To Li’s detractors, he is a fraud; a greedy poser who’s only after money. But, to his followers, he is a master, an enlightened being, a generous teacher who cares little about benefitting himself. Those are the two facets of Li Hongzhi.
Is he what the Chinese government makes him out to be, or a divine incarnation clothed in a human body? He neither confirms nor negates such assumptions; he always tells reporters that he’d rather not explain because, in our “limited understanding,” we wouldn’t comprehend the concept of who he really is.
Until the early 2000s, his biography was shown in his own website, but was later removed. The new editions of his “Falun Gong” book and his other writings are no longer contained in his biography. His followers explain that they would “rather talk about his principles than dwell on his past.” The following biography is based on what is available – as to whether he could really levitate, well, we’ll leave that to the reader’s imagination.
Hagiography and Biography
Li Hongzhi is not an ordinary person, as far as his devotees are concerned. He is a god to them, one capable of reading the future and even cleansing them from sin. Much ado was earned for his efforts to change his birthdate from July 7th (some say 27th) to May 13th. The People’s Republic of China accused Li of choosing the said date because it was the birthday of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism. According to Li, however, he is simply correcting his birth records, which is not an isolated case. There is some truth to his claim because China, at the time, was plagued by civil war and uprisings due to Mao Tse Tung’s “Cultural Revolution” and birth certificate errors were common.
His birthdate, according to him, was erroneously noted and the incorrect date appeared in his documents, including his school and employment records. The government will not grant his request until he shows substantial evidence that he was indeed born on May 13th.
Li had an ordinary family; he was the eldest of three children and the only son of an acupuncturist father and a nurse mother. Li was like any other child, according to his schoolmates and neighbors. His hagiography, however, says otherwise.
Li was originally from the Jilin province and moved to Changchun when he was two years old; his parents would later separate. Zhujiang Street Elementary School of Changchun became his primary school, where he began studying in 1960. When his classmates and former teachers were asked about the young Li, all they could remember was an introverted boy who had a talent for playing the trumpet.
In his hagiography, he was said to have been trained by the Tenth Heir to the Great Law of the Buddha School, Quan Jue, when he was only four years old. After four years of training, he was said to have acquired supernatural powers, such as invisibility, levitation and other unbelievable abilities. He was said to have trained under the master’s care until he was 12 years old, when he was then discovered by Baji Zhenren, an “immortal Taoist.” With Master Zhenren, Li trained physically and learned martial arts.
His peers negate this, of course, as they have never once seen Li display his powers; they remember him only as a skilled trumpeter.
Before becoming a Master
According to some accounts, Li worked on a People's Liberation Army stud farm when he was 17 years old. He was said to have worked there from 1970 to 1978. After eight years on the stud farm, he was hired as a trumpet player in a forest police unit in the Jilin Province while also working as an attendant in the hotel which housed the police officers.
This is the very reason why some grew suspicious of Li’s intentions. While claiming to be “divine” and “powerful,” he seemed to have had a rather drab life before becoming active in Qi Gong in 1991. After working in the police unit, he then worked in the Changchun Cereals Company as part of its security personnel.
It was his transfer to Changchun which triggered his involvement in Qi Gong. His colleagues did not see him practicing Qi Gong in the army or police unit; in fact, they say the rigid and hectic schedule would not have allowed Li to do anything other than daily tasks. Another source of suspicion is his neighbors’ description of him. They say that Li was short-tempered and never wanted to be bothered, so much that he built a structure in front of his door prevent people from getting through it. There was also an incident in which Li ganged up with a neighbor to hurt another man on their block. These claims were unfounded, however, and deemed to have been made-up by people who were displeased with the organization he founded.
If we were to ask Li, the reason people were unaware of his trainings and Qi Gong practice was that he always did it at night, and that the Cultural Revolution had made it risky to practice in public.
Discovering “Falun Gong”
From being nobody, Li Hongzhi became a well-known spiritual teacher upon discovering “Falun Gong,” or “Falun Dafa.” Li explained how “Falun Gong” is different from other Qi Gong practices in his interview with TIME:
"There are different practices of qigong in China and in other countries, but they are primarily aimed at healing illnesses or keeping fit and maintaining good health. I am teaching a higher level of qigong. It encompasses a greater content. It is like the Tao, which is known in the Western world."
Those who practiced “Falun Gong” were said to have been “miraculously healed” from their sicknesses, which is why the government grew suspicious of their organization. At first, they received media mileage; Li appeared as a guest on TV shows and was often sought for interviews. But, as his following grew, the Chinese government saw them as a threat.
Three years after it was founded, Li Hongzhi decided it was time for to bring “Falun Gong” abroad.
Reaching the United States – with controversy
Like his origins, his transfer abroad was questioned. The Chinese government demanded his deportation to China, but the U.S. government rejected the request because there “weren’t enough grounds for extradition.” From what the U.S. government understood, the conflict was religious by nature and did not merit punishment through deportation.
Li’s passport was revoked, however, which disabled him from travelling. What was remarkable was Li’s stance on the issue; when asked why he thought he was being singled-out, he had this to say:
"America is a country with democracy. You probably don't understand what it is like in a country that has a centralized government. The Chinese government knows that what I am teaching is good and that I am teaching people to have high moral values. They are only concerned because there are so many people practicing cultivation." (SOURCE: Time)
“Falun Gong” started at the parks – people were drawn to the practice because of the peace and well-being it promised. It is unique in eight ways:
1. A Falun is cultivated, rather than an energy elixir.
2. The Falun refines the person even when he or she is not doing the practice’s exercises.
3. One’s primary consciousness is cultivated, such that it is the person him or herself who obtains Gong energy.
4. Both mind and body are cultivated.
5. The practice consists of five exercises, which are simple and easy to learn.
6. The mind is not used to direct anything, there are no associated risks, and Gong energy increases quickly.
7. Location, time, and direction are not of concern when exercising, nor is how one concludes one’s exercise session.
8. Protection is provided by the master's Fashen, so one needn’t fear harm from malevolent entities. (SOURCE: Falun Dafa)
The Falun, or “wheel” based on the Eastern belief, is planted in the body. While the Western belief is of an intangible spirit, Li explains that the Falun is concrete in the Eastern belief. Li was said to be capable of both teleportation and telepathy, and even the ability to cleanse sins. But we are not to judge Li Hongzhi, as his claims could mean many things. Some say he equates sins with sickness, and, since he can “heal” people by implanting the Falun, he is then able to cleanse the body of impurities.
One of the boldest claims he has made to date is in regard to the existence of aliens. According to him, aliens exist and they have influenced people through science and technology. He went so far as to say that their ultimate goal is to replace human beings because our body is a “perfect creation.”
The following statements are reminiscent of a science fiction plot:
"The aliens have introduced modern machinery like computers and airplanes. They started by teaching mankind about modern science, so people believe more and more science, and spiritually, they are controlled. Everyone thinks that scientists invent on their own when in fact their inspiration is manipulated by the aliens. In terms of culture and spirit, they already control man. Mankind cannot live without science.
The ultimate purpose is to replace humans. If cloning human beings succeeds, the aliens can officially replace humans. Why does a corpse lie dead, even though it is the same as a living body? The difference is the soul, which is the life of the body. If people reproduce a human person, the gods in heaven will not give its body a human soul. The aliens will take that opportunity to replace the human soul and by doing so they will enter earth and become earthlings.
When such people grow up, they will help replace humans with aliens. They will produce more and more clones. There will no longer be humans reproduced by humans. They will act like humans, but they will introduce legislation to stop human reproduction." (SOURCE: Time)
Most of what Li Hongzhi says is hard to believe. On the other hand, the principles of Falun Gong – truthfulness, compassion and forbearance – indeed promise a fruitful and peaceful life. His authenticity is debatable, but it wouldn’t hurt to practice those principles in our daily lives. On the contrary, all beliefs aside, we would very much benefit from doing so.
Organizations and Programs Supported
- Beijing Health Expo
- Ministry of Public Security
- Public Security University
Awards and Achievements
- 1992: Began teaching Falun Gong
- 1993: Published “Falun Gong”
- 1995: Began teaching Falun Gong abroad and published “Zhuan Falun”
- 1996: Houston named Li an honorary citizen and goodwill ambassador for his "unselfish public service for the benefit and welfare of mankind"
- 2001: The Freedom House bestowed Li Hongzhi and Falun Gong with an “International Religious Freedom Award” for the advancement of religious and spiritual freedom
- 2000 and 2001: Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize
- 2001: Ranked the most powerful communicator in Asia by “Asiaweek” and nominated for the “Sakharov Prize” by over 25 members of European Parliament
- 2013: Ranked by Foreign Policy Magazine as one of the “500 Most Powerful People in the World”
- Received “Honorary Citizenship” from The State of Georgia and city of Atlanta
- Set up the “Research Society of Falun Dafa” in Beijing
Wikipedia (Li Hongzhi)
BBC (Who is Li Hongzhi?)
Falun Dafa (Brief Introduction to Falun Dafa)
Time (Interview with Li Hongzhi)
China-Embassy.org (True Face of Li Hongzhi)
Kaiwind.com (The untold story of Falun Gong: Falun Dafa and its master)
ChineseEmbassy.org (A Biographical Profile of Li Hongzhi)
Kenyon.edu (Eye of the Storm)