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Falun Gong: The End of Days. By MARIA HSIA CHANG. [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 188 pp. $25.00; £16.99. ISBN 0-300-10227-5.]

  • David A. Palmer
Extract

Since 1999, falun gong has been one of the most burning and sensitive political and religious issues in China, brought to the attention of the public around the world by demonstrations and media reports. Until Maria Hsia Chang's book, Falun Gong: The End of Days, was released this spring, no balanced book-length account of the facts surrounding falun gong was available. Chang's book provides the general public with an informative summary of the development of falun gong, its basic beliefs, the history of its repression by the Chinese state, and its connection with millenarian and sectarian traditions in Chinese religious history. However, the journalistic style and sources of the book underline the need for a thorough academic study of the phenomenon.

Chapter one, “A religious sect defies the state,” outlines the story of falun gong from its foundation in 1992 to its continued repression today following the Zhongnanhai demonstration of 1999. In chapter two, “Chinese religions and millenarian movements,” Chang summarizes the history of Chinese religions, secret societies, and millennial and apocalyptic movements, including the Eight Trigram, Taiping and Boxer rebellions, and argues that the Chinese Communists tapped into China's millenarian tradition in order to gain power. She then stresses that falun gong, contrary to its claims that it is not a religion, draws heavily from Chinese religion, and particularly its millennial and apocalyptic strands. Falun gong teachings are described in chapter three, “Beliefs and practices,” in which falun gong's cosmology, theology and eschatology are outlined with ample reference to the writings of Li Hongzhi. The next chapter, “The state vs. falun gong,” goes through the Chinese state's charges against falun gong. Chapter five, “The persecution of other faiths,” begins with a critique of the “rule of law” purportedly called on by the CCP to deal with falun gong, and argues that the accusations made against falun gong could just as well be made against the CCP itself. It then discusses the vast social dislocations in contemporary China that create a fertile soil for the emergence of apocalyptic movements such as falun gong, and describes how the persecution of falun gong is part of a larger policy to eradicate underground religious groups, several of which are presented. Finally, Chang concludes that, in the face of widespread social dissatisfaction, the fear of millenarian uprisings is the main motivation for the CCP's fierce suppression of falun gong – but its intolerance of “heterodox” faiths only reinforces their politicization into oppositional movements, increasing the likelihood of the CCP “reaping the fate” it so dreads.

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The China Quarterly
  • ISSN: 0305-7410
  • EISSN: 1468-2648
  • URL: /core/journals/china-quarterly
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