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But when 10,000 practitioners turned up in Zhongnanhai, the Beijing residential area of the Communist Party elite, in April 1999 to peacefully protest the harassment of some adherents, the government took notice.The result was a ban on the organization, a vigorous propaganda campaign against Li and the imprisonment and the arrest and torture of hundreds of practitioners.At each location, Li’s voice rang out from small boom boxes guiding the adherents through the five exercises.
As advertised on its website, Chinese ballet, run by the Falun Gong religion, draws attention to the persecution the group faces in China, with a few backflips and fan dances thrown in.
Falun Gong is a relatively new religious movement that gained popularity in China in the 1990s.
Campbell joined about 60 other practitioners across the street from the Chinese consulate on 42nd Street, where they gather twice a week to protest the Beijing crackdown.
There also was little hesitation in trumpeting claims of the health benefits.
In New York alone, dozens of practices are organized throughout the city daily.
FOLLOWING FALUN GONG On a bone-chilling spring morning in Manhattan, spent time with followers at three different locations where practitioners ranged from elderly ethnic Chinese gathering in Chinatown to Wall Street types in Battery Park City.The movement’s Web sites and brochures give prominent play to claims that Falun Gong has 100 million practitioners, which would rank it fifth in size among the world’s top religions, below Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism — and above Sikhism and Judaism.Scott Chinn, who explained that the 100 million estimate came from a Chinese government sports minister, disputes the categorization among religions, insisting that there is no formal Falun Gong organization. A check through the news weekly’s roster of reports reveals a story on Feb.(Falun Gong adherents discourage the use of religious terminology, insisting they are practitioners — not members — of a spiritual movement, not a religion.) In any event, Li — known as Mr.Li, the Teacher or Master Li — set out the core teachings in his book and practitioners are encouraged to read it while moving toward the essence of Falun Gong, a life filled with “truthfulness, compassion and forbearance.” Falun Gong spread quickly across China, at first with the grudging tolerance of the Chinese government.“After I learned these exercises, I don’t feel tired, I don’t suffer from fatigue,” says Feng Ching, a research fellow in biochemistry at Sloane Kettering hospital. It reduces stress,” says Scott Chinn, the software engineer who works on Wall Street. I’m a much more happy person, much healthier,” says Sterling Campbell, the drummer.Chinn also is the vice president of the New York Falun Dafa organization, set up to highlight the human rights violations against the movement in China. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT The three have embraced a practice that has spread rapidly from China to 40 countries in less than a decade.They are among the thousands of devotees around the United States who have embraced this controversial Eastern practice, one that the Chinese government has denounced as an “evil cult” and that others question over claims it cures terminal illnesses.For Sterling Campbell, Scott Chinn and Feng Ching, the rewards of Falun Gong — also known as Falun Dafa — are sublime, an almost miraculous change in temperament and sensibility, a shedding of negative attitudes and energy, a feeling of compassion and tolerance.Chinn also noted that the 100 million figure was reported in U. 22, 1999, in which an anonymous official attached to the Chinese sports commission says: “Falun Gong and other types of qi gong can save each person 1,000 yuan in annual medical fees.If 100 million people are practicing it, that’s 100 billion yuan saved per year in medical fees.” Queried about the murky sourcing for the figure, Chinn acknowledged that he also has been wondering about the estimate, but that as an American it’s difficult to “get through that Chinese barrier.” More recently, the Chinese government claimed that the movement’s ranks had thinned from about 2 million to around 20,000 practitioners in China.