot or will not report on how the Master in New York manages his worldwide community.

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