Li Hongzhi (Li is the family name) introduced the Falun Gong (literally: Buddha law wheel exercise) to the Chinese public in May, 1992. Two years later Li started formally indoctrinating his followers with his religious teachings called Falun Dafa (literally: Buddha law wheel great law). Li immigrated to the U.S. in 1996 and on October 12 that same year his first lecture on American soil was given in Houston, Texas. Because of the ban in China, the Falun Gong and Li have received a tremendous amount of media coverage and honorary proclamations in the U.S. Li was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 by forty-two U.S. congressmen for promoting the "highest humanitarian values."1 However, the Falun Gong has also drawn the attention of prominent American cult experts.
Who is Li Hongzhi? What is the Falun Gong and why was it banned in China in 1999? Although the group and Li have received a great amount of media coverage, very little is known to the American public to this day as our media focuses solely on the group being victimized by an authoritative regime. This site inquires into the origin of Li, the Falun Gong's belief system and the rationale for the ban with information not yet reported by the American media.
The Divinity of Li Hongzhi
On the morning of April 25, 1999, ten thousand plus Falun Gong practitioners surrounded Zhongnanhai, where top Chinese leaders both live and work. Such a protest had not been seen since the student movement in 1989 and immediately made the Falun Gong and its leader, Master Li Hongzhi, an instant hit around the world. Just three months later, on July 22, 1999 the Falun Gong was officially banned by the government, again bringing the Falun Gong and its leader to the attention of the world.
Shortly after the April protest, Time Magazine interviewed Li in a Manhattan apartment. Master Li was accompanied by his translator and close associate Erping Zhang. They talked about physical and spiritual improvement and discussed the circulation of an internal energy that Chinese call Qi. But the topic Master Li seemed to be most knowledgeable about was…aliens. Reporter Biema described the scene:
Suddenly… conversation veered to a topic Li has thus far broached to none but his inner circle: aliens on earth… "One type of alien looks like a human but has a nose made of a bone," Li confided. "Everyone thinks that scientists invent on their own," said Li, "when in fact their inspiration is manipulated by the aliens….The aliens intend to replace all humans with clones," Li added.2
Master Li knew much more about aliens than any ordinary human being could possibly know. Amazed, the reporter asked him an unusual question: "Are you a human being?" Li replied, "You can think of me as a human being." Not getting a straight answer, the reporter asked the question from a different angle. "Are you from earth?" Perhaps annoyed by the reporter's drilling on the subject, Master Li gave an arrogant and defiant answer: "I don't wish to talk about myself at a higher level. People wouldn't understand it."3
No one seems to know who and what Master Li is, including his followers, noted Nina Willdorf from Boston Phoenix. "Talk to several local practitioners, and certain patterns emerge. No one knows much about Master Li's past or present, and followers are reluctant to discuss even what little they do know about him."4
If you log on to the group's official website, Clearwisdom.net, you will find a picture of Li on the homepage. He is sitting in a meditative position on a hillside, with a caption reading: "Master Li quietly watching the world from amidst the mountains." The homepage contains no information about the Master, but in the FAQ, under the question, "Who is Master Li Hongzhi?" a saintly sketch is provided:
Mr. Li Hongzhi (family name is Li) introduced the practice of Falun Gong to the general public in China in 1992. He then taught the practice publicly for two years in China, after which the practice continued to grow primarily by word-of-mouth. In keeping with Chinese tradition, Mr. Li is often respectfully referred to as "Master" or "Teacher." He is not accorded special treatment, nor does he accept money or donations from students of Falun Gong. He has ensured that the practice be available to all people, and without any terms or conditions. For his contributions to humanity he has been given over 400 honors and awards, and is a two-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee.
Master Li didn't used to be so secretive about himself. Appearing as an appendix in Li's famous Zhuan Falun, an article called "A short biography of Mr Li Hongzhi, Chairman of Falun Gong Research Society"5 recounted the Master's story from his birth up to the time he became a popular Master. The following are the highlights of this official biography:
Master Li was born on May 13, 1951. At the age of four he began his decades-long training that prepared him to be the greatest Master of all time. His first teacher was a Buddhist master named Quan Jue (literally, complete enlightenment). Quan Jue's training consisted mainly in cultivating his pre-school pupil's innate supernatural powers and instilling great moral principles within him.
At the age of eight, the young adept attained many supernatural powers. He could levitate off the ground and become invisible simply by thinking "Nobody can see me!" The other two supernatural abilities the young Master acquired were controlling others' movements by thoughts and teleportation—he could move himself anywhere he wanted by thought alone.
In the following decades he continued to receive trainings from various Masters in spirituality as well as Kung Fu and sword-fighting. The article makes one point clear: all the trainings took place at night in secret locations where no one could witness them. Through these secret trainings Master Li obtained great abilities. The supernatural powers he possessed were "unimaginable for ordinary human beings." But these powers were not as important as his wisdom: "He discovered the truth of the universe…he saw the origin of humankind and foresaw the development and future of the humankind."
The early 80s was a time of soul-searching for the Master. He asked himself, "Why was I so rigorously trained by many Masters? Why am I here in this world?" Like Jesus in Kazantsakis's Last Temptation of Christ, Master Li could not ignore the knowledge that he had a divine mission—a mission to build a virtuous society and liberate a people whose "hearts and souls are now corroded and bodies tormented." Master Li resolved to devote his life to this mission. It took five years, from 1984 to 1989 for the Master to develop the Falun Gong system which he proudly claims has "assembled all the mystical powers which are the essence of the whole cosmos."
Written before the end of 1994 when Zhaun Falun was published, this official biography recalled the many miraculous services Master Li did for his students. First, he used his supernatural power to purify the bodies of his students and rid them of the root cause of their sicknesses. Then he installed a Falun—a turning law wheel—in each student's abdomen; forever rotating, it cures illnesses. The installation did not require an operation nor did it cause the practitioners any pain, for the Falun is not a physical object; it can not be seen or touched. It is formed by the supernatural energy of the Master, which is the reason why it has the power to heal. That is not all, Master Li also offers all Falun Gong practitioners the protection of his Fashen (spiritual body). It has the power of cleansing practitioners' homes and practice sites and sets up a "protective shield" to guard practitioners from evil spirits.
Despite the biography's recounting of intensive, decades-long physical and moral training that only legendary saints and heroes undergo, it doesn't provide the basic background information of Master Li's life. This is not really biography; rather, it is hagiography. We learn nothing about Li's "day job" as a boy, a teenager, or his family, schooling, or occupation. The hagiography of a medieval saint recounted the miracles he performed as a child, so it is not surprising that Master Li's hagiography copies this tried and true formula. But the medieval saint's family was always a big part of his hagiography. Master Li apparently grew up in a vacuum.
If you wished to get hold of this official biography of Li you would have great difficulty in doing so. In 2000, all copies of Zhuan Falun printed before 1999 were replaced by a newer version which omitted the biography. The replacement was thorough. It is said that not only were bookstore copies replaced, but practitioners also replaced their old versions with the new ones as well.
Perhaps Li felt that the biography had not gone far enough in revealing his true cosmic significance, because in the biography, although Master Li was portrayed as a saint, there were still people who outranked him spiritually—the masters who taught him. By 1996, Li was hinting that he was not just an ordinary human being, but rather a reincarnated deity who has lived many previous lives. "The things imparted to me by my several masters in this life are exactly what I intentionally arranged a few lifetimes ago for them to obtain. When the predestined occasion arrived, it had already been arranged that they [would] impart those things back to me so that I could recall my fa (Law) in its entirety."6
Since 1996, Master Li's statements about his identity have become ever more grandiose. In March, 2002, Li announced that "no being knows who I am. Yet without me, the cosmos wouldn't exist."7
But on February 15, 2003 at a Falun Gong conference near Los Angeles, Master Li was able to engineer an even more dramatic version of his glorious story. On the backdrop of the stage hung a huge portrait of Master Li dressed in a Buddhist saffron robe and sitting in the lotus position. On the left side of this portrait hung a banner with three Chinese characters: Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance; to the right hung the emblem of the Falun Gong, a swastika-like symbol. Onstage, Master Li, in a business suit, sat at a table directly below his portrait. He is about six feet tall, with slanted eyebrows. At this conference, speaking in Mandarin with a northeastern accent, he gave a stunning account of himself and his power.
He started by telling his followers that his situation isn't something that ordinary human beings can imagine. Then he described his origins: "I came from the inside, and came from the outside; I came from nothing, formed into something, appeared at the pinnacle of the colossal firmament, and then from there I descended step by step to the most [lowest] surface, the Three Realms [our world, where humans live]. No being knows who I am."8
Looking down at those 1500-plus practitioners, mostly middle-aged Chinese Americans with some non-Chinese practitioners wearing translation headphones, all intoxicated by his speech, Master Li went on to reveal what he has done for the human race. "In fact, today's human race would have been destroyed a long time ago if it weren't for the fa-rectification. The standard of the human race's thinking is already at a level lower than hell. It's because of the Fa-rectification that I atoned for the sins of all sentient beings in the Three Realms."9 Fa-rectification is a term used by Master Li to refer to a period in the near future when his great law will come to judge everyone on Earth. It is the Falun Gong Judgment Day.
With the enraptured practitioners warmly applauding his revelation, Li went on to explain what he has done for the followers: "As far as our students are concerned, it was as if I scooped you out of hell back then." With these words, Master Li received another round of applause, and said: "I have truly borne for you the sins you committed over hundreds and thousands of years…I will also save you and turn you into Gods…since you'll become Gods at levels that high, I have to give you the honors of Gods at levels that high and all the blessings that you need."10 The conference room was filled with enthusiastic applause, with the future gods rapturously applauding, and the creator of gods taking it all in.
Wow! If Master Li could atone for the sins of all sentient beings and turn his followers into gods, then how high of a God must he be? Though Master Li's breath-stopping declaration was shocking, the enthusiastic applause of his followers was even more troubling. Apparently they wholeheartedly believed in their Master's stunning claims. And with that belief, they would have no choice but to consider Li the god of all gods.
While Master Li creates hagiography and sticks to his incredible claims, the everyday reality of his past has been revealed by those who knew him. On the heels of the Falun Gong ban, testimonials from Master Li's former classmates, co-workers, and neighbors were published as part of a government media campaign to discredit Li. Not surprisingly, given the government's anti-Falun Gong attitude, their comments were uniformly negative. However, since Master Li has refused to provide any solid, verifiable information, we must consider what his neighbors and co-workers said to the Chinese media. They provide the only clues to the Master's life before 1992 that make him a real human being rather than a comic book super hero.
The following account is carefully pieced together from information published in Chinese newspapers:
Master Li was born in Gongjulin, a small agricultural city in China's northeastern Jilin province bordering North Korea, on July 7, 1952. Master Li's family was quite ordinary. His father was an acupuncturist, his mother was a nurse; they later divorced. Li has one or two younger sisters. His wife, Li Rui, was a ticketing clerk at a public swimming pool at the time of their marriage. When Li started teaching Falun Gong, Rui was a worker at the Ding Feng Zhen Food Factory in Changchun City. Their daughter was born in 1982.
When Li was still a baby, his family moved to Changchun City, the capital of the province; in July, 1960, the eight years old boy attended the Zhujiang Street Elementary School of Changchun, and afterwards the Fourth Middle School. Former classmates and teachers recalled Li as an introverted person, on the quiet side. Zhanpu Xu grew up with Li and was in the same class from elementary school to middle school. He couldn't recall that Li was practicing any form of Buddhism, Taoism, or martial arts, nor did Li show any signs of possessing supernatural powers. However, Li did have a talent, a rather charming one—he played the trumpet.
In July, 1970, the eighteen-year-old Master enlisted in the People's Liberation Army. From 1972 to 1978, Li was first assigned to the band of Army Division 201, then played in a band belonging to the Jilin Provincial Forest Police Department. Discharged from the army, Li worked from 1978 to 1982 for the hostel of the Forest Police Department as an attendant, whose duties included sweeping floors, making beds, etc. In addition to being considered an introvert, he was also perceived as an eccentric, with a bit of a bad temper to boot by his co-workers here. After 1982, Li worked at the Changchun Grain and Oil Supply Company as a clerk in the company's security department. This was the last job Li held before becoming a Master or the god of gods.
It was in the late 1980s when Li's co-workers noticed Li began to show great interest in Qigong exercise which had already become very popular. Li's co-workers from the Grain and Oil Supply Company also remembered a period when Li would spend whole days in the BanRuo Buddhist Temple near the People's Square.
The least complimentary comments about Li came from his neighbors at 103 Jiefang Street in Chuangchan City, where he lived for many years till he became famous. Neighbors remembered him as a distrusting person with a bad temper. They recalled three cases where Li fought with people, one time even ganging up on a neighbor with his friends. Another complaint from the neighbors was that Li built a wall blocking the hallway that ran past his front door, causing a lot of inconvenience to others. Neighbors speculated that Li wanted to stop people from walking past his front door, a sign of his distrust of others.
The Master Li story recounted by those who knew him fundamentally contradicts the great Master epic of his official biography. In Li's version, a saint with the highest morality and wisdom, possessing supernatural powers, later became a reincarnated deity, and finally the creator of gods. But in the version revealed by those who grew up and worked with Li, an introverted kid becomes a distrusting, ungenerous adult who is capable of arguing with or even beating up his neighbors. Li claims to have spent decades in training to become a Master, while others have revealed that he was actually a trumpet player, a hostel worker, and a clerk.
Considering the immense gap between Li's extraordinary claims and his mundane past, it's easy to understand why he didn't want to talk about himself. Master Li was right, the powerful persona he has created for himself is too fantastic for people outside the Falun Gong to even imagine, let alone understand! But inside the group his followers believe his every claim. These followers were once like us, leading Li-free lives, but somehow in joining the Falun Gong they were led to believe in Li's godlike status. So picture yourself as a newbie, a novice in Falun Gong, surrounded by a circle of warm, sincere, unquestioning practitioners. What are the chances you too might start believing in the Master?
1. Sarah Lubman, "A Chinese Battle on U.S. Soil," San Jose Mercury News, December 23, 2001
2. David Van Biema, "The Man with the Qi His spiritual movement has galvanized millions in China. But Li Hongzhi has more on his mind," Time Magazine, 5/10/1999.
3. "Interview with Li Hongzhi," Timeasia Magazine, 5/10/1999.
4. Nina Willdorf, "Martyrs with a cause," Boston Phoenix, 5/17/ 2001.
5. Falun Gong Research Society, "A Short Biography of Mr. Li Hongzhi, the Founder of China Falun Gong and Chairman of Falun Gong Research Society," published as an appendix in the Chinese version of Zhuan Falun (Hong Kong: Falun Fofa Publishing Co, October, 1997).
6. Li Hongzhi, "Awakening," Essentials for Further Advancement I, 5/27/1996, last paragraph.
7. Li Hongzhi, "Touring North America to Teach the Fa," 3/2002, paragraph 36.
8. 9. 10. Li Hongzhi, "Fa-Lecture During the 2003 Lantern Festival at the U.S. West Fa Conference," 2/15/2003.