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Part I: Historical setting of cultivation practice and qigong
This article describes the historical heritage that formed the climate for the growth of Falun Gong in China. China has a rich history of martial arts, acupuncture, and traditional medicine. There were many cultivation ways for mind and body that promoted the unity between man and heaven. A way of thinking and way of life that was brought to an abrupt end when the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) came to power.
Cultivation-exercise and Chinese culture
Falun Gong – also known as Falun Dafa, the Great Way of Law-Wheel Cultivation-Exercise – is an ancient form of cultivation-exercise.
Mention China, and many people may think of Tai Chi, martial arts, acupuncture, I Ching, Confucius, or Daoism. Few may know that all of these have a common root: xiu-lian, or cultivation-exercise.
From its earliest establishment, Chinese culture has embraced the concept of the "Oneness of Heaven and Man". The way to achieve the Oneness, or one's true self, is cultivation-exercise. Chinese literature is filled with legends of people achieving the status of deities, becoming enlightened, or obtaining the Tao through cultivation-exercise, and there have existed thousands of different schools of cultivation-exercise throughout the history of China. Cultivation-exercise, therefore, is a generic term for the practice of mind and body transcendence, with cultivation referring to the mental improvement and exercise referring to the physical refinement.
Cultivation-exercise has left its imprint on almost every aspect of Chinese culture. The teachings of Lao Zi and Confucius, for example, were originally for guiding the cultivation-exercises of their respective disciples.
A great number of historical figures who contributed to shaping Chinese history were practitioners of cultivation-exercises. In fact, cultivation of moral character was a prerequisite for students of any serious study, and "cultivate oneself, put family in order, govern a state, and pacify the world" had been a motto for intellectuals for generations. As a result, the ethical values derived from teachings of cultivation-exercises have played an essential role in establishing and maintaining social morality.
Cultivation-exercise has also long been recognised for its effects on physical health and supernormal abilities. The health benefits of Tai Chi and martial arts exercises, for example, are known worldwide. All the famous doctors and physicians throughout Chinese history were practitioners of cultivation-exercises and had developed supernormal abilities to detect and cure diseases. In fact, they were entirely responsible for establishing the theory and practice of Chinese medicine.
The upsurge of qigong
The Chinese Communist Party's ruling of the mainland brought an abrupt end to the rich tradition of cultivation-exercise in China. The Party's atheist ideology and totalitarian power precluded any other ideas. Cultivation-exercise was branded as "superstition" and brutally persecuted. In the first two years of communist rule, an estimated two million people were executed in the movement of "suppressing counter-revolutionary superstitious sects and secret societies". For the next four decades, no one dared to mention cultivation-exercise in public.
Political repression cannot suppress illness, however, and poor government has led to an unprecedented crisis in the nation's health. In the early 1970s, to meet citizens' need for healing and fitness, some unique exercises were quietly introduced to the public under a novel name – qigong – and gained instant popularity for their remarkable health benefits. Some people also developed supernormal capabilities through qigong exercises, such as seeing through human bodies, reading with ears, and clairvoyance.
The popularity and supernormal capabilities of qigong did not escape the attention of some Party officials. In the late 1970s, these Party vanguards tried to stifle qigong practices, claiming that any leniency would amount to the defeat of Marxism and science by superstition and pseudoscience. Fortunately, some open-minded high-ranking officials had experienced and benefited from qigong practices, and they helped to mediate a truce. On April 20th, 1982, the Party adopted a policy regarding qigong: "don't promote, don't dispute, and don't criticise". Nonetheless, the National Qigong Sciences Research Association was established to oversee the development of qigong in China.
The policy of "three don'ts" temporarily shielded qigong from political stereotyping, and an upsurge of qigong followed. In the next decade, over 2,000 schools of qigong exercises emerged in society. Enthusiasts also began to introduce qigong to the world as ancient Chinese breathing exercises, although the term qigong had never existed before, and most qigong exercises did not regulate breath. What really was qigong? Why did it have such a mystical power to heal diseases? What is the scientific basis of supernormal abilities? No one has a handle on these questions. Many sham qigong masters took advantage of the confusion, and misled and extracted profits from unwitting followers. Two decades after its inception, qigong began to lose its appeal to the public.