Why Authoritarians Hate Embodied Movements

Falun Gong and Christians are Persecuted in China for the Same Reason

Walking through Chinatown the other week, I met a man named James handing out literature on the spiritual practices of Falun Gong. The pamphlets had information about “qigong” exercises used to channel life energy, and also about the on-going persecution of Falun Gong practitioners — including the harvesting of their organs by the Chinese government.

Beside him stood a woman, slowly and intentionally flowing through the exercises. Qigong (pronounced “chi gong”) as practiced by Falun Gong is said to have been passed down through the ages — one master to one disciple at a time — until it exploded in popularity a few decades ago.

James, the man I spoke with, pointed out the basic tenets of the spirituality — compassion, truthfulness, and forbearance (tolerance) — which were printed on his shirt. For a time, the government allowed and even encouraged its practice as a way to maintain health, until it began to see the masses of Falun Gong practitioners as a threat to party unity. Then, it was labeled a dangerous cult, and ever since its members have frequently been killed, imprisoned, or tortured for doing qigong in public.

James: “Patience, Compassion & Forbearance (tolerance)”

I told him I was curious about the current extent of the persecution. He said it was getting worse, not better. When I mentioned that I was a Christian and grateful for my religious freedoms as an American, he shared a story about Chinese Christians who were forced to sign papers renouncing their faith in order to avoid prison sentences. Christians who do not renounce their faith, along with Tibetans and practitioners of Falun Gong, have all been targeted with these tactics. First, they are threatened with imprisonment and then are subsequently killed and have their organs harvested if they do not conform to the Mystical body of Karl Marx.

The brutal practice of organ harvesting in China is well-established thanks to human rights watchdogs. However, few realize just how corrupt the system of procurement and sales is.

Essentially, transplant hospitals cater to wealthy foreigners in a particularly warped form of medical tourism. Up until a few years ago, Chinese hospitals listed the prices of various organs on their websites. At $62,000 for a Kidney; $98,000–130,000 for a liver, and $130,000–160,000 for a heart, there is a powerful incentive to maintain a steady supply.

Since the organ “market” is limited by the number of people who die, the only way to keep up with growing demand is through a form of modern-day ritual sacrifice. Normally, the obvious candidates would be elderly or otherwise expendable members of society, but since vitality is a prerequisite for an organ “donor,” the Chinese government has found it more expedient to execute healthy political and religious dissidents.

You don’t hear much about Falun Gong from western media unless you read The Epoch Times, a free, independent newspaper distributed in newspaper boxes around the Bay Area. The paper was founded by Falun Gong practitioners to expose authoritarian crimes that normally go uncovered in western mainstream media. There is a risk for larger outlets of getting kicked out the massive Chinese market if they don’t censor their coverage of certain events, like the 5,000-person Falun Gong march in Washington D.C. this past June. The march protested communism and promoted individual moral improvement in place of heavy-handed authoritarian rule.

This suppression is reminiscent of the media blackout of the March for Life, and similar events that are widely attended by American Christians. While Falun Gong is more closely linked with Buddhism than Christianity, the threat it poses to the Chinese government is similar to that posed by the underground Christian church. Teachings of Christianity and Falun Gong both reflect an understanding of human dignity that is embodied yet fundamentally spiritual.

Jesus says that whoever is of the truth hears his voice. In reading about the supernatural courage of persecuted Falun Gong members —many of whom have willingly gone to their deaths or been tortured for their beliefs — I have to speculate that some are hearing one and the same voice that is comforting persecuted Christians in their time of tribulation.

I am also reminded of how Jesus dismantled the political cult of his day — the temple in Jerusalem, with all of its ritual sacrifices — and replaced it with an embodied metaphor: the body as temple of the Holy Spirit, which defeats death in the resurrection.

“Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days,” Jesus says to his detractors — the same religious authorities who will willfully misinterpret his statement as a terrorist threat against the actual temple. The same logic is used by Chinese authorities to label Falun Gong as a dangerous political cult, when in fact they merely seek to spread the word about their spiritual practices.

How Embodied Practice Subverts Illegitimate Authority

Anyone who connects to their body as the precious vessel for their spirit will have an increased appreciation of the value of both. Intentional movement begins an internal dialogue, in which our bodies tell us what they need to thrive and our will and intellect cooperate to achieve our own good. We take care of ourselves and others not because of a mandated duty to the collective, but because it becomes part of a harmonious way of being.

Every body is different, and so is each individual. Authoritarian systems thrive on the myth that human populations must be managed by top-down control. Practices like Falun Gong chip away at this lie.

The principles of embodied practice do constitute a real threat to the communist Chinese regime, but only by peacefully subverting the whole religious/political apparatus that props up an otherwise illegitimate authority. No valid authority would be threatened by groups of citizens practicing a natural movement flow in public. If a healthy embodied practice is so closely correlated with rejection of the party line, then so much worse for the party line.

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After finishing my conversation with James, I said “peace be with you,” keeping in mind the principle of forbearance and not wanting to be overly aggressive in my evangelization. He responded with “God bless you.”

There is still an urgent need to proclaim the incarnate word (“the word made flesh”) in places like China, but with forbearance and compassion — recognizing that the truth already dwells in many non-Christians, who have yet to recognize its fullness in the person of Jesus Christ.

In the meantime, I think Christian disciples should seek their own embodied practices — whether it be Jesus Yoga, qigong, natural movement, breathing meditation, or something completely new. In doing so, we must always be attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and never adopt ancillary beliefs that might contradict that saving truth of Jesus’ dual divinity and humanity. I can’t vouch for every teaching of Falun Gong, but it seems to have seized on at least a partial truth that will grow and be purified as the ideas are exposed to the full light of revelation.

Darkness Dispelled


Since this post is about embodiment, I feel that it’s appropriate to show what the powers of darkness actually look like when wielded against the human body. Below are some pictures of Falun Gong practitioners who survived torture.

Tens of thousands have been killed for their organs and never got to tell their story. While this may seem like a victory for the powers of darkness (and no doubt, some demons thrive on the energy released from the practice of organ harvesting), the fact that this information is coming into the light is a powerful testament to the words from the prologue of John’s gospel:

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The fact that people like James are bringing this information to the public with a peaceful smile on their face is a prime example of how suffering can be redemptive. God bless you, James!

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