I have been following the ongoing dialogue regarding the Falun Gong movement, and I have been pleased to find that Alan Stone, M.D., is the first psychiatrist to write something approaching the truth about the Falun Gong group (November 2002 Psychiatric Times, p1; April PT, p9).
The New York Times, for example, has been eager to characterize Mr. Li's cult as a group of simple, humble religious fold unfairly singled out by the Chinese government for persecution--akin to the Quakers or Pilgrims of pre-colonial days. Perhaps this sells newspapers, but it is far from the truth.
I have had several friends who have been involved in the Falun Gong movement, and what I learned from them was very disturbing. First, the members follow Mr. Li as if he were a deity (although, to his credit, he dissuades them from doing so); second, the teachings are designed to make followers into superior beings who are above their fellow men and women. They believe that taking medication is evidence that one does not "truly" believe in the teachings, and people taking medications are strongly pressured to either stop using medicine or to stop coming to meetings (it was on this point that one of my friends left the movement).
I have spoken with a great many Chinese people--Mainlanders, Americans and Taiwanese--about the Falun Gong group and have read some of their material in the original Chinese; it has little to distinguish itself from countless other Chinese semi-religious practices that combine Taoist, Buddhist and other more arcane teachings into a "new" system. What distinguishes Falun Gong is the charisma of its founder. The Communist Chinese government--for which I otherwise have no regard whatsoever--is not unreasonable in being concerned about Mr. Li and his followers. The Falun Gong teachings are explicitly anti-social and anti-government. Chinese people recognize this; why is it so difficult for Americans to do so?
I suspect it will not be long before a Falun Gong group in the United States will come head-to-head with the government when its members are discovered to be denying appropriate health care to minors in their group. As usual, it will probably require some crisis like this to bring people--even those professionals who ought to know better--out of their good-guy/bad-guy fantasy.
John Meyers, M.D.
New Hampton, N.Y.
Dr. Meyers is a psychiatrist at Mid-Hudson Forensic Psychiatric Center in New Hampton, N.Y.
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