Archive | October, 2010

Patsy Rahn: Falun Gong

27 Oct

I understand Barend ter Haar’s desire to defend the right of the FLG, or any group, or anyone, to have freedom of belief, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly. I’m also not sure how much a comparison of the FLG to historical groups, such as the Taiping tianguo or the Boxers, is really helpful at this point.

I’d like to suggest that it is important to try and understand the FLG event from a wider perspective, and I’ll make several suggestions for doing this. The first perspective is human rights, and it has been the main focus of attention in the press and in discussions in general. It is emphasized in part by the current political climate in the US, and by new technologies such as the internet, cell phones, and fax machines which pass on information instantaneously.

Another perspective, and one which has been given little consideration to date, is an understanding of the FLG itself, both its teachings and its structure, particularly its use of the internet and its political role both in China and in the US. Re: Li Hong Zhi’s teachings, whether you wish to agree with them or not, one can be a civil libertarian and still believe that information is important in order to make informed judgements and decisions, and there has been very little information on the teachings of Li Hong Zhi made available outside of the information provided by the FLG.

The western press has been remarkably uncritical of the FLG. Most reports refer to the FLG as a cultivation, or spiritual movement that combines “traditional meditation and slow-motion exercises with ideas drawn from Buddhism and Taoism.” Few reports use the term cult or even sect, and rarely are the more “irrational” teachings of Li Hong Zhi ever mentioned (ie. the moon is hollow and was created by pre-historical humans). About 90% of the press reports on the FLG come from two sources: one is the FLG in New York via the Rachlin Management and Media Group (Gail Rachlin is a FLG practitioner), and the other is the Information Center on Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China, often referred to in the press as “a human rights group in Hong Kong.” The Information Center is in Hong Kong but it is not a group, it is a single person named Lu si qing. The New York Times, when quoting information from the Hong Kong Information Center has begun to add that “this information cannot be independently verified”. And therein lies the word of caution. With the internet and other fast-communicating technologies, and with the 24 hour need for news, and with the quickest news being the freshest news being the news, it is time to take a deep breath. Regards.

Patsy Rahn

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The Falun Gong machine

27 Oct

When I attended the 6th Asian Heritage Street Celebration in San Francisco, I stopped at a booth for Shen Yun Performing Arts staffed with attractive, college age girls. My wife loves dance, and I thought she might be interested. I asked if this dance troop was part of a local college or university. The girl who handed me the brochure said yes. She lied to me.

That evening, when I arrived home, I handed the brochure to my wife, who said, “That is Falun Gong.” I’ve written about The Falun Gong and Costco, about A Visit from the Falun Gong, and the more I learn about this group, the more sinister they become.

Turning to the Internet and using Google, I learned that New Tang Dynasty Television, Shen Yun Performing Arts and The Epoch Times all appear to be part of Falun Gong. I also discovered that Falun Gong must buy lots of Internet AD words so Google searches lead to one of the gears in the Falun Gong machine.  In fact, I had trouble finding anything but Falun Gong propaganda and had to keep altering my search terms to get beyond the Falun Gong firewall.

In time, I discovered a piece published in the Buffalo News saying, “the promoters and creators of “Shen Yun,” who have picked up a reputation for misrepresentation and deception over the years, have adopted the questionable propagandist tactics of the very government they criticize in their productions.”

Digging further, the New York Times reported, “China’s decision to ban Falun Gong was made after 10,000 adherents staged a silent protest outside the gates of Zhongnanhai, the Communist Party’s leadership compound in Beijing, to complain about reports in the state-run media that the group said were defamatory. Security forces apparently had no advance knowledge of the demonstration, which took place on April 25, 1999. The Chinese government began treating the group as a threat to national security.”

About Lloyd Lofthouse

He lives in the belly of a Chinese family, and he earned a BA in journalism after fighting in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine. While working days as an English teacher at a high school in California, he enjoyed a second job as a maitre d’ in a multimillion-dollar nightclub.

He now lives near San Francisco with his wife, with a second home in Shanghai, China.  Lloyd has traveled to China often since his first trip in 1999.  He has also spent a decade researching China, and his first two novels are about China.

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Splendor agenda

27 Oct

For weeks, I’d been running into the brightly costumed promoters out on the streets — by the office, near my home — and seeing the mobile LED billboard tooling around the city to advertise New Tang Dynasty Television’s Chinese New Year Splendor, which played a 15-show run over 11 days at Radio City Music Hall. Now in its fifth year, the show was performed by members of the New York-based Divine Performing Arts company to showcase 5,000 years of Chinese music, dance and culture.

I had seen the show in 2006 and found it fine, if not all that compelling, entertainment; nonetheless, when I was offered the opportunity to check out the show tonight, there seemed little reason to turn down a ticket. The venue was about a third empty tonight, probably due in part to the outrageously steep ticket prices, which soared to Young Frankenstein-esque levels of $280(!) apiece. For the price of admission, audiences could expect the usual assortment of traditional musicians and dancers, lavish costumes and dramatizations of Chinese legends. The various scenes were supported by a full orchestra comprised of both Eastern and Western instruments, played out against a backdrop of the Music Hall’s enormous LCD screen on which scrolled floating buddhas, glowing temples and pastoral landscapes.

Fan dancers, swirling scarves and ribbons, tumbling acrobatic dancers, singers accompanied by a Steinway… all pretty standard. But then, about half a dozen acts in, a startling collision of politics and culture — “The Risen Lotus Flower” depicted the persecution of Falun Gong in China: three women, peacefully meditating, coming under vicious attack by Communists, portrayed as black-clad thugs with red hammer and sickle emblazoned on their jacket backs. (No points for subtlety there.) They beat and kill one of the women, whose spirit rises to its just reward in heaven. What the…?

The change in tone was jarring, and I swiveled around in my seat to check out the reaction of other audience members. Most didn’t seem particularly surprised or disturbed, though I did note a few people walk out. The following act to this bizarre display: an erhu soloist.

After intermission, nestled among the Korean-style and Mongolian dance sets, another segment with anti-Chinese government undercurrents: “The Power of Awareness.” The Communists were back, this time attacking a mother and daughter holding up banners with the Falun Gong message of “Faithfulness, Compassion and Forebearance.”

I would have captured some of these images, but the organizers seemed particularly strict on banning photography of the show: a billboard on stage declared “PHOTOGRAPHY STRICTLY PROHIBITED” — a message reinforced in English and Mandarin announcements before each half, and by several men walking the aisles bearing “NO CAMERAS” signs. Check out videos and photos on the show site, though none feature the segments I just described.

So was I the only one caught completely unaware of the show’s agenda? A couple days later, an article appeared in The New York Times, drawing attention to Chinese New Year Splendor co-sponsors’ alignment with the Falun Gong movement — a relationship not at all clear in any of the show’s extensive advertising. Gothamist covered the controversy as well, sparking a rather heated debate in the comments section.

Chinese authorities have labeled Falun Gong a cult, outlawing its practice and even issuing a statement against NTDTV’s “so-called Gala.”

And all I was expecting to see tonight were pretty dances.

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