How to Talk About Falun Gong to Those Living in Western Countries

With the recent efforts to clarify the facts about Falun Gong and the persecution taking place in China to the people of New York City, and the on-going efforts to highlight this issue to VIP's and government officials, there seems to be a need to discuss our methods and experiences with regards to talking to Westerners specifically. Since most Westerners come from a quite different background than Chinese, when we clarifying the facts about Falun Gong there are often various questions that arise. Similarly, there are sometimes misunderstandings, and these are often different than the misunderstandings Chinese tend to frequently have.

This article is not intended to precisely define how to clarify the facts to Westerners, but rather to put forth some thoughts and hopefully stimulate discussions on more effective ways to clarify the truth to Westerners. The following are some questions that I have frequently seen Westerners having about Falun Gong, and some thoughts on how to respond to them. If others have seen different questions, or have better ways to respond to these questions, I encourage them to share their ideas with others in follow up articles that they submit to Falun Gong websites.

What is Falun Gong?

When talking about Falun Gong to Westerners, one of the first questions that pops up, especially if they have never heard about Falun Dafa, is "What is Falun Gong?" For Chinese people, many seem to have a basic understanding of Qigong [traditional Chinese exercises for cultivating "qi" or "vital energy"], meditation, cultivation, etc. Qigong and meditation are not very common in modern Western society though, so few people understand much about it, and some simply have no idea what meditation or Qigong is.

When I clarified the truth in the past, it was easy for me to gloss over this point, as I assumed everyone was like me and knew at least the basics of Qigong and meditation. I remember several instances where I would clarify the truth to someone, and then run into them again later and they would ask me "Now, what is Falun Gong again?" Even though they learnt about the persecution, it did not seem to leave such a deep impression, as they were not very clear on what it was that was being persecuted, and they did not have anything to relate it to.

I even remember a Falun Gong practitioner that was involved in dialogue with the Icelandic government saying that at the end of hours of meeting with officials there, the officials still turned around and asked, "Now, please tell us, what exactly is Falun Gong?" This was a great shock as so many practitioners had been trying to clarify the truth in depth to those in Iceland. Even though the officials learnt about the persecution from us, they still hadn't learnt what Falun Gong was, and so our overall truth clarification was not as powerful.

We all know basic ways to answer this question, but what I have found to be very important is reading the person you are talking to, and giving some thought to figuring out what might be the best approach in truth clarification to help them understand. Some people may have some background in Asian culture, and so with a few simple words they will get a very basic understanding. For others we may need to find something to relate it to, like examples of Taichi or yoga. Some may be wondering why someone would do these exercises, even confusing them with martial arts, and therefore we could discuss that they improve health and fitness. There are all kinds of misunderstandings that could come up, so it is important that we address these so that the people are clear as to what Falun Gong is. This is an important base for further truth clarification.

Why is Falun Gong being persecuted?

The most common question I hear after telling people about the persecution is, "But why is Falun Gong persecuted?" This question might not come up that often when clarifying the facts to Chinese, but for Westerners it is often simply unbelievable that a government could treat its own citizens in such a way. If this question cannot be adequately answered, the person will not necessarily have a bad impression of Dafa, but nonetheless they won't gain a very deep and clear understanding, and if this is not resolved in their minds, then these can be gaps that may be manipulated by the old forces to confuse them on certain topics, thereby creating misunderstandings.

We can talk about this topic from several points of view. One, we can talk about how throughout the history of Communist China, there have been many movements in which a group was targeted as an enemy of the state and the cause of current social problems. The state-run media will produce propaganda to fool the public into also thinking the group is bad, and then the group will be oppressed and the public will go along with it as they feel the group is damaging the country and the cause for difficulties in society. The reason these movements come about are to use the group as scapegoats to avert social pressure felt by the officials in order to retain their power and divert the publics' attention. These movements also give unscrupulous leaders opportunities to consolidate or increase their power by suppressing or eliminating rivals within the government.

We can explain that the Chinese government is nothing like many Western countries in which officials are elected. In China many officials are appointed, and the way they gain favour to become appointed is often based on how they position themselves on the current political movement and how hard they work to push it one way or another. We can explain how the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, which many Westerners remember vividly after seeing it on their televisions, was manipulated by the state-run media in China to make the unarmed students seem like the bad people that were attacking the military, whereas what we saw on our televisions in the West was just the opposite--the Chinese military killing innocent students. This was then used to suppress certain disliked officials (Zhao Ziyang to name one), and Jiang was able to gain important political capital by taking a hard-line stance as the Mayor of Shanghai at the time, eventually leading to his appointment as Communist Party Chairman.

From another point of view, we can discuss how the communist party in China has been trying to eradicate traditional Chinese culture from the country for decades. (We can also remind people that communism is not even originally Chinese.) The Great Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 1970s (it lasted around 10 years) specifically targeted the elimination of traditional Chinese culture. Falun Gong teaches "Truthfulness-Compassion-Tolerance," and the essence of traditional Chinese culture can be found in these three words. In China there have been all different types of meditation and exercises for thousands of years. In the past, virtually everyone would meditate before taking on a task. Throughout different time periods in China, the cultivation of the individual and trying to improve oneself by following a set of principles has always been commonplace. Therefore the essence of traditional Chinese culture can be found in Falun Gong.

The above is aimed at giving Westerners a basic introduction to the history of China over the past 50 years of communist rule. Without having an understanding of how the government and society has run and is being run now, it can be difficult for Westerners to understand why a group like Falun Gong would be persecuted, as it seems nearly impossible for anything remotely like this to occur in democratic countries.

Aren't they breaking the law?

For those that have read some media articles that discuss practitioners going to appeal on Tiananmen Square, broadcasting videos that detail the truth about the persecution on television in China, etc., many Westerners will often think that if they break the law, they should be arrested and placed in jail. The main problem with this is that they do not understand that the Chinese government makes laws to fit what the current leader(s) want to do. They are not based on the constitution, nor do they represent what the public wants, as officials are not voted into office. Basically, these laws are created to suppress the people, and not allow them to have their basic right of freedom of speech (freedom of speech in guaranteed in the Chinese constitution).

We can bring up similar situations that have occurred outside China, like the jailing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Gandhi. They all "broke the law" and were therefore arrested, but the so-called laws they broke were unconstitutional and trampled people's basic human rights. From this point of view, what these people did was very just and noble, and they are now written about in our history books as heroes. The same is true for the Falun Gong practitioners in China that appeal and tell others the truth of the persecution.

Is Falun Gong a religion?

We of course can safely say that Falun Gong is not a religion, and we can lists reasons as to why Falun Gong is not a religion. Though we can explain clearly why it is not a religion, we often unknowingly create a question while answering this: "If it is not a religion, then what is it?" For those that are not satisfied with "an exercise meditation practice for healing and fitness," we can discuss some basic concepts of cultivation, without over emphasising whether it is a religion or not. Sometimes though, we seem to try really hard and explain that Falun Gong is not a religion, some people will feel we are being extreme, and perhaps even hiding something. We can also tell them that we have no membership, no place of worship nor hierarchy, highlighting facts that make the practice different form a religion. Besides, in Western society religion is not necessarily a bad thing, whereas in China nowadays, religion is often seen as unscientific and silly. If we can understand our audience and their feelings towards religion in general, then we can more easily answer this question.

Topics that confuse Chinese people may not necessarily confuse Westerners (and vice versa)

One of the main topics that has confused and created hatred towards Falun Gong in many Chinese people's eyes is the self-immolation incident on Tiananmen Square. There has been a lot of effort put into clarifying the facts of this to Chinese people, and clarifying this can really break through many Chinese people's bad notions about Falun Gong. For many Westerners though, they have not even heard of this. And those who have do not seem to think much about it. Even if they do believe it is true, some don't even think it is necessarily a bad thing, and see it similar to the monks that lit themselves on fire in Vietnam to protest the Vietnam War. Of course if people do have misunderstandings, even if they are not that bad, we should still correct them. But overall, this does not seem to be something we need to put too much effort into clarifying, as many seem to quickly understand what happened and that it was all just a show put on by Jiang's regime. For VIP's, government officials, and those that closely follow China and the persecution, we should still be sure to clarify this point though.

Avoid zealotry

Being overly excited about a certain topic or giving people the feeling that you are pushing something on them is something we need to be careful of when clarifying the facts. In Western society, we place much emphasis on the surface. Though what you may be saying is all good and correct, if you are too excited, pushy, so talkative that they can't ask questions, have bad breath or other bad odours, wear odd clothes (sometimes the clothes Chinese people wear is seen as rather odd to Westerners, so studying the clothes Westerners wear can be helpful in better conforming to their notions of dress), or any other superficial thing that people do not like, any of this can interfere with clarifying the facts. Often Westerners place more attention on the impression someone gives them, than on what the person actually says or knows.

The above are some thoughts that came to mind about clarifying the truth to Westerners. For fellow Western practitioners, hopefully this will provide some ideas on ways to clarify the truth more deeply to Westerners, having the practice and persecution be more clear to them. And for fellow Chinese practitioners, hopefully this will help you better understand the questions that Westerners may have, why they don't understand, and some basic ways to help answer these questions.

This article is just some ideas about clarifying the truth. Please point out any inaccuracies.

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