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AUGUST 2, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 4

Interview: Li Hongzhi
"I am just a very ordinary man"
By ANTHONY SPAETH

As Chinese authorities were arresting his followers on the mainland, the founder of Falun Gong, Li Hongzhi, spoke by phone from New York City with TIME reporter Isabella Ng. Excerpts from the interview:

Visions of China
CNN, TIME, Asiaweek and Fortune examine China at 50

TIME: How do you feel about the crackdown?
Li: This is unfair. The Chinese government has no understanding of Falun Gong, the practice of qigong or the masses. They should not impose such a ban on Falun Gong.

    ALSO IN TIME
China: Quiet Storm
The crackdown against followers of Falun Gong could turn the group into Beijing's most feared organization

TIME: Why do you think the Beijing government is doing this?
Li: Probably they think there are too many people practicing Falun Gong, or that some Communist Party members are practicing as well.

TIME: Are they afraid people will listen to you instead of the Communist Party?
Li: I don't see anything wrong with that. I don't know why the government is so against it. I only know that I am working for the country and the people. And I think Falun Gong is good for the community. Isn't it nice if everyone can be virtuous and healthy?

TIME: Do you have relatives in China? Are they in trouble?
Li: My mother, my sister and her kids are in China. They are watched by the authorities. But I don't know if they have been interrogated by the police.

TIME: Do you believe that someone may have tried to use Falun Gong to engage in illegal activities?
Li: A true Falun Gong member will not do anything illegal. Most of them are people of good nature. As Chinese say, "They don't hit back when you hit them, and they won't answer back when you scream at them." They will always look into themselves first when a conflict occurs. A true member of Falun Gong will never in his life be a criminal.

TIME: Do you think that you should be held responsible for what is happening now in China?
Li: I taught Falun Gong in China for only three years. I have not been in direct contact with the members for almost four years. They practice on their own. I have never forced them. People passed my book around, and the practice got known through word of mouth.

TIME: But Falun Gong members seem to be well-connected and always seem to be in touch with each other.
Li: They just call each other and ask if they will practice. It's not very organized.

TIME: If you were given a chance to talk to China's leaders, what would you say to them?
Li: I would sincerely tell them, "If I have done anything wrong, I will change. If there is anything wrong with Falun Gong, it can be changed. Don't hit Falun Gong. It's no good for the community, and no good for the government."

TIME: The government has accused you of changing your date of birth to when Sakyamuni [Siddhartha Gautama] was born.
Li: During the Cultural Revolution, the government misprinted my birthdate. I just corrected it. During the Cultural Revolution, there were lots of misprints on identity. A man could become a woman, and a woman could become a man. It's natural that when people want to smear you, they will dig out whatever they can to destroy you. What's the big deal about having the same birthday as Sakyamuni? Many criminals were also born on that date. I have never said that I am Sakyamuni. I am just a very ordinary man.

This edition's table of contents

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