People across China took the opportunity of the traditional Lantern Festival, a time of family reunions and gatherings, to thank an inspirational figure—the founder of the Falun Gong spiritual practice for their newfound family harmony. At the same time it shows that the persecution of the practice has done little to dull its appeal to many.
Similar displays of solidarity with the practice in the face of a brutal persecution are at least annual events—though the difference this time was that those doing the thanking were not Falun Gong practitioners themselves—they were the family members of adherents.
The festival, which was on March 5 this year, marks the end of the two-weeklong Chinese New Year celebrations that began on Feb. 19. According to the tradition, people use lanterns to pay reverence to a Chinese deity who passes on blessings to the people.
“There used to be a lot of conflicts in my family. But now, all of my neighbors are saying how great and harmonious our family is,” wrote Mrs. Zhou, an owner of a private business in China. She said that her family has been a major beneficiary of her mother-in-law’s adoption of Falun Gong.
“Thank you, Falun Gong. I would like to wish the teacher of Falun Gong a happy New Year,” Zhou wrote.
The notes are significant because they show the continued widespread support of Falun Gong, despite a campaign of vilification and brutality carried out by the Party’s security and propaganda forces for the last 15 years.
At the height of its popularity in the late 1990s in China, the practice had attracted between 70 million and 100 million adherents. It is a powerful social force that beckoned to China’s millennium-old traditions of self-cultivation, rather than the ideology of struggle and mistrust found in Chinese communism. Falun Gong includes five meditative exercises and the moral teachings of truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance. Li Hongzhi, 63, taught Falun Gong in China in the 1990s and now lives in the United States.
“I wish teacher a happy Lantern Festival. And I hope that Mr. Li will come back to China,” said Ms. Dan, a former employee of a private company in China. “I look forward to the day everyone can know about the truth about Falun Gong.”
Dan said that her mother-in-law and nephew picked up the practice after seeing her mother’s remarkable health improvement, which was attributed to her practice of Falun Gong.
“I began helping my mom do household chores when I was 8 years old because she was so ill that she could go to sleep only after taking sleeping pills,” said Dan. “Now my mom is healthy and is doing all kinds of chores.”
Mrs. Ji, a high school teacher in China, said her mother began to practice Falun Gong in 2000 to overcome health problems such as rheumatism and high blood pressure. Her father took up the practice later.
“I think people from all walks of life can improve,” said Ji. “I think Mr. Li is outstanding.”
China has been plagued by corruption, pollution, and social discontent over the several decades of its rapid economic development, and Chinese people regularly lament the decline of basic moral values and civility. Self-cultivation practices like Falun Gong were a bulwark against these trends—but when the persecution campaign began, this buffer was roughly stripped away.
“With many changes in society now, people are easily exposed to different kinds of awful educational materials,” said Ji. “However, there is an element of compassion within Mr. Li’s teachings. With people being persistent in the practice, our society will follow a path of continuous improvement,” she wrote.
Mr. Yang, who said his mother has practiced Falun Gong for 16 years, complained that Chinese society is “too selfish,” because people have “lost sight of who they really are.” He added: “If everyone was compassionate … there would be true harmony between people.”
He continued, “The quality of our air would surely improve as well.”