Archive | March, 2011

To tell you a real China

8 Mar

Reader Bryan Sink comments on our recent Falun Gong item. He opines on the real motives of their leader, Li, and on the conflict with the Chinese government:

There’s a lesson to be learned here, about how to educate people and effect change in the midst of a system that’s far from perfect: As far as Li Hongzhi is concerned, this has never been about spiritual health and betterment. This has been about him having a platform to stand toe-to-toe against Beijing in a hostile staredown. Don’t be fooled. Behind Li’s peaceful guise of mass prayer and public meditation is one singular goal: get in Beijing’s face and force a confrontation. And Beijing has, quite understandably, responded the one way they know how.

We have no business pitying the Falun Gong.

There are a hundred other “spiritual” groups in China who are in essence hardly any different from the Falun Gong. But they get no press, and suffer no persecution, because they cause no such trouble. I’ve been in China myself only long enough to know that there’s a right way to effect change, and a wrong way. The right way is to work with the system and let the system clean itself out over time. People in positions of power see wrongs and in good conscience move to correct them, and to educate their successors for the better. The wrong way is to barge in declaring war, trying to humiliate the powers that be.

Make no mistake: China is liberalizing; this is a fact. This has been happening and will continue to happen slowly and painfully, but it will happen peacefully, without riot or revolution. That fact was settled once and for all in 1989. China successfully entered the space race last week, and it did not happen as a result of any kind of violent overturning of the system. It happened because people long ago determined that they would willingly work with the system and allow change and progress to take place slowly but surely, a lesson we would all do well to learn.


Bryan, during my visits to China I’ve seen that process of liberalization in action. When I first went to that country in 1988, it would have been unthinkable that I could have been sought out by anyone in authority, but less than ten years later, during a visit to China, I received a personal invitation from a substantial gentleman who wanted my input, and I shared that with him. I saw signs of capitalism everywhere — not that I admire everything that results from that system! — and the generally more free atmosphere was very evident everywhere. Yes, China is evolving politically, as the Soviet did, and though The Great Wall won’t come down as a result, that invisible wall between theory and reality will be blown away as the people of that land begin to be released from what I believe is a seriously — fatally — flawed system.

The Falun Gong would do well to sail with this wind, not against it. And abandon any attempts to use tricks to sell their philosophy. But maybe that’s asking too much.

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James Randi’s advice on Falun Gong cult

8 Mar

I regularly receive strong criticism for my perceived failure to criticize the suppression by the Chinese government of the Falun Gong movement so active in that country. Let me outline here my stance on the matter.
I recently watched a very well-produced PBS-TV program on the Shaolin monks, “Shaolin: The Wheel of Life,” a spectacular demonstration of standard “martial arts” tricks — and they are tricks — some of which date back to medieval times. The Shaolin movement is very old, teaching the usual claptrap notions that most of the martial arts groups espouse. They say they can teach students “to develop supernatural abilities, far beyond abilities of an ordinary man.” A student can learn to “pierce a wooden board with his finger as it were a straw mat and crush stones into sand with blows of his elbows.” They claim that one master of Shaolin
. . . crushed huge stones with his elbow like with a diamond pestle and broke thick wooden beams with an arm blow . . . blows of a big iron hammer did not hurt him at all. [He] beat off arrows shot at him, was able of dodging spears pointed at him from a few sides . . . he could crush a stone with a “trampling” blow and kill a man with the “Iron Fist”. . . [he] ran up a sheer wall of three meters high . . .
They sell a medallion — the Wheel of Life Pendant — that is supposed to have healing and protective powers. Says one of their “experts” who uses “Applied Kinesiology” to test the pendant:
I have discovered that when one finds the Wheel (five varieties) suitable to one’s energy field, it is capable of reducing the intensity of allergic reactions if it is worn close to the body. The Wheel of Life pendant also helps to improve one’s physical energy and mental clarity by bringing the energy meridians into a Yin-Yang state of balance.
Not to be outdone, a TV minister, Terry Cole-Whitaker, endorsed the pendant with: “My aura jumped out 60 ft. This is fabulous.” And as final validation, actor Steven Segal declared, “My chakras began spinning and then went into balance after putting on my Wheel.” Nothing like spinning, unbalanced charkas to get your attention…
The show on PBS was beautifully choreographed, the music was exciting, the performances brilliant. But these stunts are not supernatural or mystical in nature, at all, any more than ballet maneuvers are. At no point was that made clear, though the impression certainly was allowed to get across that this was no mere dance recital, but rather a show of superhuman powers.

These stunts have been used as selling points for many religious movements down through history, particularly in the Far East. The Chinese “Falun Gong” movement originated with Li Hongzhi, who in 1992 introduced the practice and started the religion, also known as Falun Dafa. Li’s claims are very much like those of the Shaolin priestsbody”, though not as old.
Li preaches that the “qi,” “ki,” or “chi” — the “energy substance in the human body” — can, through practice of Falun Gong, be activated, changing the physical state of the body, achieving healing and health. Through such training, he says, one can emit a “high-energy cluster that is manifested in the form of light with fine particles and high density.” This he calls, “Gong.” “Fa” he defines as “Law” in the sense of a “primary cosmic law that pervades all things in the universe.” “Dafa” is “Great Law.” “Falun” means “Law Wheel.” The purpose of Falun Gong, he says, is to cultivate a person’s “Gong.” This is done through physical exercise and the development of a person’s “mind-nature,” or “Xinxing.” Li teaches that a “super-eye” obtained via Falun Gong can give his followers X-ray vision, that “goodness” cures disease, and that deep breathing exercises can solve the world’s problems. This is how they describe the “Dharma Wheel” that they claim each adherent can actually grow in their abdomen:
Falun Gong is characterized by the cultivation of a Falun [Dharma wheel], located at the lower abdomen. As an intelligent entity of high energy substance, the Falun automatically absorbs energy from the universe and relieves the body of bad elements.
In short, folks, this is another mystical cult basing its philosophy on mythology and pseudoscience, a spiritual movement loosely based on Buddhism, Taoism, yoga-style exercises, and blatant fantasies.
Leader “Master” Li Hongzhi is a former grain clerk from China’s northeastern Jilin province, now in exile in New York, from which position he solicits financial support and directs the movement. Now, there is no question about the challenge that the rise of Falun Gong offers to the absolute authority of the Chinese Communist Party, and Beijing keeps cracking down on public demonstrations by followers. I have serious problems with any suppression of religious or philosophical beliefs, and I certainly would speak out on any such situation here in the United States. I believe, and have always believed, that education and access to information can serve to fight absurd ideas, and we pursue that as a principle at the JREF, as well. The unfortunate fact here is that the uninformed usually want to remain in that state, and you know what they say about leading a horse to water…
China is not a democracy. We have no right to expect that that country should follow democratic principles, though we can hope that they might go in that direction, and can make suggestions to that effect. Falun Gong is just such an untenable philosophy that it should collapse automatically when the followers become more informed. But be assured: I am not at all deceived by the emphasis that the Chinese government has placed on the self-immolation, bloody suicides, disembowelment antics and other horrific actions carried out by certain Falun Gong followers, as if to damn the entire movement by the actions of a few obviously disturbed fanatics. These are exceptions, to be found in all disciplines, even in science.
Let us not forget, however, that we in the USA have been depending on prayers, pleading, and self-abasement to a deity to bring us magical advantages, and have been encouraged to attribute our prosperity and general success among nations, to that sort of action. In my opinion, hard work and dedication to logic and reason ought to be recognized as the reasons for our achievements, not appeals to a mythical friend-in-the-sky. We got where we are in spite of, not because of, those incantations.
I would like to see cults and unreason go the way of the dinosaurs; one of those dinosaurs is Falun Gong. Education is the only morally acceptable weapon we can apply to this project, and in China we have Sima Nan, a valued friend and colleague, going out into the countryside to teach the population how the side-show tricks of the “masters” are done. This activity is not without danger to Sima Nan, who has suffered physical assaults by local groups who support and preach the mythology of Falun Gong. He’s one of my heroes, a man who gets out into the countryside to educate and inform citizens about matters of critical importance.

The PBS show that I saw consisted of cleverly-choreographed demonstrations of the kind of tricks that Sima Nan regularly reveals in his performances. Now, I’m all for entertainment, but when it is used to sell a false philosophy, it becomes propaganda. Breaking cinder-blocks on someone’s head and balancing on the point of a spear seem to prove supernatural powers, but these are standard deceptions that literally can be traced back into the early histories of most cultures. Clearly, presentation of Shaolin miracles also serves as propaganda for the Falun Gong cult, which builds its following via such demonstrations. If that’s the best they have to offer, it’s not good enough.

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I am afraid to touch Falun Gong

8 Mar

The Falun Gong are making their presence felt in New York. I was having a moment of private vanity in public, staring at myself in the subway window, when I saw their reflection coming on the train, a man and a woman in their yellow shirts, one holding a giant picture of a tortured woman incidentally in the face of the other as they chatted quietly together. I assumed their day of consciousness raising was over. They probably had sat silently along 42nd street or at Grand Army Plaza, meditating, adopting one of their postures, bearing witness to the atrocities of the Chinese or passing out their pamphlets to passersby. I am always afraid to touch them, as if their manic need for contemplative peace will be contagious, and instead of rushing to work I will suddenly find myself in a yellow shirt adopting some squatting Tai Chi pose in Herald Square.

Sometimes alongside of the Falun Gong protesters there will be by chance someone passing out fliers for a gym or for a nearby pilates center. For some reason all gyms and yoga studios employ this advertising method. I see then that the Falun Gong are on the brink of success, they just sell their meditative practices as some kind of disciplinary exercise, a dieting technique, and they might break through. They seem too much like a cult now, and they are too associated with dissent to ever truly be popular in America.

I suspect that Americans will never be too concerned about atrocitiies committed by the Chinese, since these verify Americans’ beliefs in the inherent superiority of their own country, their own way of life. The Chinese are godless communists. If it bothers these gong people so much, why don’t they come to America? As long as they don’t move into my town . . .

Even though they spook me, I enjoy seeing them, I enjoy the feeling of being spooked in the midst of my preoccupations. Their cult-like presence casts those around them into a smiliar light, and suddenly the fixated consumers rushing in and out of stores seem as though there(they’re?) in a cult, as do all the people with cell phones attached to their ears and all the people sipping identical cups of iced coffee drinks and all the people dressed idetically in those mesh nylon slippers and wearing jeans rolled up in five inch cuffs. Suddenly I’m spooked because I know I’m unaffiliated, or at least I am succeeding in blocking out the identity of the cult I belong to, I realize suddenly I have no mental picture of myself as I appear on the street, and what a blessed, meditative thing that is.

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Falun Gong and 12 Galaxies

1 Mar

This is a photo of Falun Gong members protesting outside the office of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco.

Members of the Falun Gong in San Francisco are just not rational. They live in Disneyland, not in the real world.

On February 16, 2005 Falun Gong activists staged a protest in front of the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce, demanding admission into the San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade. They had been repeatedly denied last year and in past years because they are a political organization. Their application for this year’s parade has also been denied … repeatedly.

The Falun Gong just don’t get the picture. The San Francisco Chinese New Year Parade is a time to celebrate the lunar new year. It is not intended to be a platform for overt political protest.

Preaching to a tiny group outside the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce office, Mr. Huy Lu of the Falun Gong said that this incident “is another example of the Chinese Communist regime’s extension of its persecution against Falun Gong through its Consulates to other countries.” If Mr. Lu thinks the City of San Francisco and the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce are controlled by the Consulate of the People’s Republic of China, well, I suppose Mr. Lu is a few bricks short of a full load. Maybe he is on the same wave-length as the fellow who walks about the City carrying a sign proclaiming that 12 galaxies want to change the world. They are both nuts.

Lu and Falun Gong have managed to get Supervisor Chris Daly on their side. Chris Daly is the loose-cannon clown of the Board of Supervisors who represents the (obviously not politically astute) citizens of the Tenderloin. Now Daly is banging the Falun Gong gong as well.

Full-page ads in Monday’s Sing Tao Daily, Ming Pao and International Daily News said the Falun Gong have disrupted the Chinese American community by politicizing the parade. The newspaper ads are right. Falun Gong are trying to use political force to change the nature of the Chinese New Year Parade from a celebration to a political protest. I have been attending and sometimes participating in San Francisco’s Chinese New Year Parade for almost 50 years. I know what the parade is about and, frankly, Falun Gong does not belong in or anywhere near our parade.

I suggest the 12 galaxies fellow and Mr. Lu lead their followers to a galaxy far, far away … and I hope they don’t forget to take Chris Daly with them.

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Shen Yun: propaganda disguised as entertainment

1 Mar

Last night, my husband and I attended a performance at the Long Center of Shen Yun, which was broadly advertised in local media as a Chinese spectacular of dance, orchestral music and song with 5,000 years of history behind it. It was nothing of the sort.
Shen Yun is religious and political propaganda disguised as family entertainment, and the City of Austin, Austin American-Statesman, KVUE-TV, Long Center and many others seemingly lent their blessings to this production via ads, financial support and proclamations. 

Vignettes featured acrobatics, singing and dancing which conveyed heavy handed messages glorifying Falun Gong, a group banned as an “evil cult” by the Communist Chinese government in 1999. Falun Gong (alternatively Falun Dafa) is a system of beliefs and practices founded in China by Li Hongzhi in 1992. Most of Shen Yun’s troupes are members of Falun Gong, and their leader now lives on the East Coast of the United States. Shen Yun is based in New York City. 
 Not Your Grandfather’s Buddhism
All this might have been well and good had the group’s beliefs simply served as a backdrop to a neutral presentation of traditional Chinese dance, legends and religion. Instead, the Chinese government’s suppression of Falun Gong was the focal point of the production. 
 The songs boasted of laws and principles by which believers of The Way would live in China if only the Red Menace would stop persecuting them. 
The dance scenes were often parables, such as a vignette set in a modern Chinese park, where a good woman and her daughter were beaten for their beliefs by evil Communist Party thugs. In another vignette, a young man displayed a sign that says “Falun Gong is good,” but he was persecuted by more Commies, only to be rescued by blue-haired monkish aliens who freed him from his mortal bounds and enabled him to portray his sign freely once again. 
Although Amnesty International evidence indicates that followers of Falun Gong have suffered brutal persecution in mainland China since 1999, my husband and I are loath to be entertained by a group whose leader believes that aliens live among us, that he can see through walls, and that mixed-raced marriages and homosexuality are degenerate. 
These beliefs seem a long way from the “truthfulness, compassion and forbearance” presented as the group’s messages on stage.
The Smiling Divine Presenters
Introduced by two inanely smiling bilingual presenters who seemed a bit brainwashed, the singers and dancers performed against a giant video screen in the background, across which gloriously hued scenes of nature, mountains, forests and streams were interrupted by flying spirits who zoomed in and out of view. The beautifully costumed performers moved with precision and grace, and the operatic-style singers in Western formal attired delivered lyrics with glorious vocal power. However, the overall effect of each performance was tainted by messages that left my husband and I feeling “had.” 
While some in the audience applauded politely, others like us were at first puzzled and later aghast. We stayed to the end just to see how this charade turned out, but quite a few in the audience walked out at intermission or well before the end. I still don’t know what the final climatic scene was about, but it featured all sorts of costumed characters who wound up waving at the mildly applauding audience. 
Suckered Out of $180 and more

In addition to our personal disappointment, we were chagrined that such propaganda is being smuggled very hush-hushly onto U.S. stages in the name of cultural family entertainment, with tickets in the orchestra running at $90-$120 a pop. 
The City of Austin was suckered into “blessing” this production via an official City proclamation that was boldly printed in the evening’s program, along with double truck ads by the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE-TV, among others. 
I am disappointed that the City and Long Center allowed this sham to appear on an Austin stage without so much as a cursory investigation into the program’s content. A quick search on the Web would have revealed that Shen Yun is all about the promotion of Falun Gong beliefs. 
Admittedly, my husband and I were just as ignorant. We simply looked at the ads and went. Shame on all of us for not doing our homework.

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Scientific history: the invention of gravity

1 Mar

Hello Children. This is Hermit, the Taoist Dragonfly, with your daily dose of scientific history. And our topic today is: GRAVITY. (Hermit clicks on a notebook, and a picture of planet earth appears on the tv screen.)

As you can see, the planet we live on is round. Now, dear children, how can this be? Haven’t we – no, you, hehe – all tried to stand on a soccerball some time, and found out that it is nearly impossible? Now, children, the answer is this: until eight thousand years ago (more or less), our ancestors were all staying on plants. These were buried deep into planet earth, as you can still see today, and our ancestors had to hold fast to them with at least one hand. With their other hand they could catch flies, bugs, and pick some leaves from their habitats.  Or, like me, they were sucking grass ‘n leaves when they didn’t fly. Of course, that wasn’t scientific. It was very inefficient and unhealthy, and most of our ancestors didn’t last for more than one summer. Besides, countless ancestors lost contact with their plants and accidentally went into outer space.

Fortunately, the Chinese invented science. Eight thousand years ago (more or less), Taoist monks invented gravity. They also invented some things before, like doing things – while holding on to trees with one hand – that could make babies like you (but also make a lot of fun while avoiding making babies), but we will come to that later. Much later. When it has become a suitable topic for little buggers like you. Anyway, Chinese Taoist monks invented gravity.

Now we can all choose if we want to cling to trees and flowers, or if we want to walk mother earth, thanks to the Chinese. From the kindness of their hearts, they have never switched gravity off – not even when some hooligans pissed on their sacred olympic flame. But make sure that you never overstep the unknown limit of their patience (or if you do, make sure that you have one of your hands firmly on a tree).

Planes are an example of how to switch gravity off locally. The Chinese also invented planes. They allow people like you to fly.

Unfortunately, any science can sometimes be abused by evil cults. Falun Gong is such an evil cult. It is OK for dragonflies to fly, but Falun Gong even makes old commie grandmothers fly! Sometimes, these grannies lose orientation and fly into tunnel supports. Thanks to Chinese science, they often survive this abuse. When they survive, they get hospitalised, old cadres come to pay a visit to their sickbeds, cry with them and make them repent. Be very careful when people who claim that they are “scientific” tell you to fly! Don’t fly unless you are a dragonfly! And don’t try to stand on a soccerball because a stranger tells you to! It could be a bad uncle from the evil cult! Only try to stand on a soccerball if you feel like it!

OK, dear children. That much for today. Got to fly now.

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