Anyone who vaguely follows Falun Gong knows about organisations like The Epoch Times, New Tang Dynasty TV and Shen Yun. They’re not open about the extent they’re controlled by Falun Gong (completely 100%), but they don’t deny a connection.
But what about the other organisations that either hide or deny their connection to Falun Gong in order to reach a different audience? I’ve met progressives who would abhor Falun Gong’s conservative social teachings, but who love Chris Chappell’s China Uncensored.
TheBL.com has had some recent coverage for its close ties to The Epoch Times. But a quick glance at the outlet’s About Us section gives it away immediately as a Falun Gong media, as it contains the words Truth, Compassion and Forbearance (these are the three core stated principles of Falun Gong).
Similarly, the newspaper Vision China Times has carved out a niche for itself in Australia. No mention of its connection to Falun Gong in any of its material, despite this media outlet pushing Falun Gong’s agenda to a tee.
I don’t know the exact connection myself, and it’s beyond my ability right now to look into how it all works behind the scenes in terms of ownership structures and the hierarchy of power and control.
But these organisations promote Falun Gong’s agenda down to the most minute detail, and this is something I’m able to talk about due to my own experience working for Falun Gong media organisations, mostly The Epoch Times, when I was a Falun Gong believer. This article is about how to identify the message that Falun Gong wants to convey to the world’s people by various means, and how to identify the nuances of an organisation that is connected to Falun Gong.
One of the most common words I see Falun Gong media using to describe themselves is ‘independent’. This description doesn’t really hold under scrutiny.
Their coverage of Falun Gong is absolutely positive without exception, even though that organisation has some very negative traits including a slew of hushed up deaths due to teachings against taking medicine, and a cult-like compound in Cuddebackville, New York state.
Their coverage of the Chinese government is absolutely negative without exception, even though that organisation has some positive traits.
Their coverage of figures deemed supportive of Falun Gong (The Trump family, supportive Republicans) is absolutely positive, their coverage of figures deemed enemies (Hillary Clinton, Jacky Chan, Zhang Yimou, any CCP official who likes his or her job) is absolutely negative.
And their coverage of social phenomena like homosexuality, abortion, and pop music completely accords with Falun Gong founder Li Hongzhi’s teachings.
I believe these media are less independent than those with a clear political bias or social agenda, because they aren’t transparent about their agenda.
Teachings about ordinary people
Key to identifying a Falun Gong organisation is knowing a little about the teachings. Most Falun Gong teachings are available on minghui.org, but there are a lot of secret ones that aren’t available, existing teachings are frequently revised or altered or completely disappeared, and the volume of teachings is just so massive that sifting through them is too big a task for most people. I read all of them multiple times when I was a Falun Gong believer up until around 2013.
Falun Gong teachings say that non-believers–called ‘ordinary people’–are pitiful, don’t know what they really need in life, are lost among desires, are covered in karma (a negative, black substance in another dimension) and are dirty. I’m not exaggerating, this is what the teachings say. All people who don’t believe in Falun Gong are going to hell unless Li Hongzhi saves them because there is no way for them to bear the suffering required to burn through all that karma and turn it into a good substance called virtue. Only the omnipotent Li has the power to do this, as he has done for his followers.
This is relevant because Falun Gong practitioners really can’t trust non-believers with the task they believe they have of saving sentient beings. Even though the organisation is getting richer and has experimented with hiring outside professionals such as dancers and musicians for Shen Yun, and young media graduates for The Epoch Times, this still poses a challenge because the organisation is unwilling to give non-believers a deep look into the workings of the organisation, or trust them with positions of responsibility. Almost all the work has to be done by Falun Gong practitioners, which means they are drawing from an already over-stretched group of believers. Resources are tight. There is often a crossover of resources with other Falun Gong projects, and you can find the same staff members popping up in a lot of them.
Falun Gong media sometimes refer to the handful of non-believers working for them in order to mislead people into thinking these organisations aren’t part of Falun Gong, but rather completely independent corporate entities with a few Falun Gong practitioners on their staff. But in all the examples I’ve seen, these non-believers are locked outside the fortress. A group of young graduates The Epoch Times hired in 2016, for example, were kept in a room separated from the rest of the editorial team by a locked door, according to NBC.
A good example is The Epoch Times commentator Ronald J. Rychlak, a Catholic who jumps whole-hog on board with The Epoch Times’ counter-attack of NBC News over NBC’s meticulously-researched articles which are critical of the Falun Gong media.
The Epoch Times isn’t trying to topple the Communist Party, Rychlak asserts. Workers at The Epoch Times aren’t mostly volunteers working there as part of their spiritual practice, he claims. Li Hongzhi “is not associated with the newspaper”, he says.
This last one–that Li isn’t associated with the newspaper–is a real clanger. Li has delivered lectures directly to Epoch Times workers and NTDTV workers, he refers to these media as “our media” and back around 2007 he directly fired their editorial teams–evidence of which can be found in his 2007 video lecture to Australian practitioners which is unfortunately now a secret teaching and hard to find.
The basis for all Rychlak’s inside knowledge? “I have toured the building that houses the Epoch Media Group and met several of the people who work there,” he writes. “They all seemed happy and friendly.”*
Perhaps Rychlak should ask some of those people about their belief that the god in charge of his own religion is evil. But if he did, he would get a sanitised response. There are strong teachings about fitting in with society, getting normal jobs, not coming across as over-zealous and not talking about “high-level teachings” with ordinary people. Falun Gong practitioners will do their best to hide these beliefs and won’t talk about them openly. And that applies also to the few non-believers like Rychlak that they have working on their projects.
Saving people from Communism
Most of Falun Gong’s teachings aren’t very palatable to non-believers, but there are some key messages Falun Gong practitioners are trying to get across as part of their core mission. This mission is saving people from an impending apocalyptic judgement day where people will be judged on two criteria — their positive thoughts towards Falun Gong and their negative thoughts towards the Chinese Communist Party which is seen as the embodiment of all evil in the cosmos. Positive thoughts towards the CCP and/or negative thoughts towards Falun Gong both bode very poorly for peoples’ futures, they believe.
These beliefs are strong and absolute. So what this means is you should find an absolutely, 100 per cent positive attitude towards Falun Gong in their media, and an absolutely 100 per cent negative attitude towards the CCP, and Communism more generally. There isn’t any room for grey areas in the teachings, so I think the presence of any kind of nuance towards Falun Gong or the CCP suggests the media is not purely a Falun Gong media and there is some arrangement that I don’t know about or understand.
This report by Chris Chappell gives the gist of just how black-and-white the attitudes of these media are towards Falun Gong. He’s a very likeable, funny guy, but unfortunately his coverage of Falun Gong is very censored indeed.
Rychlak, the above-mentioned commentator for The Epoch Times, simply refuses to believe that Falun Gong practitioners and their media are motivated by a spiritual mission to save people from Communism–which they see as a kind of evil possessing spectre. And he refuses to believe they see Donald Trump as sent by heaven to destroy the Communist Party.
They do believe this. The widely distributed Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party (published in 2004 and since superseded by other publications with a similar purpose) is seen by Falun Gong practitioners as a spiritual weapon that cleanses the spectre of Communism from peoples’ bodies, thereby saving them from the impending apocalypse. For years after it was published, excerpts from the Nine Commentaries were printed in every single edition of The Epoch Times, English and Chinese.
The Nine Commentaries was a key part of the Tuidang or “Quit the CCP” movement, launched by The Epoch Times and promoted directly by Falun Gong practitioners around the world, which encourages people to renounce their membership to any and all Communist organisations. Records of withdrawals are published at the domain tuidang.epochtimes.com.
And regarding Trump being a kind of angel sent from heaven to kill the CCP, a lot of people in the growing community of former Falun Gong practitioners have told me this is now widely believed in the community, no doubt due to a secret teaching that has been passed around but not published.
Ultra conservative beliefs
The attitude towards modern social phenomena is also very telling. You could look at the attitude towards homosexuality or abortion, which Falun Gong warns against, or evolution which it teaches is rubbish. Speaking negatively about these topics is controversial, so they’re usually just completely ignored.
Falun Gong also believes that while religion was good in the past and helped maintain human morality, the gods behind all religions are evil now, which is a relatively recent development, so you probably won’t find positive references to religions and religious experiences. Falun Gong practitioners don’t regard their belief as a religion, and their own belief is exempt from this policy.
However you will find coverage of persecuted religious groups in China like house Christians as this aids Falun Gong’s political motives. And sometimes the distinction between religion and traditional culture–which Falun Gong supports–might be ambiguous.
Shen Yun performances–also believed to cleanse the communist spectre from people’s bodies–are usually promoted where possible.
Enemies and friends
Another telling trait is the attitude towards certain specific people. Hillary Clinton, Kofi Annan, Jackie Chan, Zhang Yimou are some names I know Falun Gong has a specific gripe with and you are unlikely to find anything positive on them. It’s likely if they HAVE to cover them due to a specific news event they will do it very matter-of-factly. If it’s news wires that they’re using they will be edited from the originals to take out any positive prose. Falun Gong media are very careful not to accidentally promote someone who is perceived as anti-Falun Gong or pro-CCP.
Also there used to be a policy against any negative coverage towards people who have spoken out in support of Falun Gong. I don’t know to what extent it’s still in place, but I suspect this is still an active consideration in editorial choices.
Falun Gong practitioners believe Donald Trump has been sent by heaven to destroy the communist party (this is a development after I left but I have heard this from numerous people who left more recently) so the coverage of him is usually nauseatingly positive.
One last thing is that Chinese culture is seen as deep and sacred, and traditional human culture generally is seen as upstanding in contrast to what Li sees as the degeneration that has beset modern societies as part of humanity’s ongoing slide towards oblivion. Traditional human principles can help slow this decline, Li teaches.
This explains the use of ‘tradition’ in The Epoch Times’ logo ‘Truth and Tradition’. It also explains The BL’s strange About Us section which talks about “fundamental moral standards”, humanity “fighting forward for good”, and how “inspiring morality is the world’s best chance of surviving”.
It also explains why Falun Gong media often publish things about Chinese traditional culture.
Things like analysing the different parts of Chinese characters to show how they fit together to make a profound or deeper spiritual meaning.
Or teachings about moral figures in Chinese history. Li Hongzhi claims to have been a number of people in China’s history in previous reincarnations, including the poet Li Bai. They believe they are talking about Li Hongzhi when they write about him. They also believe Socrates was a god, not simply a philosopher, and you can find articles talking about how profound Socrates was.
Face up to your agenda
I’m not against the existence of the Falun Gong media.
Unfortunately the mission of Falun Gong practitioners is far broader than simply ending the persecution and becoming an innocuous meditation practice that people perform in parks. It is a highly political organisation that founder Li Hongzhi is leveraging to gain influence and a pile of money for himself and his family. And the despicable way his organisation treats the young people living and working in his Dragon Springs compound in New York state is a story that needs to be told.
With power and influence comes responsibility. People need to know what this organisation and its media are about.
*Rychlak also writes off my criticism of Falun Gong on the basis that I’m a “disgruntled former practitioner who was upset that a friend of his who practiced Falun Gong died.” I was upset (among other reasons in my 8000 word article about leaving Falun Gong) because four friends of mine died in excruciating pain, and a lot of other people I didn’t know closely died, and all would probably be alive today if it weren’t for Li Hongzhi’s teachings against taking medicine. Considering Falun Gong claims to have millions of followers around the world, there must be hundreds and more likely thousands of people who have died this way.