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Date: Fri, 30 Oct 1998 20:56:01 -0500
Sender: H-Net list for Asian History and Culture <H-ASIA@H-NET.MSU.EDU>
From: "Leibo, Steven A." <leibo@cnsvax.albany.edu>
Subject: H-ASIA: Falun Dafa

Subject: Falun Dafa

Falun Dafa

A dialog on the H-Asia list, October 1998

From: Bill Foreman <byforeman@email.msn.com>
Date: Fri, 30 Oct 1998 20:56:01 -0500

Greetings. I'm wondering if anyone is familiar with Falun Dafa, a "cultivation system" from China that involves meditation and qigong-like exercises. Practitioners say the system incorporates Buddhist and Taoist traditions. Devotees also say the system has attracted millions of followers in China since it was introduced to the public in 1992. It also seems to be growing popular in the United States, or at least in New York City. In the past year, I've watched the group that gathers in Central Park on Sunday grow from about 10 people to nearly 30. Groups practice at about six other locations in the city. The group's pamphlet has contact phone numbers for people in about 25 other states. I'm wondering if anyone can confirm that the system has been practiced in China since ancient times but has only been introduced to the broader public in the past six years or so.

Many thanks in advance for your help.


Bill Foreman
The Associated Press - International Desk
New York
(W) 212-621-1663
(H) 718-850-5058

Date: Sat, 31 Oct 1998 22:37:30 -0600
From: Christiane Reinhold <reinholdc@mail.utexas.edu>

I read with great interest your posting to the H-Asia list serve regarding Falun Dafa. I am a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin and a twenty-year practitioner of tai ji quan and qigong. My dissertation research is focusing on Daoist internal practices, particularly martial arts, as they are practised in China and in the US.

You've probably already seen this, but the Washington Post (July 13 '98, A13) printed an article by Michael Laris on a Chinese physicist's response to the falun qigong movement in China. I've also heard that there's a falun group at UT Austin, but I haven't looked into it yet.

Just to try to contextualize what you're seeing in the park: in the mid-1980s, China experienced a post-Cultural Revolution "qigong fever." Fa lun is only one of many schools of qigong that have attracted anywhere from hundreds to millions of followers with varying degrees of interest. All of these practices are based on Daoist meditative and/or martial practices that do indeed go back at least several hundred years. But, as one might expect, they are not identical with these practices and have undergone changes attached to the many dramatic changes that China itself has gone through. The term "qigong," as far as I know, probably didn't come into common usage to describe these exercises until this century. While Falun Dafa probably does have its roots in Daoist practices, I would guess -- and this is a guess -- that this specific school of qigong is probably very new and that a claim is being made for its ancient roots in order to legitimize it. This sort of claim is part and parcel of most "traditional" practices in many parts of China, especially these days, when the pressures of modernization often send people in search of old ways of knowledge. To draw a parallel with American culture (and not a very good one), qigong fever evokes from long-time qigong practitioners the same sort of response that narrow fundamentalist Christianity evokes in the average American Christian. It strikes a lot of people as extreme, even if it's popular at the same time.

Anyway, I could go on endlessly, so I'll stop for the moment by directing you to Nancy Chen at University of California at Santa Cruz (nchen@cats.ucsc.edu) and Avron Boretz at the University of Texas at Austin (boretz@mail.utexas.edu), who are both knowledgable on this point. Chen has written fairly extensively on qigong specifically. Boretz is great for how so-called "Daoist" popular cultural practices fit into the historical picture.

I should note also that there is a tremendous amount of debate about this stuff, both among martial arts and qigong practitioners in the US and in China. The Chinese medical community has been relying on qigong of various sorts for decades and people like Herbert Benson ("The Relaxation Response") have done some interesting research in this country on the topic. But a lot of these more "legitimate" groups and individuals are looking askance at the qigong fever-type practices, because they tend to promise instant results with little or no practice. Martial artists and medical practitioners, on the other hand, train for years to use qi gong effectively. There's been some speculation that what we're seeing here is the beginnings of a new millinerian movement in China, akin to the Taiping and to the Boxer Uprising. The Boxers, like Olgala "ghost dancers" in this country, practiced rituals that were supposed to make them invulnerable to bullets. These rituals were apparently similar to some of the qigong fever practices. See Joseph Esheick's _The Origins of the Boxer Uprising_ for descriptions of this. Also, take a look at an essay by Thomas Ots in _Embodiment and Experience_, ed. by Thomas Csordas. Ots' essay deals directly with his own experience of one qigong fever form in Beijing in the mid-1980s.

Hope this is helpful.


Adam Frank

Doctoral Program in Folklore and Expressive Culture
Department of Anthropology
University of Texas at Austin
Tel: (512) 374-9296
e-mail: afrank@mail.utexas.edu

PS I'm trying to link up with other people around the country who are working on this stuff. I'd be interesting in getting the e-mail addresses of anyone else who might respond to your query.

PPS If you're collecting information for a story, please don't quote me on any of this without double-checking with me first.

Date: Sat, 31 Oct 1998 22:37:30 -0600
From: Xun Liu <Xun-Liu@worldnet.att.net>

Given the thriving movement of qi-gong during the 1980s and early 1990s in China, it has been really hard to track the emergence of various practice methods and systems. Though I am personally not familiar with the history and the techniques of the specific self-cultivaiton system Bill Foreman asked about, the term "fa lun" is such a frequently used term in Daoist inner alchemy that perhaps what I know about the Daoist practice of fa lun may be relevant to his query.

The term "fa lu" means the wheel of the law. It is of course a Buddhist term translated from the Sanskrit word "Dharmacakra" meaning the ceaseless wheel and the limitless power of the Buddhist Law. The Buddhist term appeared in Daoist texts as early as Tang period as evidenced in the scritpture entitled "Yuan shi dong zhen jue yi jing." It has come to mean the power of the Way and its laws in Daoism.

But in Daoist inner alchemy, the frequently used term is "fa lun zi zhuan" (the cycle of the law turning own its own) which describes an advanced somatic state wherein the rising qi cycles unaided and of its own along a circular track in the body known as xiao zhou tian "the Little Orbit of Heaven." The spontaneous cycling of qi along this track without the assistance of the Mind is believed to refine and ultimately tranform qi into Shen the psychic energies that are numinous, powerful and belonging to the primordial realm (xian tian). The Daoist term for fa lun zi zhuan is the Spontaneously Cycling River Crafts (zi zhai he che).

Though the term fa lun appeared into Daoist texts as early as Tang, the text that has popularized the use of the term fa lun zi zhuan is perhaps the Ming inner alchemy classic "xin ming gui zhi" (A Treasured Guide to Mind and Life). We still lack exact dating and authorship on this text. But it was definitely written prior to 1615 which is the earliest date given by one of the text sponsors. This text devotes a whole chapter on the discussion of the practice of fa lun zi zhuan. (By the way, Dr. Martina Darga of Muenchen University has a book forthcoming through German press based on her dissertation study of the Ming text.)

I hope this is relevant to the query.

Xun Liu
Ph.D candidate
History Department
University of Southern California

Date: Mon, 2 Nov 1998 16:31:05 -0600
From: Fenggang Yang <fyang@UH.EDU>

It's interesting to see that Falun Dafa has begun receiving journalist and scholarly attention. Since the 1980s, there have been many qigong schools (or sects), and Falun Gong is one of the latest groups. However, it is apparently quite different from earlier and other qigong groups. Master Li Hongzhi even claims that Falun Gong is not qigong and much more powerful than qigong; it has won many followers throughout China; and it has been rapidly internationalized. My understanding is that Falun Gong has more Buddhist elements than Daoist elements in its "theory." "Falun" is a term commonly used by Tibetan Buddhists. Actually, it is so "Buddhist" in appearance that the official Chinese Buddhist Association had to officially declare that Falun Gong was a "cult attached to Buddhism" (fu fo wai dao).

An interesting note: Followers in China claimed that their Teacher Li (Li Laoshi) helped the NASA in Houston to diagnose some problems of its spacecraft, and Teacher Li had followers who were employees of the NASA. I haven't done any research to trace the group of followers in Houston (very active group). However, two of their claims seem to be true: The City of Houston conferred Honorary Citizenship to Li Hongzhi and proclaimed October 12, 1996 as Li Hongzhi Day.

Fenggang Yang, Ph.D.
Department of Sociology
University of Houston
Houston, TX 77204-3474

713-743-3943 (FAX)
713-743-3973 (phone)