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INTRO:  Groups, such as the outlawed Falun Gong, are 
not uncommon in China.  V-O-A's Stephanie Ho reports 
these groups are evidence that people are trying to 
fill a vacuum in a country where the emphasis in the 
last 20 years has been on economic development.
TEXT:  China is floating in a sea of change - as 
people worry about their jobs, health care and the 
education of their children.
Many analysts say President Jiang Zemin has none of 
the charisma of his two predecessors, Mao Zedong or 
Deng Xiaoping, which means today's China lacks a 
driving vision.
This drift has been exacerbated(made worse) by the 
recent emphasis on material improvements, while less 
attention has been paid to spiritual sustenance.  
More than two decades ago, Mr. Deng declared that to 
get rich is glorious.  This phrase became the 
country's new motto, as it hurtled toward rapid 
economic growth and focused on improving living 
One result of this is the rise of groups like the 
outlawed Falun Gong, which blends Buddhism and Taoism 
with meditation and traditional breathing exercises, 
known as Qigong.
Freelance journalist Sima Nan, who has spent more than 
a decade working to debunk what he calls fake 
spiritual groups, says the existence of Falun Gong is 
not an independent phenomenon.  
Mr. Sima says Chinese history is full of charismatic 
masters like the group's founder, Li Hongzhi.  He adds 
that Chairman Mao, who founded China in 1949 and was 
the country's top leader until his death in 1976, was, 
himself, actually quite similar to these masters. 
Mr. Sima says the image of Mao Zedong looking down 
from the Tiananmen rostrum while millions of people 
fervently shout the Chairman's praises reminds him of 
a Qigong exercise.
Mr. Sima says Falun Gong is not even the largest group 
of its kind in China, and that outlawing it will not 
solve the problem.
The need for a spiritual compass is evident in Falun 
Gong followers - who say it has given them a moral 
framework and teaches them to be good people.
Twenty-five year old member Mr. Wang, a bank clerk who 
came to Beijing from northeastern Jilin province, says 
he used to smoke and drink liquor before he starting 
studying Falun Gong.
Mr. Wang says by getting rid of his bad habits and 
becoming healthier, he is able to work hard and make 
more money.  This way, he says, Falun Gong is not only 
beneficial to his body and soul, it also helps him 
improve his material life.  He says given this 
reasoning, he is baffled by the government ban.
The size of Falun Gong may be one reason the 
government is trying so hard to quash (destroy) it.  
The actual membership lies somewhere between Falun 
Gong's claim of 100-million followers and the 
government's estimate of only two-million.  By 
comparison, the ruling Chinese communist party has 
around 60-million members.
Last week, thousands of Falun Gong followers from 
around the country descended on Beijing to protest a 
crackdown on the group that began in July.  The 
Chinese government officially branded it a cult, and 
then, on Saturday, passed legislation outlawing groups 
it considers cults.
The government also announced it has brought criminal 
charges against four Falun Gong leaders, who will be 
the first from the group to go on trial.
In the meantime, Mr. Wang says he does not know what 
he will do next.  But he says many fiercely devoted 
Falun Gong members, who have already come to the 
Chinese capital, want to continue appealing to the 
government to change what they consider to be a wrong 
decision. (signed)
02-Nov-1999 07:18 AM EDT (02-Nov-1999 1218 UTC)
Source: Voice of America

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