Falun Gong emerged in China in 1992, a time of a spiritual renewal in a land still under Communist rule, but one recovering from the horrors of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. Drawing on Buddhist traditions, Falun Gong combined meditation and tai chi-style exercises with a moral philosophy centered on the tenets of “zhen,” “shan,” and “ren” (truth, compassion, tolerance.) The word, in both English and Chinese, to describe this contemplative mind and body approach to life is qigong.
Originating in the northeastern city of Changchun, the practice spread across the country. By the end of the decade, an estimated 70–100 million Chinese were following qigong spiritual meditation disciplines or had become devoted practitioners. But in the summer of 1999, after demonstrations on the 10th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests by Falun Gong followers, China’s leaders responded with staggering cruelty. In June, Chinese leader Jiang Zemin set up an office specifically to persecute Falun Gong followers, and put Vice Premier Li Lanqing in charge of the effort. Falun Gong was not a benign new manifestation of ancient Chinese practices, the government decreed. Instead, the regime labeled it a dangerous “cult,” and proclaimed it a threat to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). And threats to the CCP must be eradicated….