Leading Article: Religion could spark a revolution in China
Saturday 24 July 1999
They are mostly middle-aged and elderly practitioners of Falun Gong, a quasi-religious sect that practises spiritual breathing exercises and follows a conservative philosophy compounded of elements from Buddhism and Taoism. The movement is said to number tens of millions of devotees, more than the Chinese Communist Party itself. The followers of Falun Gong and its US-based leader, the former government official Li Hongzhi, have come to Peking to demand official recognition of their existence.
What particularly disturbs President Jiang is that he has had no notice of the arrival of his unheralded guests. In a country where the secret police keep the closest of tabs on every political and human rights dissident, the fact that thousands of people could plan and execute such an audacious protest without the knowledge of the secret police makes a religious movement seem a political threat. So when, this week, tens of thousands of devotees organised peaceful demonstrations in dozens of cities, the authorities did not hesitate. They banned the whole movement, arrested co-ordinators across the country and launched a media barrage against its doctrines and leadership .
The rulers of China must have felt great relief when, in June, the 10th anniversary of Tiananmen Square passed off quietly. After all, the country's rapid economic reforms have created great dislocations, attracting villagers to the city where work is hard to find and hold; and the party's official ideology is completely at odds with the proto-capitalist economy that is growing up under its corrupt tutelage. All of this has brought about a crisis in legitimacy for the Communist Party, which must be nervous about any opposition, even a "spiritual" one that tells them that the end of the world is nigh but that they can be saved by getting into contact with an orb of energy in their bellies.
Falun Gong is not the only New Age-ish manifestation of the religious impulse that official state atheism has to contend with. Evangelical Christianity, village-god temples and ancestor worship have a combined following in the tens of millions. Religious groupings played a significant part in the overthrow of the last imperial dynasty. It would be ironic if a similar coalition were to contribute to the inevitable demise of the last great 20th-century dictatorship.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Woman 'suffocates newborn baby in plastic bag and puts it in her desk minutes after giving birth'
- 2 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 5 Chinese student carries disabled friend to school every day for three years
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove