Party members defect to China sect

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CHINA'S COMMUNIST Party has revealed that the mystical sect it banned last week has infiltrated its own ranks. A front-page commentary in the official People's Daily said yesterday that the quasi-religious Falun Gong, which claimed 100 million practitioners before it was banned on 22 July, had made "serious" inroads into the structure of the party.

"It is a cause for alarm that some party members were involved and a very small number of them even became the backbone of the Falun Gong," the party's official mouthpiece said. "It is a major issue whether members abide by the party constitution and the decisions of the party organisation or follow the "instructions" of the Falun Gong." The Communist Party's 60 million members must follow orthodox Marxist theories and are not allowed to hold religious beliefs, let alone beliefs that Peking has castigated as "evil superstition".

Peking gave no indication of the numbers or rank of party members involved. But the newspaper warned that "some veteran party members" had fallen by the wayside and were in danger of falling captive to "erroneous thinking."

Police have rounded up more than 5,000 sect members since last week, according to official sources. State television said the government had ordered Customs and publishing authorities to confiscate the sect's literature, posters, audio and video recordings and digital publications. Publications authorities were ordered to prosecute promptly violations of the ban on producing or distributing sect materials.

The Falun Gong, which preaches a mix of Buddhism, Daoism, meditation and breathing exercises, was set up in 1992 by Li Hongzhi, a Chinese national who lives in self-imposed exile in New York. With its promises of salvation from an immoral world on the brink of destruction, the sect found fertile ground in China, mainly among retirees and the unemployed disillusioned with the nation's brash rush into capitalism. Growing numbers of believers filled China's parks every morning to practise their slow, rhythmical exercises, often with hands lifted to the sky.

But the Falun Gong did not shoot to the top of Peking's agenda until April when 10,000 members suddenly surrounded the leadership compound in the city centre in a silent vigil to demand recognition as a legitimate organisation. Just ahead of the outright ban, some 70 key leaders were arrested, prompting further protests from tens of thousands of practitioners in 30 cities across China, and suspicion grew in Peking that party members had warned the Falun Gong of the impending crackdown on their organisation. China is sensitive to the rise of quasi-religious sects, because groups emphasising the martial arts, miracle cures and a return to traditional morality have a habit of wreaking havoc.

Last century, a charismatic figure claiming to be the brother of Christ, overran the southern half of China with his Taiping rebellion for more than a decade until 1864.