The Past, Present and Future of Falun Gong. A lecture by Benjamin Penny at the National Library of Australia, 2001

I’ve recently been reading The Religion of Falun Gong (2012) by Benjamin Perry.

A blurb for the book at the Toronto Public Library reads:

“In July 1999, a mere seven years after the founding of the religious movement known as the Falun Gong, the Chinese government banned it. Falun Gong is still active in other countries, and its suppression has become a primary concern of human rights activists and is regularly discussed in dealings between the Chinese government and its Western counterparts. But while much has been written on Falun Gong’s relation to political issues, no one has analyzed in depth what its practitioners actually believe and do.

The Religion of Falun Gong remedies that omission, providing the first serious examination of Falun Gong teachings. Benjamin Penny argues that in order to understand Falun Gong, one must grasp the beliefs, practices, and texts of the movement and its founder, Li Hongzhi. Contextualizing Li’s ideas in terms of the centuries-long Chinese tradition of self-cultivation and the cultural world of 1980s and ’90s China – particularly the upwelling of biospiritual activity and the influx of translated works from the Western New Age movement – Penny shows how both have influenced Li’s writings and his broader view of the cosmos. An illuminating look at this controversial movement, The Religion of Falun Gong opens a revealing window into the nature and future of contemporary China.”

[End of text]

I became in interested in reading the book after reading The Government Next Door (2015) by Luigi Tomba.

The Past, Present and Future of Falun Gong

In searching for online reviews of his study, I came across a 2001 lecture by Benjamin Penny, author of The Religion of Falun Gong at the National Library of Australia in Canberra entitled: The Past, Present and Future of Falun Gong.

The lecture, accessible at the link at the previous sentence, provides a good overview of the subject matter of Benjamin Penny’s study.

In his final paragraphs at the 2001 lecture, Penny notes:

“In conclusion, I hope that I have indicated both how deeply traditional many aspects of Falun Gong are, and at the same time, how completely modern it is. There are aspects of Falun Gong doctrine that could have been understood by a cultivator in China 1000 years ago, and there are parts of the doctrine that could not have appeared in China before the late 1980s. This synthesis of age-old traditions and contemporary modes of being is not confined to Falun Gong but can be seen in many aspects of contemporary Chinese life. With all the talk of entry into the World Trade Organisation, or China ’s space program, or the vast changes in China ’s economic system, phenomena like qigong movements – even if they attract tens or even hundreds of millions of adherents – are often seen as anomalous. In the media they either appear as suitable fodder for the ‘postcard’ slot on Foreign Correspondent, along with Sumo wrestling and Mongolian horse racing, or else as baffling threats or challenges to the Chinese Communist Party, with little or no attention being paid to the beliefs or practices.

“A proper understanding of contemporary China relies on really getting to grips with these widespread and popular movements, at least as much as understanding politics, economics and trade. The fact that they are often difficult for Westerners to understand should not be any reason to relegate them to the anomalous or quirky or kooky. Rather, it should stand as an indication of the shortcomings in our understandings of contemporary China.”

[End of excerpt]


A text that reminds a reader, in a vivid way, of topics that are otherwise treated in a manner that is academic and abstract, is featured in a Jan. 22, 2015 Guardian article entitled: “I want you to understand the sense of fear that Chinese people feel every day.”

Benjamin Perry and Luigi Tomba of the Australian National University

As a captivating journey through time and space, The Religion of Falun Gong reminds me of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

[Note the previous sentence has not one, but two, links.]

I am reminded, as well, that any belief system is a social construction; many people are involved in the construction of it. As well, people have many options, regarding what they believe with regard to the meaning of life.

Penny’s study provides an overview of historical developments associated with the rise of qigong practices in China in the 1980s and 1990s. I have found the overview of much value; it would never have occurred to me that I would be able to learn about the history of qigong by reading about the history of Falun Gong.

I am equally impressed with Luigi Tomba’s 2015 study about another aspect of contemporary life in China. An Aug. 12, 2013 article by Tomba, which deals with the framing or positioning of narratives in cities across China, is entitled: Local China Stories: the Many in the One

Breathing Spaces (2003)

Also of interest: Breathing Spaces: Qigong, Psychiatry, and Healing in China (2003)

A blurb reads:

“The charismatic form of healing called qigong, based on meditative breathing exercises, has achieved enormous popularity in China during the last two decades. Qigong served a critical social organizational function, as practitioners formed new informal networks, sometimes on an international scale, at a time when China was shifting from state-subsidized medical care to for-profit market medicine. The emergence of new psychological states deemed to be deviant led the Chinese state to “medicalize” certain forms while championing scientific versions of qigong. By contrast, qigong continues to be promoted outside China as a traditional healing practice. Breathing Spaces brings to life the narratives of numerous practitioners, healers, psychiatric patients, doctors, and bureaucrats, revealing the varied and often dramatic ways they cope with market reform and social changes in China.”

[End of text]


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *