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Li Hongzhi ( ; born 13 May 1951 in Gongzhulingmarker, Jilinmarker) is the founder of Falun Gong (or Falun Dafa), a spiritual movement that defines itself as a "system of mind-body cultivation", related to the qigong tradition. Li Hongzhi introduced Falun Gong on 13 May 1992 in Changchunmarker, and subsequently gave lectures and taught Falun Gong exercises all over China. The movement gained significantly popularity in the 1990s, but was suppressed by the Chinese government in 1999.

Competing accounts exist on Li's early life from his detractors and supporters. Chinese government sources say that Li was an ordinary army grain clerk and trumpet player, while Falun Gong text Zhuan Falun assert that Li was trained by a host of different Buddhist and Taoist masters from childhood and possessed extraordinary powers. Much of Falun Gong's doctrine and all of its texts are directly compiled from Li's lectures and he wields near-absolute influence over the practice. As a result, his role within Falun Gong has been questioned by Chinese skeptics and was studied extensively by academics. Li moved to the United States in 1996 and continues to teach the practice from the abroad. Since 2000, he has rarely appeared in public.

Early life

Li claims that he was born on 13 May 1951 in Gongzhulingmarker, Jilin provincemarker.. In 1999, the Chinese government claimed that he modified his birth date in order to coincide with the birthday of Sakyamuni, citing a Changchun Public Security Bureau document dated 24 September 1994, whereby Li formally altered his birthday. Li rejected the accusation as a "smear", and asserted that his recorded birth date of 7 July 1952 was just one of the pervasive bureaucratic errors during the Cultural Revolution. He denied that he drew particular significance to it, saying "Many criminals were also born on that date. I have never said that I am Sakyamuni. I am just a very ordinary man."

There are competing accounts of Li's life that surfaced before and after the suppression of Falun Gong began in April 1999 from his supporters and detractors. David Ownby believes that both accounts should be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism. In Falun Gong and the future of China, Ownby said that Li Hongzhi was born Li Lai, on 27 July 1952, and that his parents divorced whilst he was a toddler. The biography in China Falun Gong (1992) states that Li was "completely poverty-stricken" with his mother "relying on a wage of some 30 yuan to bring up the whole family" The 1994 edition of Zhuan Falun states that Li was born into a "white-collar", "ordinary intellectual" family.

Chinese authorities say that Li studied at primary and junior high middle schools in Changchunmarker between 1960 and 1969. Growing up during the Cultural revolution, Li's formal education was adversely affected. According to the Chinese government biography, Li held "a series of unremarkable jobs": between 1970 and 1972, Li worked at an army stud farm; from 1972 to 1978, was a trumpet player in a forest police unit in Jilin Province, and then served as an attendant at a hotel attached to the same unit. From 1982 to 1991 he worked at the security department of the Changchun Cereals Company.

Spiritual biography

Li insists that his human life is of no particular importance to his teachings, and the biography that appeared as an appendix to the Falun Dafa text Zhuan Falun focuses only on spiritual aspects, and displayed many similarities to biographies of other qigong masters and men who claimed to be 'holy' in Chinese history. According to the Zhuan Falun biography, Li Hongzhi had been taught ways of "cultivation practice" (xiulian) by several Masters of the Dao and the Buddhist disciplines of thought from a very young age. At four, he was trained by Quan Jue, the Tenth Heir to the Great Law of the Buddha School. By age eight, he had acquired "the superb great law with supernatural powers", reputedly including invisibility, levitation, and preventing other boys from moving. Li also became compassionate and developed an altruistic moral code. Master Quan left him at age twelve, to be replaced by Taoist Master Baji Zhenren.

A third Master arrived in 1972 from the Great Way School with the Taoist (alias of True Taoist, Zhendaozi), who had come from the Changbai Mountainsmarker near the North Koreanmarker border. The True Taoist taught Li the way of inner cultivation through Qigong, stressing xinxing (i.e. "mind or heart nature, moral character"). Due to the Cultural Revolution, Li only practiced Qigong at night. A fourth Master - a woman from the Buddha School - trained Li after the True Taoist's departure in 1974. After training with these four Masters, Li's "energy potency had reached a very high level." The biography goes on to state that he has received training from over twenty masters in his lifetime and that "Some of his supernatural powers are difficult for ordinary people to imagine or understand."

In Zhuan Falun, Li further claims 'miracles' he performed that while practising with disciples in 1990. For example, he was able to push away stormy weather and hold off rain for the whole duration of the practice session, and "half an hour" afterwards. His personal development plateaued around this time, with the biography stating that Li was able "to see the truth of the universe, many more beautiful things which have existed there for a long time, as well as the origin, development and future of mankind."

After Falun Gong's ban in mainland China in 1999, new editions of Falun Gong's books no longer contain biographies of Li. These changes seem to reflect a larger trend of Li distancing himself from the public eye. Since 2000 he has very rarely appeared in public, his presence almost entirely being electronic or re-routed through quotations or directives on Falun Gong's websites. Li Hongzhi's biography were removed from Falun Gong websites some time after 2001.

Falun Gong

According to Zhuan Falun, Falun Gong's system was developed between 1984 and 1989 after years of synthesis from general Qigong principles and advice from Masters of numerous religious and spiritual schools. It claims to have "assembled all the mystical powers, which are the essence of the whole cosmos." While Li claims to have tested the system extensively between 1989 and 1992, Chinese authorities charge that Li created Falun Gong on the basis of two other Qigong systems developed earlier, namely, Chanmi Gong and Jiugong Bagua Gong. It added that some of Falun Gong's exercises were knock-offs of "movements from Thai dance that he picked up during a visit to relatives in Thailandmarker." Chinese authorities asserted that acquaintances Li Jingchao and Liu Yuqing helped to develop the system, and other earlier followers helped write texts and touch up photographs; it was not tested exhaustively beforehand, but was completed only one month before its official launch.

Li Hongzhi introduced Falun Dafa, or the Great Law of the Wheel of Dharma, on 13 May 1992 at the fifth Middle School in Changchun, Jilin. From 1992 to 1994 he traveled throughout China, giving lectures and teaching Falun Gong exercises; His following grew rapidly. Li's success was largely linked to the huge popularity enjoyed by Qigong in the late 1980s and early 1990s under Deng Xiaoping's social liberalization. In differentiating Falun Gong, its "accessibility to the public" and moral content marked a shift away from esoteric notions often found in other Qigong systems. Falun Gong also became a member of the Scientific Qigong Research Association ( ), which sponsored and helped organize many of Li's lectures between 1992 and 1994.

Li Hongzhi lectured that the "moral qualities cultivators are enjoined to practice in their own lives: truth, compassion and forbearance," - which evolved to become the three central pillars of Falun Gong. Li taught that the goal of cultivation is one of spiritual elevation, achieved by "eliminating karma—the built-up sins of past and present lives which often manifest themselves in individuals as illness—and accumulating virtue." Through cultivation, Falun Gong promised "personal harmony with the very substance of the universe." Because of Falun Gong's consistent allusions to Oriental traditions, Li criticized the self-imposed limits of modern science, and viewed traditional Chinese science as an entirely different, yet equally valid knowledge system. However, Li borrowed from modern scientific ideas to represent part of the Falun Gong doctrine - notably by making references to atomic theory and nuclear energy. By introducing scientific elements to his teachings, Li hoped to avoid Falun Gong being characterized as a traditional, superstitious belief system, and to gain a wider following among the educated.

Li was also critical of alternative systems within the Qigong movement, stating it was "rife with false teachings and greedy and fraudulent 'masters'" and set out to rectify it. Li proclaimed that Falun Gong was a part of a "centuries-old tradition of cultivation," and in his texts would often attack those who taught "incorrect, deviant, or heterodox ways." In many ways, Li differentiated Falun Gong from other movements in Qigong by emphasizing moral values aimed to "purify one's heart and attain spiritual salvation." rather than what he saw as undue emphasis on physical health and the development of extraordinary powers.

Li Hongzhi Lectures on Falun Gong in Wuhan, China, in 1993.
During Falun Gong's initial success with the Chinese public, its financial motives have been questioned, most prominently by Tianjin physicist He Zuoxiu. Falun Gong claims that in its history, its lectures had always been "run by volunteers and free of charge". At the time, many Chinese Qigong schools would charge adherents for expensive lecture and book fees. Li Hongzhi asserted that Falun Gong was different, and made efforts to make lectures as affordable as possible to the public. Li claimed that expenses should not "become a burden" for the general public and were only charged on the basis of covering costs. In reference to Falun Gong's financial situation, Li remarked "Since we offer salvation to all sentient beings, we should not add to the burden of the learners."

Li's success also had a large part to do with people seeking effective alternative medicine treatments at a time when China's health care system was struggling desperately to meet demand. As the Master of the Falun Gong cultivation system, Li claimed to "purify the students' bodies" and "unblock their main and collateral channels" and in doing so "remove the root of their disease," if they were ill. He also reputedly planted a Falun or "law wheel" in the abdomen of each student, and other "energy mechanisms" in other parts of their bodies. Li also described how his "Law bodies" will protect each practitioner and how he "clear[s] up the students' house and places of practice and then put[s]'a covering of safety'". According to Falun Gong groups, Li's success was recognized at the 1992 and 1993 Beijing Oriental Health Expo, where he gave three lectures instead of one due to popular demand, and received numerous "special awards".

In March 1995, Li Hongzhi arrived in France, beginning seven days of lectures in Paris at the invitation of China’s ambassador. This was followed in May by a lecture series in Sweden. Li Hongzhi delivered his first lecture in the United States on 5 October 1996. Li has lived in the United States since 1998.

Life abroad

On 10 May 1999, Li gave an unprecedented interview with Time, during which he stated that "human moral values are no longer good" and reiterated Falun Gong's differentiation from other Qigong groups. He also expounded on the "Dharma-ending period" and the existence of aliens corrupting the earth. He avoided questions about his personal background, stating, "I don't wish to talk about myself at a higher level. People wouldn't understand it."

On 29 July 1999, after Falun Gong was banned, the Chinese government levelled a series of charges against Li, including the charge of "disturbing public order." At that time, Li Hongzhi was living in the United States. The Chinese government's request to Interpolmarker for his arrest was rejected on the grounds that the request was a matter "of a political or religious character" and lacked information on any "ordinary law crime he would have committed" The Chinese government also revoked his passport, preventing him from traveling internationally.

Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong have received a wide range of awards and proclamations from Australia, Canada, Japan, Russia, and the United States. These include certificates of recognition from several governmental bodies in the United States - including Honorary Citizenship awarded by The State of Georgia and city of Atlanta. A number of cities in North America have proclaimed "Master Li Hongzhi Days". In 14 March 2001, The Freedom House honored Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong with an International Religious Freedom Award for the advancement of religious and spiritual freedom at a ceremony in the United States Senate. In the same year, Li was ranked the most powerful communicator in Asia by Asiaweek magazine "for his power to inspire, to mobilize people and to spook Beijing."


  • Falun Gong. Considered an introductory exposition of the principles of Falun Gong and the traditional Chinese concept of cultivation practice, along with descriptions of the exercises of Falun Gong. First published in April, 1993.
  • Nine Day Lectures on Falun Dafa. From 1992 to 1994, Li Hongzhi presented his teachings across China, the contents of which were ultimately edited and compiled into the book Zhuan Falun. The teachings entailed a one to two hour lecture on each of 8 to 10 consecutive days. Exercise instruction was offered thereafter. The final of these lecture series, delivered in Guangzhou, China, in 1994, were recorded live and they form a central part of Falun Gong's teachings.
  • Zhuan Falun-Turning the Law Wheel. Considered the central and most comprehensive exposition of the teachings of Falun Gong. First published in January, 1995.
  • Hong Yin - Grand Verses. A collection of short poems written by Li, often touching upon issues pertinent to the traditional Chinese concept of cultivation practice.
  • Lectures and Writings. Transcripts of Lectures delivered by Li and articles periodically published by him also form a central part of Falun Gong's teachings.


External links

Li Hongzhi's teachings


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