Dr. Penny's research on Falun Gong
"The Zhongnanhai protest clearly caught the Chinese leadership as much by surprise as it did the foreign press. The date 25 April 1999 was, of course, only about six weeks before the 10th anniversary of the brutal suppression of the students’ occupation of Tiananmen and most eyes, local and foreign, were fixed firmly on that. Some of the later, much more extreme, official reaction to Falun Gong can perhaps be put down to the state of mind of the leadership at that very particular time.
This unusual protest did not, of course, come out of nowhere. The specific and particular spur for it actually took place outside Beijing itself, in nearby Tianjin. On 11 April a small magazine aimed at youngsters called Teenage Science and Technology Outlook published an article by He Zuoxiu called ‘I’m Opposed to Qigong Practise by Teenagers’ which inter alia, was critical of qigong in general and Falun Gong in particular. He, one of China’s most eminent physicists, who is famous for helping design China’s hydrogen bomb in the 1960s, described as nonsense a Falun Gong claim that an engineer, by practising Falun Gong, was able to separate his ‘true’ spirit from his body and enter a steel-smelting furnace. At another point, He writes, ‘I mentioned that a postgraduate in my institute had two relapses of mental disorder each time after he practised Falun Gong’.3 In response, several thousand Falun Gong practitioners protested outside the offices of the magazine. Their protests were met with action by police, and some people were detained. In my introduction I noted the difficulties with different sources of information on Falun Gong. Here is a case in point. Falun Gong sources, including the very sympathetic Danny Schechter, author of the recent book Falun Gong’s Challenge to China : Spiritual Practice or ‘Evil Cult’?, say that it was riot police who were involved and that 45 people were arrested.4 The journalists of Asiaweek magazine say that ‘police’ detained five people.5 The day after the protest, The South China Morning Post quoted ‘a demonstrator’ in the Beijing gathering to the effect that ‘50 people were detained by police; someone was also beaten up’.6 Whatever the case, the response of Falun Gong was to seek redress from the leadership of the country by going to them and, albeit very quietly and politely, making it clear that they would not be treated so shabbily."