Interview with Li Hongzhi
On April 26, Erping Zhang, a close associate of Li Hongzhi, the mysterious leader of the Falun Gong religious movement, called TIME in New York to say that major events were transpiring in Beijing. "It looks as though quite a few people have shown up," he said. When we asked how many, he guessed that it might be 10,000. "But this is getting bigger," he said. "They are planning to go to the government offices." As it turned out, Zhang was correct. At least 10,000 Falun Gong members gathered in front of Zhongnanhai, the seat of China's government, to demand recognition from authorities and freedom to practice their beliefs. The demonstration appeared to indicate that Falun Gong--which may have as many as 100 million adherents worldwide, mainly in China--is tightly organized. But Zhang insists that the protest was "spontaneous."
A few weeks before the demonstration, TIME interviewed Li Hongzhi, the soft-spoken 47-year-old creator of Falun Gong, in Manhattan where he settled after leaving China a year ago. Li believes the ancient Chinese art of qigong (Falun Gong is one variation) can endow practitioners with superhuman powers. He also says the world is in chaos today because the human race has been invaded by aliens from other planets who hope to challenge mankind through scientific means, especially through human cloning. If Li's ideas seem far fetched, it is worth noting that he has fans and followers worldwide. On Oct. 11, 1996, Houston mayor Robert C. Lanier proclaimed the date to be Li Hongzhi Day. Li was interviewed in New York by TIME correspondent William Dowell. He spoke in Chinese and Zhang acted as interpreter.
Here is the interview:
TIME: How does Falun Gong differ from other types of qigong?
Li: 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.
TIME: And this expresses an inner energy?
Li: You probably know that some people have supernormal capabilities. They are unique capabilities that are created during the course of the cultivation practice. In order to reach a higher level, we require people to reach the perfection or completion of cultivation. In Chinese we call this attaining the Tao.
TIME: In your book [Zhuan Falun] you talk about people levitating off the ground but you say that they should not show other people. Why is that?
Li: It is the same principle that Western gods in paradise should not be seen by ordinary mortals because they cannot understand its meaning.
TIME: Have you seen human beings levitate off the ground?
Li: I have known too many.
TIME: Can you describe any that you have known?
Li: David Copperfield. He can levitate and he did it during performances.
TIME: You have said that this type of qigong should not be used to cure illness. Why is that?
Li: Healing illnesses belongs to the lower level of qigong. A person with an illness cannot practice to a higher level. One has to purify one's body in order to have gong. Healing and fitness are for laying a foundation at a lower level of practice.
TIME: Would you use qigong to cure an illness?
Li: I can do all of this, but I won't do it.
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R E L A T E D
S T O R I E S :
CHINA: Opiate of the Masses
Thousands of members of a rapidly growing worldwide spiritual movement descend on Beijing and spook a communist leadership wary of any such organized dissent