Just when Jiang Zemin (江澤民) was preparing to use Communist China's 50th anniversary celebrations to show off his achievements, Li Hongzhi (李洪志) encouraged tens of thousands of Falun Gong (法輪功) devotees from Beijing, Tianjin, Inner Mongolia and Shandong to surround Zhongnanhai (中南海), challenge Jiang, and rattle his power base.
Jiang, a stern believer in nipping every cause of instability in the bud, was caught completely off guard. Overnight, Li's Falun Gong followers gathered before his front gate to strut their stuff. That Jiang responded in an angry and heavy-handed way was not surprising. But in fact, Jiang's tactics involved a nationwide mobilization in a what outsiders called a "mini-Cultural Revolution," laying siege to the Falun Gong. The attacks raised Li Hongzhi to the same status as that of Lee Teng-hui (李登輝), with his "two states" theory. Thus there is now a movement against the "two Lees." For some time, criticisms of Li Hongzhi took up lengthy, front-page coverage in Chinese newspapers, TV and radio stations, dwarfing the criticisms of Lee Teng-hui.
Thus, we can see the seriousness of the threat the Falun Gong poses to Jiang's authority.
In China, Falun Gong is said to have more followers than the Chinese Communist Party -- which has 50 million members. Falun Gong claims more than 100 million followers worldwide. Officials at the Chinese government's Ministry of Civil Affairs claim the group only has two million followers.
Even given these figures, the fact that the group is capable of repeatedly mobilizing tens of thousands of followers to surround government and party offices, including Zhongnanhai itself, in an indication that the group has become the "climate of the day." Pro-democracy activist leaders exiled to the US deplore the fact that the democracy movement has not learned Li's ability to organize and mobilize, which has shocked Jiang into giving priority to "internal pacification" rather than pacifying Taiwan.
Falun Gong's biggest threat toward Jiang lies in the fact that many of the group's backbone cadres are communist party members, who are supposed to be Marxists and atheists. Moreover, quite a few of them are medium- or high-level officials and intellectuals. They have not only become Li's enthusiastic sales team, but some have also become planners and organizers for Li's challenge to both Jiang's authority and that of the Communist party.
Their faith in the "master" is almost like the faith people used to have for Mao Zedong (毛澤東) or Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平). They see Li as a god. They call him "master" and not by his personal name. If they have become superstitious to such an extent that they are willing to surround Zhongnanhai under their master's orders, wouldn't it scare Jiang to even think about what more they might be capable of doing under the "master's" orders?
Now Jiang has been carrying a big stick and striking back at Li's "pseudo-science" with Marxist atheism, in an attempt to rebuild public trust in the Communist party and in himself. Unfortunately, Jiang does not seem to have realized that things are not what they used to be. During the Mao era, people sincerely believed in communism. Holding discussion groups and study groups for communist ideology, eliciting criticisms and self-criticisms, and indoctrination in general, were basically effective at the time.
After the Cultural Revolution, and the creation of a market economy, people's faith in communism has become shaky and is fading out. People's faith in Mao and Deng is also not what it used to be. Can Jiang possibly get people to feel the "god's presence" with these outdated stratagems and slogans?
Xu Jiatun, a former director of China's Xinhua News Agency in Hong Kong, currently lives in Los Angeles.
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