China panics at shadows

Falun Gong: Beijing's crackdown is test of censorship in age of Internet, sign of aged rulers' insecurities.

July 30, 1999

MASTER Li Hongzhi teaches how to channel energies. From New York, the leader of the banned meditation and exercise movement, Falun Gong, channels his own energies on the Internet.

In their panic at the success inside China of this outlawed body of traditional teaching culled from China's ancient qigong exercises and meditation, the Communist rulers of China have gone bananas.

Their draconian crackdown puts to the test the supreme question of the Internet age: whether it is possible to ban any idea, teaching or popular culture when computers and access to the Internet are prevalent -- as they must be in an economy as modern as Beijing wants China's to become.

The regime detained thousands of adherents. It kicked Communists practicing Falun Gong out of the party. Knowing full well that Master Li is safe in New York, it ordered his arrest. This is a treatment reserved for crimes against humanity. It is how Washington treats the presumed bombing mastermind Osama bin Laden, and how Tehran regarded the British novelist and accused blasphemer Salman Rushdie.

Worse, the Communist authorities boasted of destroying some 1.5 million pieces of Falun Gong literature. This conjures up images of Hitler's mass book burnings six decades ago.

But the ultimate test was reported by The Sun's Beijing correspondent, Frank Langfitt. The Chinese government has blocked access to the group's Internet address and a million e-mail accounts.

Will that work? Can the Communist Central Committee outwit all the hackers and geeks of the Middle Kingdom? Not likely.

Master Li's teachings are simple yet elusive, floating just beyond reach for the suppressors. Falun Gong is no threat to Communist rule, but indifferent to it. If the Communist tyrants in their fear and insecurity are committed to stamp it out, they are picking a fight they are bound to lose.

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