Yeah, you can probably figure out what the title means.
Astute readers of our site, or others gifted with vision, will have noticed that I made a post about a certain cult recently that was not well received. Before we get to the meat, I need to come clean about something: I recently got access to uncensored internet and couldn’t find any FLG ads on the GIFC website. The Washington Post article I was working off said that there were ads on their software download page, which I found concerning, but I don’t see any advertisements, FLG-related or otherwise, when I visit their site myself. A rare WaPo error, or am I missing something here?
In any event, as a direct result of that post I’ve been conducting an extensive discussion with commenter J. Zhang via email about FLG in general. He, and others, have suggested that I am biased against FLG. In a way, this is true, although “bias” suggests prejudice without reason, and I do have my reasons. Since we’ve already attracted some of the faithful and people seem to be interested in talking about it, I thought I would rehash a little bit of our discussion here.
For the record — and please feel free to ignore this part when you’re accusing me of being a callous jerk and/or 五毛党 in the comments — I am not a supporter of the way the Chinese government has persecuted FLG members. I would love to see more evidence for any of the claims made on either side, but regardless, it seems fairly clear that terrible things are happening and have happened.
However, I don’t see that as being particularly related to FLG. Granted, they’re the biggest group that’s aroused this level of ire, but the government deals with dissidents, petitioners, and protesters of all sorts in similar ways. FLG members are hardly the only people who’ve been tortured and killed in the hands of the CCP over the past decade. High-profile dissidents like Liu Xiaobo and Tan Zuoren get lengthy prison terms, but the fate of the less-well-known can be decidedly worse. The persecution of FLG is perhaps more centralized and organized, but that doesn’t make it more widespread, nor does it make it more evil. The persecution of FLG is a symptom, not the disease, and there are other symptoms that are equally important. What the “disease” is is something impossible to answer fully in the scope of a short blog post, but in brief, it is lack of government oversight and lack of the rule of law.
But my problems with the F*l*n G*ng start closer to home. Though proponents allege that there is “no organization” and “no leader”, there is an official website1, and the writings on that website come almost entirely from the group’s founder and the origin of their beliefs, Li Hongzhi. These writings, along with Li’s lectures, make it clear that the religion/cult has ties to a number of media organizations, such as the Epoch Times, which Li himself visited to give a lecture last year.
Ostensibly, the Epoch Times is an independent organization that strives to “present a diversity of opinions”. In reality, they are widely-known among China watchers as an FLG publication that frequently advocates FLG-friendly policies. Chief among these, and omnipresent in nearly everything created by FLG-affiliated groups, is the drive to get Chinese people to quit the Communist Party. In fact, Epoch Times staff members — operating in their official capacities — have held press conferences and rallies promoting the Nine Commentaries and denouncing the CCP. Yet there is no admission of any connection to FLG or to their advancing a specific political agenda anywhere on their website or in their newspaper.
In the case of the Epoch Times, this may not matter (everyone already knows who writes it), but this kind of bait-and-switch unethical presentation is typical of FLG-affiliated outreach efforts. Just take, for example, one of their recent cultural shows, billed as a celebration of Chinese New Year that was kid-friendly. According to the New York Times, horrified audience members, many of whom had paid exorbitant ticket prices, discovered a few performances into the act that the whole thing was a agitprop piece that contained violent scenes of prison abuse. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, walked out of Radio City Music Hall in the middle of the show.
I find this lack of transparency bizarre and concerning. I have no problem with FLG advancing a political or religious agenda, but they should not try to cloak it as traditional media or apolitical entertainment. This is dishonest and off-putting.
My bigger problem with FLG, though, is the anti-CCP political agenda they advance. Make no mistake, I am not pro-CCP; however, everything I’ve read from FLG is woefully unclear as to what, exactly, they want the CCP to be replaced with. This strikes me as a rather important detail. Chinese historians will recall that the corrupt Qing dynasty was overthrown in the early twentieth century only to be replaced by a government that was, for all intents and purposes, just as bad (if not worse2 ).
An excerpt from my most recent email to J. Zhang:
I think [FLG’s] approach of trying to destroy the CCP is completely useless until there is something better with which to replace it. Regardless of their treatment of dissenters, I think life under the CCP is preferable to life under warlordism again, so the CCP needs to be either (a) reformed from within or (b) overthrown by some group so exceedingly powerful that it can quickly take control of the entire country to prevent a disastrous transition period. Everything I’ve seen from FLG (which granted isn’t everything they’ve written) is pretty vague on what exactly they want to happen after the CCP falls, and I think it’s pretty naive to assume that the next regime would be any better. The problem isn’t the CCP, really — I suspect any party in a one-party state is likely to commit similar abuses, especially with no real rule of law or oversight.
And while I would love to see the those who have abused power be out of it, that needs to happen under the right conditions. Given what happened after the fall of the Qing dynasty (and the geographic distribution of weapons and power in the Chinese military now) it’s not hard to imagine what could happen if the CCP were to be felled by a civil war or a coup…
In short: CCP policies have been a disaster for FLG members. But if the CCP disappeared tomorrow, that would probably be a disaster for EVERYONE in China, [FLG members included].
Anyway, I have probably ranted long enough. Readers! Begin assaulting my reasoning, character, and whatever else you can sink your claws into in 3…2…1!