After reading the assignment, I started to wonder how Falungong became such a large organization. Was the growth of Falungong a consequence of China’s volatile religious history? Due to its connections with Qigong, Falungong was originally seen as an innocuous spiritual organization. However, through several years of policy changes, it continued to develop into a cult.
Falungong’s growth in China is centered around one man, Li Hongzhi. From the reading, it appears that Falungong largely targeted retired people and marginalized individuals. In a sense, this strategy is rather ingenious, as these groups are particularly vulnerable and are easily influenced by outside ideas. However, the rapid growth of Falungong still doesn’t seem justified. The teachings of Falungong contain apocalyptic and messianic themes that just seem absolutely preposterous to any layperson. For example, Zhuan Falun claims that Li Hongzhi himself is the omniscient and omnipotent savior of the entire universe. Zhuan Falun also includes heavily misogynistic themes, criticizing men with long hair and women with short hair as causing an imbalance in Yin and Yang.
One aspect that may have contributed to the rise of Falungong could be due to its heavily centralized nature. Li is able to control his followers by claiming they must defend Falungong in order to attain enlightenment. Li essentially controls the entire organization’s financial and bureaucratic functions and is able to use the internet to circulate his doctrine. He goes so far as to prevent followers from speaking about Falungong but rather limiting their speech to reading from approved texts. Li’s overwhelming control over the organization essentially allows him to establish and maintain his cult of personality.