Internet Challenges to Falun Gong Lea...

Internet Challenges to Falun Gong Leader Li Hongzhi’s Authority

Posted in the Falun Gong Forum

Since: Aug 11

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#1 Dec 3, 2012
Use of the Internet has allowed Falun Gong to overcome certain challenges it faces in maintaining a sense of community within a global movement. In addition to facilitating face-to-face gatherings and online experience sharing, the Internet has allowed for a movement centered on a single leader to spread and flourish despite his physical absence. But reliance on the Internet has created problems for the movement as well — in particular, opening the way for challenges to Li Hongzhi’s leadership and authority.

Soon after the PRC government began its crackdown on Falun Gong in July 1999, Li (in exile at the time) largely disappeared from public view. The only major “sighting” of him consisted of a photo posted on Falun Gong websites in January 2000, showing Li meditating in the mountains and supposedly watching over his followers from afar. In May 2000, a “splinter group” of practitioners in Hong Kong gathered around Belinda Peng Shan-Shan (a former contact person
for the movement), claiming that she had obtained supreme enlightenment and was now the rightful leader of Falun Gong. They pointed to the online photo as proof that Li was now removed from the world and that Peng could legitimately take his place.

In response, a statement attributed to Li was posted online, reaffirming Li’ s role as master and harshly repudiating Peng’s claims.

In the following months, a propaganda battle broke out between the two sides, with frequent denunciations posted on rival websites.

Peng’s splinter sect has subsequently done little to weaken Li’ s centrality to the Falun Gong movement as a whole, but it appears to have convinced him that a distributed system of websites poses certain dangers to Falun Gong. In the wake of Peng’ s leadership challenge, a few of Li’ s close associates began a major consolidation of Falun Gong websites, establishing a hierarchical structure with Minghui as the central site. In the summer of 2000, leaders distributed a notice that Falun Gong sites should mirror the articles and postings on Minghui. Li concurred, stating that “on important matters, practitioners must watch the position of Minghui Net.”

Since then, Minghui (along with its English version Clearwisdom.net ) has become the dominant presence among Falun Gong websites.

When the North American site buhuo.org questioned the authority of Minghui, it was placed under the direct control of Minghui’s webmasters and eventually eliminated.

Subsequently, editors of the movement’s central site have shown little tolerance for deviations from the official line.

The above analysis should demonstrate that Falun Gong makes extensive use of the Internet to disseminate religious teachings and facilitate the strengthening of community. At the same time, the movement’s leaders have discovered that the Internet has its limitations and can be dangerous as well as beneficial. This is a lesson which the PRC government is also learning, as it responds to Falun Gong’s use of the Internet in its struggle for survival.

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