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Falling into Falun Gong

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发表于 2020-7-21 15:39:04 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式
Falling into Falun Gong

Anna’s mother had a favourite memory of her daughter she would proudly share with other Falun Gong practitioners.

How, when Anna was four, she saw her in the backseat of the family car playing with phantom lights, dancing in the air.

They were “law bodies”, her mother would explain, “small, physical manifestations of the Falun Gong emblem”.

For a time growing up in Falun Gong, Anna would tell the story too, knowing it was one her mother cherished. “I wanted to believe and be a good practitioner so my mother would be happy and, you know, give me approval,” says Anna.
In those early years, Anna watched as her mother gradually became absorbed in Falun Gong. She pulled Anna and her sibling out of a Catholic school and quit her job in the family business to take up selling books for Falun Gong. Her time was increasingly spent doing exercises, meditating, and reading the movement’s teachings.


Anna at age 4. Supplied
Master Li Hongzhi even once made an appearance at a study group in their home. Anna began to feel her mother had become more devoted to Falun Gong’s teachings than to her children.
“Part of the whole premise of the practice is getting rid of your human attachments in order to attain salvation,” says Anna. “I think a lot of parents conflate human attachment with basic parental love and emotional presence with your children.”
As a young child, Anna came to believe Falun Gong’s teachings too, but there were some that raised deeply personal questions for her. Among them was being taught that she was different to other children because her mother was Chinese and her father was European.
“The leader of Falun Gong claims that race mixing in humans is part of an alien plot to drive humanity further from the gods,” says Anna. “He says that when a child is born from an interracial marriage, that child does not have a heavenly kingdom to go to.”


Anna with her father, whose face has been blurred to protect Anna's identity. Supplied
Some practitioners have explained Master Li’s teachings as metaphorical, such as his claims that aliens walk the earth and disguise themselves as people to corrupt mankind. But Anna learned it as literal truth. At 11 years-old, her mother read her the teachings about mixed-race children.
“As an 11-year-old, to hear the teachings coming from not only the religion that you’re believing in, but from your own mother, it was very damaging,” says Anna.
The family started spending weekends and holidays at The Mountain, flying across the breadth of the US to be closer to the movement’s global base . “It was my mother’s dream for our entire family to eventually live at Dragon Springs.”
The dance audition
It was Christmas day, the day of the audition. Anna’s mother woke her early in the morning so they could start the long drive north to The Mountain.
At first Anna resisted going, but this was too important to her mother. So Anna made a decision about how that day would go down.
“My intent was to fail on purpose so that I would not have to live at The Mountain”.
By this time, Anna’s family had moved across the US to the east coast to be closer to Dragon Springs, Falun Gong’s 160-hectare complex in regional New York. For many it’s a sanctuary. Permanent residents include Falun Gong practitioners who fled persecution in China after the movement was banned there in 1999.
But for Anna, The Mountain was no haven. The presence of Falun Gong’s leader, Master Li Hongzhi, seemed to pervade the complex.






Few outsiders area allowed inside Dragon Springs. Neighbours took these photos from a nearby property.
“It felt spiritual but in this sort of ominous and somewhat judgmental way,” says Anna.
“Part of the practice is this notion that Master Li first of all can read everyone’s mind and that he has heavenly bodies out there in the world doing this for him as well. So I grew up with this notion that my thoughts were always being monitored. And my mother said that at Dragon Springs, you were in a greater presence of spirits and the gods.”
Anna felt she needed to hide her deepest thoughts. She had started having crushes on female friends and classmates. Li Hongzhi’s teaching that homosexuality was wrong, and creates negative karma, played on her mind. When Master Li made an appearance in Dragon Springs, the believers would immediately stand. Many seemed awestruck. “They treated him like a God,” Anna recalls.
YouTube: A Shen Yun YouTube promotion for its 2020 show.
At this time, Master Li was establishing the professional dance troupe now known as Shen Yun, which is based in Dragon Springs and toured the world before COVID-19. Anna’s mother encouraged her to train to be a Shen Yun dancer. “She thought that it was the highest honour possible and that it would guarantee me getting into heaven, essentially.”
Who is Li Hongzhi?


Li Hongzhi is a former Chinese government clerk who founded Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, in China in 1992. He moved to the US in the mid-1990s. His spiritual movement is based on traditional meditation and breathing exercises called qigong. But Master Li added a supernatural layer: it would prepare people to return home to heavenly kingdoms where they had once dwelled, and even teach practitioners to levitate and see through walls.
But Anna felt she was not as gifted as the other dancers — and then there was the incident at the summer dance camp in New Jersey. Anna’s teacher placed her in front of a mirror and lifted up her shirt. “She grabbed my stomach, shook it, and then turned to the other kids in the class — there were several of them — and said, ‘Do you see this, everyone, this is an example of how a woman should not look’,” she says.
At the age of 13, Anna was hospitalised with anorexia.
The audition was set to take place in the Dragon Springs’s main music rehearsal hall. Anna still remembers sitting on the dark carpet under a ceiling painted with clouds against a blue sky. The other dancers lined up in the room were “full Chinese, instead of mixed” and Anna knew they were better dancers.
The choreographer who two years earlier had shamed her in front of the class was there, as was Master Li, who would serve as the ultimate judge. He paced the room, observing.


Anna looks back on her time in Falun Gong with distress. She is concerned for other children growing up in the spiritual movement. Foreign Correspondent/Background Briefing: Scott Strazzante
“I felt like just my whole being was wrong,” says Anna. “I tried my best to just make it look like I was simply a bad dancer and yeah, I did not get called back. My mother suspected I had done this on purpose.”
The failed audition heightened tensions in the family. Anna and her father moved back across the US while her mother stayed behind. Anna says her final visit to The Mountain — when she was subjected to Master Li’s “exorcism” — triggered a severe relapse of her eating disorder.
As she struggled with her illness, Anna says her mother rejected doctors’ attempts to put her on medication, quoting Falun Gong teachings.
“It means you are a bad practitioner. It means you do not fully trust Master Li. If you take any kind of medication or go to a hospital, even.”
In Sydney’s inner-west, another daughter is coming to terms with her estrangement from her mother.
Like Anna, Shani May says her mother Colleen put Falun Gong ahead of her family — and her own health.
When Shani gave her mother a photo of her baby son Ellery to hang on the wall in place of a photo of Master Li, Colleen quickly swapped them back. When Ellery developed a tumour and spent nearly a year in hospital, she had to pressure her mother to visit him. “And then when she did have time, she’d be looking at her watch all the time, because she had somewhere to go,” Shani says.
As time went on there was something for Colleen to do every day of the week, then it was a few nights a week too, then weekends. “The next thing you know I’m the one trying to book in time to see her. So it really took over”.
Like Anna, Shani’s anger with Falun Gong runs deep. She blames the movement’s teachings on modern medicine for the death of her mother, who stopped taking her blood-pressure medication after joining Falun Gong.


Shani May's frustration turned to despair when her mother Colleen fell ill but refused to see doctors or take medicine. Foreign Correspondent/Background Briefing: Brendan Esposito
“If it wasn’t for Falun Gong, she’d still be with us. It would have taken two tablets a day and she’d still be with us,” she says.
Colleen May died three years ago after suffering prolonged ill health that she tried to manage through meditation and cleansing. Shani still has trouble reconciling how Colleen changed after she joined Falun Gong. Her mother was once a fixture of bohemian society, married to the famous jazz singer Ricky May. Her wedding dress was designed by the drag queen Carlotta. Her friends were flamboyant showbiz entertainers.
But after Ricky May died of a heart attack in 1988, Colleen spent years looking for something to fill the void. She found it a decade later when she saw people doing meditation and exercises in Sydney’s Ashfield Park.


“She said, ‘Oh, I met these lovely people in the park and they do meditation once a week and I’m going to go down and do that with them’.”

The power of Falun Gong
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