I was profoundly sad to read Lea Marshall's take on the cancellation of Shen Yun Performing Art's production. Ms. Marshall appeared to take the opportunity to impugn and degrade the Falun Gong spiritual discipline. She cites a 12-year-old New York Times report to substantiate the notion that Falun Gong is a "cult" — allegations that are profoundly inconsistent with mainstream understandings within the scholarly community.
Falun Gong is a form of meditative practice whose central values are truth, compassion and tolerance. Does Falun Gong believe in extraterrestrial life? Yes. So does Stephen Hawking. The existence of aliens is a peripheral concept mentioned in passing in Falun Gong's texts.
It plays no important role in either Falun Gong's greater cosmology. The practice also counsels against activities such as premarital and extramarital sex, as well as homosexuality. In this respect, Falun Gong is no different from Christianity or Buddhism.
By late 1998, the Chinese government estimated that 70 million people were practicing Falun Gong. Demographic surveys from the mid- to late-1990s showed that Falun Gong practitioners in China held college degrees at a rate 10 times higher than the national average (28 percent compared to 2.8 percent).
It was for this reason that some of the party leaders felt threatened by Falun Gong. In 1999, then-party leader Jiang Zemin launched a persecution of the practice that continues to this day.
Falun Gong practitioners have responded to this persecution in a remarkable fashion. They have completely eschewed violence even as they are vilified in the media. Instead, they have dedicated themselves to promoting freedom of information in China, and — in the case of Shen Yun — seeking to convey an uplifting message of hope, moral courage and peace. For these efforts, they deserve respect, not derision.
Dong Xiang, Executive Director
Falun Dafa Association of Washington