Taiwan embraces the spiritual movement that terrifies Peking

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The Independent Online

About two hundred followers of China's spiritual movement, Falun Gong, were manhandled away from Tiananmen Square in Peking yesterday as they marked the first anniversary of the criminalisation of the movement.

About two hundred followers of China's spiritual movement, Falun Gong, were manhandled away from Tiananmen Square in Peking yesterday as they marked the first anniversary of the criminalisation of the movement.

On 30 October last yearthe parliament rushed through an "anti-cult" law to criminalise - retroactively - Falun Gong and several groups it was feared were becoming too popular.

But one year on there is still no shortage of supporters prepared to risk arrest, torture and death by protesting in Tiananmen Square.

Ironically, the Chinese crackdown has pushed membership of the Taiwan Falun Gong Research Society to new heights. The Taiwanese branch, run by Tsao Huei-Ling and her husband, now has 30,000 members. While Peking wages war on the "evil sect" it accuses of subversion, Taipei happily condones the activities of the Falun Gong faithful.

Their slogans beckon the curious on buses, between adverts for ways to a better life - business studies in the United States on one side, and a range of cosmetics on the other.

Believers are undisturbed as they perform their slow-motion exercises. The memorial hall that looms over their daily ritual houses not Chairman Mao, but an exhibition to his arch enemy Chiang Kai-shek.

"I thought Falun Gong must be good after I saw television news of the mainland authorities arresting people in Tiananmen," said Han Lee-chuan, whocomes to Taipei's Forest Park to meditate with a group ranging from students to great-grandmothers.

Ms Tsao said the Chinese government "has created trouble for itself" with the crackdown, under which thousands have been imprisoned. "We are not plotting to overthrow the Communist Party, that's ridiculous. Falun Gong practitioners should not be concerned with politics. But once millions of practitioners outnumbered the Communist Party, they were frightened we would unite and protest against them."

Ms Han, 59 and retired, said: "People who knew me before say 'how come you have such spirit now?' I used to feel tired all the time, every day was passing and I was getting old. I felt pains in my legs, back and waist. But after practising Falun Gong all my ailments have gone. Now I have a purpose in life."

The feeling of rejuvenation is common among adherents. As Ms Han sat oblivious to the world in deep cultivation of the all-important "mind-nature", her stall of leaflets attracts a few onlookers. But unlike their mainland cousins, the 23 million citizens of Taiwan are somewhat spoilt for choice.

"There is religious freedom here," said Huang Ke-chang, director of Taiwan's Religious Affairs Department. "More than 11 million people follow one of 16 different religions.

"As long as people obey the law, they can believe what they like. But we don't even think of Falun Gong as a religion. They registered as a sports organisation, and we have had no trouble from them," said Mr Huang.

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