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The Chinese government has relentlessly suppressed religious groups since achieving power in 1949. The rest of the world is most familiar with its oppression of non-registered Christian groups. However, the government has also persecuted many types of new religious and spiritual groups, including the Falun Gong. In fact, its suppression extends beyond such groups to include organizations that teach only simple meditation and gymnastic techniques. The government appears to fear any national group that is capable of organizing its followers into direct action. 

In suppressing the Falun Dafa and other small religious movements, the Chinese government has adopted much of the terminology of the Western anti-cult movement. The official Xinhua News Agency issued a report on "cults" in the United States. 1 It quoted Berkley psychology professor Margaret Singer, one of the few remaining psychologists who supports the claims of the anti-cult movement. The report discusses "spiritual poisoning." Cults are said to "not obey the law, they upset social order, and they create a menace to freedom of religion and social stability. Under the pretense of religion, kindness, and being non-political, they participate in political activities. Some of them even practice criminal activities such as tax evasion, fraud, drug dealing, smuggling, assassination, and kidnapping."

The government appears to regard the Falun Dafa as the most serious threat to the government since the 1989 student uprising. The government has historical reasons for their fear. China has had a history of religious and spiritual uprisings that had catastrophic effects on the country. "In the late 1770s, the White Lotus rebellion against the Qing dynasty was led by Wang Lun, a master of martial arts and herbal medicine." 2Perhaps the most serious was the Taiping rebellion of 1845-1864 which was led by a leader who viewed himself as the Son of God. Some 20 million died in that revolt. 2

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Status as of 2000-SEP:

According to Newsroom on 2000-SEP-11: 
Earlier this month, in its second annual report on religious freedom, the U.S. State Department said that in the past year China had intensified its repression against the Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists, Muslim Uighurs, and underground Protestants and Catholics. Some Chinese religious believers, the report said, face "harassment, extortion, prolonged detention, physical abuse, and incarceration in prison or in ‘re-education through labor’ camps."

Prior to the Millennium World Peace Summit in New York City this month, however, Bishop Michael Fu Tieshan of the state-controlled Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association insisted that "there is no religious persecution in China."

The International Commission on Religious Freedom, nevertheless, renewed a call last week for the U.S. Congress to withhold Permanent Normal Trade Status unless China "makes substantial improvement in respect for religious freedom." Later this week the Senate is expected to begin debate on a measure that would give China the trade benefits accorded most other nations. The measure was passed earlier this year in the House of Representatives, and passed in 2000-SEP in the Senate.

Last week a Hong Kong-based human rights group reported that three Falun Gong practitioners had died in recent months after suffering mistreatment while in detention. The Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said Liu Yufeng, 64, of eastern Shandong province, died July 23 of multiple injuries, four days after he was detained while participating in a mass Falun Gong exercise. Li Faming, 52, of northwestern Gansu province, died August 10 after a fall from a window in his apartment where police were conducting a search for Falun Gong leaflets. In northeastern Heilongjiang province, 29-year-old Zhang Tieyan died August 11 after fainting in a hot, poorly ventilated detention center. She had fainted before many times, the rights group said.

According to the Hong Kong monitor, at least 30 Falun Gong followers have died of mistreatment while in custody since July 1999, when the movement was banned. Authorities have detained at least 35,000 practitioners, and 5,000 have been sent to labor camps without trial.

On September 6, some 1,000 practitioners demonstrated peacefully at the New York U.N. Millennium Summit, which was attended by Chinese President Jiang Zemin. In a U.S. television interview, Jiang also denied reports that religious believers in China are persecuted.

According to Newsroom, 2000-SEP-12: 3,5

Recent reports indicate China has continued a crackdown on unregistered religious groups on the eve of United States Senate debate on trade status with the world's largest country.

In the past several weeks, more arrests have been made on members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, Protestant and Catholic house churches, and a Buddhist sect. Last week it was reported that three Falun Gong practitioners died recently while in police custody.

Human rights groups say China is cracking down on unsanctioned groups of many different faiths through an anti-cult law that the government tightened last year when it banned the Falun Gong. Spokespersons for the spiritual movement say they have evidence that Chinese authorities gave orders on August 21 to intensify the crackdown on the group, with the aim of eliminating it within three months.

The Hong Kong-based information center reported last week that 85 of the 130 members of the Protestant Fangcheng church arrested August 23 were charged with "using a cult to sabotage the law of the nation and the enforcement of rules." A Chinese government spokesman claimed last week that the church members are part of a dangerous cult. Fangcheng leader Zhang Rongliang insists, however, that the group subscribes to mainstream Protestant theology and practice. Zhang was arrested with several other prominent house church leaders one year ago and sentenced to two years in labor camp. Authorities released him in February, however, citing health considerations.

Christianity Today magazine reported the arrests of another 53 Protestants in August, all members of a house church movement called the China Evangelistic Fellowship. On August 2, police ransacked and closed a Bible school held in a home in Hubei province and arrested 35 students and teachers. Eleven members of the church were arrested in neighboring Henan province, and on August 21, seven leaders were detained in Shaanxi province, north of Hubei.

The Vatican news agency Fides reported September 5 that newly appointed auxiliary bishop Jiang Ming Yuan of Hebei province, a member of the underground church, was detained on August 26. Fides said two other bishops from Hebei have been missing since police detained them in 1996.

Fides described the arrest as a new chapter in the campaign by the Beijing government to completely eliminate the unofficial Catholic Church, which has an estimated 8 million members loyal to the pope. The government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association is barred from ties with the Vatican.

The U.S.-based Cardinal Kung Foundation reported that on August 30 Chinese police detained a priest, 20 nuns, a seminarian, and two lay persons. Father Liu Shao-Zhang, 38, was "severely beaten, causing him to vomit blood," the foundation said. Two of the nuns were released a day later after parishioners paid a large sum of money to the Public Security Bureau. The others remain in detention and the two nuns were instructed not to leave their house without permission from police.

The U.S. group also said the underground archbishop of Fuzhou, Yang Shudao, is now under 24-hour surveillance by police. He had been detained for a brief time in February.

Under an anti-cult law, two members of a Buddhist sect were sentenced to three years in prison, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy reported September 9. Liu Yin and Gan Suqin were convicted by a court in the eastern city of Ningbo of being followers of Supreme Master Ching Hai and proselytizing for her Guan Yin Famen sect, the Information Center said.

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According to Catholic World on 2000-SEP-13:
The year 2000 report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom criticized the government of China for its brutal repression of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, Tibetan Buddhists, Roman Catholics and other groups. An unidentified spokesperson for the Chinese government denied the validity of the report. He responded: "Relying solely on rumors and lies to accuse other governments and interfere in internal affairs of other countries is a mistake repeatedly made by the U.S. State Department report. This bad habit should be addressed." 6

According to the Associated Press on 2000-SEP-15: 
China published new regulations on SEP-15 which will prevent exercise groups like the Falun Dafa from discussing religion. It also severely limits their size and range of activities. Their teachers must register and be certified by sports officials. Activities with more than 200 participants need the prior permission of police. They will not be allowed to organize in state-run companies, government offices, schools, army bases, etc.

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Status as of 2000-FEB-1:

According to Newsroom: 3,4
China is pressing the United States to back off on its proposed United Nations human rights censure even as new reports surface of crackdowns on unofficial religious groups.

A Hong Kong-based organization reports that China is shutting down a spiritual group similar to the banned Falun Gong and the Vatican's missionary news service says that the government is implementing a plan to force underground Catholics into the official church or squelch the movement altogether.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Guangya insisted on Monday that "China now has the best human rights situation in its history." He warned that if the U.S. went ahead with its plan to introduce a resolution censuring China at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in March, relations between the two countries would suffer a "serious setback".

New York-based Human Rights in China said in a January 21 statement, however, that China's human rights abuses last year were the worst since the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department justified the censure motion because of a "deteriorating" human rights situation in China last year.

The Information Centre of Human Rights & Democratic Movement in China said on Monday that China has closed down 100 offices of the Zhong Gong spiritual group, which claims more than 10 million practitioners in the country. Zhong Gong, like the banned Falun Gong movement (with an estimated 100 million practitioners worldwide), is based on the traditional Chinese meditation practice of qigong. Chinese officials said earlier this month that they would step up monitoring of hundreds of similar health and spiritual groups, fearing that they might gain the kind of following that Falun Gong has attracted.

The Information Centre said Chinese police began the crackdown on Zhong Gong last November after President Jiang Zemin labeled it as a cult.

One week ago the Information Centre confirmed that China has sent more than 50 practitioners of the Falun Gong movement to a psychiatric hospital in Beijing since December where they are being treated like psychiatric patients. The Hong Kong-based Information Centre says that at least four practitioners have died in police custody.

China banned Falun Gong on July 20 and has arrested thousands of practitioners since then. The government insists that it is a cult that has led many of its practitioners to suicide. Many analysts believe that Communist Party officials see the movement as a political threat, recognizing that nationalistic uprisings in Chinese history were spurred by similar folk religious movements. Last April, some 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners gathered for a peaceful protest in front of Communist Party headquarters in Beijing.

Leaders of unregistered Catholic and Protestant churches say that the government continues to use its crackdown on the Falun Gong as a pretext to bring other groups under control. The Vatican news service Fides says that according to officials of the Catholic Church in Hong Kong, the Chinese government is following through with a secret plan issued in August to absorb the underground Church into the official Patriotic Association, or to suppress it altogether.

Fides reports that the diocese of Wenzhou, a coastal city of nearly 7 million people, is "being subjected to pressure and violence." Since September police have detained seven priests and the diocese's archbishop. In mid-December authorities blew up two Catholic churches in Wenzhou that were built without permit. Since early January, officials have forced at least 2,000 Roman Catholics in the region to join the official Catholic church, some after days of detention.

Fides said that other Catholic believers have fled the area rather than join the state church. Membership in the official Catholic Patriotic Association, which rejects ties to the Vatican, is about 4 million. Another 8 million are members of the underground Catholic Church, which considers itself to be under the authority of the pope.

Last week the U.S.-based Cardinal Kung Foundation reported the arrests of a bishop, three priests, and a layperson in the underground Roman Catholic church in Hebei province.

Meanwhile, sources in Hong Kong say that Protestant evangelist Li Dexian preached freely at his regular Tuesday morning Bible study on February 1 without police interference. Li has been arrested nine times since October at his meeting place in the village of Huadu, west of Guangzhou.

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Status as of 2000-FEB-28:

According to the Associated Press, the U.S. State Department, in its annual report on the status of individual freedom in all countries of the world (other than the U.S.), severely criticized the Chinese Government for its oppression of the Falun Dafa. The Chinese Foreign Ministry stated: "This is a typical action showing U.S. double standards on human rights." They accused Washington of "going so far as to defend openly the anti-humanity evil cult Falun Gong". Liu Jing heads a Cabinet office that was formed in September to coordinate the campaign against Falun Dafa. He rejected the State Department criticism, saying that the group acts like a "spiritual drug" on its followers, and that labor camp guards treat Falun Dafa as doctors would patients. Liu said: "They choose to turn a blind eye to the dangers and harm caused by the Falun Gong cult. This shows they are using this issue to make a fuss and using human rights as a pretense to interfere in other countries affairs.'' He said followers are convicted because they practice Falun Gong; they are charged with committing crimes like protesting. The Falun Dafa and various human rights groups estimate that the death toll of Falun Dafa practitioners who have died in prison or work camps as a result of maltreatment now exceeds 100. Liu rejects this figure.

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Positive move on Eastern Orthodoxy - 2004-SEP:

Fourum 18 reports: "China's estimated 3,000 scattered Orthodox Christians may soon be able to have their own priests once again. Since 2003, 15 Chinese Orthodox have been studying in Orthodox seminaries in Russia with the permission of China's State Administration of Religious Affairs. 'Now they are happy for Chinese to become priests,' an Orthodox source from Shanghai told Forum 18 News Service. But Hong Kong-based Russian Orthodox priest Fr Dionisy Pozdnyayev told Forum 18 it has yet to be decided whether these seminarians will be allowed to become priests in China when they complete
their theological education. Fr Dionisy can minister only to foreign citizens in Beijing and Shenzhen, but a Russian priest spent two weeks in June ministering to local Orthodox in Harbin with official permission
." 7

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Roundup of house church leaders - 2005-MAY:

Officers of the Police and Public Security Bureau raided about 60 independent and unregistered house churches as they were meeting on Sunday, 2005-MAY-22. Most were released after a day or two of interrogation. However, about 40 are believed to have been held until at least JUN-10. On the following Friday, about 60 additional leaders of unregistered house churches were arrested. The Voice of the Martyrs believe that the government's goal is to eliminate house churches near universities. 8

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  1. Hu Xiaomin, "Xinhua reports on cults in the United States," Beijing Xinhua Domestic Service
  2. "Banned sect joins long Chinese history of religious repression," Associated Press, 1999-JUL-22.
  3. Newsroom's web site is at:
  4. "China rails at human rights censure amid new reports of crackdowns," Newsroom report 2000-FEB-1 
  5. "Chinese police arrest more religious believers in cult crackdown," Newsroom report 2000-SEP-12
  6. Catholic World New's web site is at  They offer a free 30 day trial service, and a $25/year subscription.
  7. "China: Will orthodox Christians soon be allowed priests?," Forum 18, 2004-SEP-22. See:
  8. "Crackdown on house churches in China," WorldNetDaily, 2005-JUN-10.

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Portions copyrighted © 2000 to 2004, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-FEB-2
Latest update: 2005-JUN-17
Portions written by B.A. Robinson

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