China fears the wheel

Falun Gong: Beijing cracks down on movement when it cannot solve greater problems.

November 01, 1999

REAL problems confront China. Getting into the World Trade Organization is one. Dealing with millions of unemployed in the cities is another. Staying connected to the growth of national sentiment on Taiwan is still a third.

Nothing undermines confidence in the regime of Ziang Jemin more than its choice of the problem to seize by the throat. That is Falun Gong, the ubiquitous movement of exercise and mediation. It is no real danger to the regime, but a distraction of Beijing's choosing.

The Falun Gong members from all parts of China and Chinese society who gathered on Tiananmen Square to protest the suppression of their movement and risk more beatings and jail have driven the regime to distraction.

It "is no ordinary illegal organization, but in fact a true cult," said People's Daily, the voice of the ruling Communist Party. It accuses founder Li Hongzhi of frightening his followers into believing the world will explode unless they do as he says. It claims that 1,400 people have died from practicing Falun Gong.

That the persecuted founder fled to New York and communicates with followers on the Internet feeds the paranoia. This is something out of control, which matters to a regime convinced it must control everything.

Falun Gong is a spiritual and physical health movement popular with middle-aged and elderly people, especially those not cashing in on the capitalist road that the Communist monolith promoted. Official Beijing fears it as if it were the Blair witch, off camera, spied on the periphery of vision -- murky, menacing and not understood.

For those who seek a rational U.S. relationship with the emerging superpower of China, xenophobic isolationism in Congress presents an obstacle. Something similar in the highest reaches of Beijing authority is another.

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