FAQ: Mr. Li Hongzhi
Who is Li Hongzhi?
Mr. Li Hongzhi is the founder and instructor of Falun Gong. He first taught the practice of Falun Gong to the general public in 1992 in northeastern China in the city of Changchun. He is the recipient of numerous awards and citations for his efforts to promote human betterment. He is a four time Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and has been nominated by the European Parliament for the Sakharov Prize For Freedom of Thought.
Why do you call him “Master”?
This is a common honorific in China for any accomplished instructor in any of a variety of skilled arts—such as the martial arts, Tai-chi, or qigong—or religious disciplines, such as Buddhism or Daoism. There is nothing sensational about it, any more than, say, might the designation “professor” be for one’s instructor while in college.
An article I read said that you “worship” Master Li?
Those who practice Falun Gong do not as a practice worship Mr. Li, and Li has, for his part, specifically discouraged this sort of thing in his teachings (veneration of one’s spiritual teacher is common in Asian culture). While it is common in the Asian martial arts to, say, bow to a portrait of one’s sensai/teacher before commencing one’s training, Falun Gong’s teachings do not suggest anything of the sort. Attention has always been directed to the teachings in Falun Gong, as opposed to any one personality.
Why did he leave China?
Mr. Li has explained that he wished for a better educational opportunity for his daughter, who was then of high school age, when deciding to relocate to the United States. The move could also be seen as consistent with his decision in 1996 to discontinue teaching in China in favor of introducing the practice abroad.
Where does he now live?
As of the time of this writing, Mr. Li is said to be living in the United States on the East Coast.
I heard he lives a secretive life. What’s he hiding?
Mr. Li keeps a low profile at this time, presumably owing to threat of physical harm from agents of China’s communist regime. Radio Free Asia and others have reported that China’s rulers have dispatched assassins to the U.S. with orders to track down and kill Li. Several of his more prominent students, active in human rights efforts, have been physically assaulted by hired thugs; in at least two cases the thugs were later found to have been sent by the Chinese consulate.
Why doesn’t he address the public or do interviews?
Alongside the above concern for safety, Mr. Li has suggested a wish to avoid media fanfare and the possibility of a cult of personality forming around him; several journalists have not represented his words or teachings accurately, which might be another factor.
How does Mr. Li make a living?
He has indicated that his income as of 1999 came primarily from the sales of books which he authored.
Is it true he’s made millions off of Falun Gong?
No. Mr. Li is believed to have only made a nominal amount from the sales of Falun Gong books and videos, and the giving of lectures in China between 1992 and 1994. China’s Ministry of Propaganda has labored to paint Li as a wealthy swindler in an attempt to turn public opinion against him, going so far in one story as to show photos of a Manhattan skyscraper and claim he had amassed a real estate empire in the U.S. In reality, he owned a small residential home in Queens.
Who taught him the practice?
Mr. Li has indicated that he studied under several Buddhist, Daoist, and other masters in China in the decades leading up to Falun Gong’s public introduction in 1992. He has expressed a wish to protect their identities following the persecution of Falun Gong which began in 1999; their identification would likely lead to arrest and torture, as it has others associated with the practice.
Is it true he is ‘controlling the movement’ via the Internet?
No. Mr. Li reportedly didn’t know how to use a computer when last asked. He has composed a number of essays in recent years, published by various adherents online, which offer spiritual and philosophical guidance to students of the practice, many of whom live in China under constant threat. But it would not be accurate to describe this as “controlling” what is happening in China, particularly given how loosely organized are the grassroots efforts there meant to resist the suppression.
What is Li’s response to the suppression in China?
Mr. Li originally called for dialogue with Chinese authorities, believing them to be acting on a mistaken perception that Falun Gong threatened their power. China’s rulers refused, and issued an arrest warrant for Li; soon after it was reported they sent assassins to the U.S. Li has since then suggested that students try to expose human rights abuses against Falun Gong to fellow citizens, and combat official propaganda with grassroots informational efforts.