This lecture will examine the rise of Falun Gong—and in fact the entire qigong movement—from the perspective of the history of religion in modern China. The invention of qigong was a compromise that sought to preserve traditional Chinese medical-spiritual wisdom in the face of the import of biomedicine in the early Communist period. It morphed into a popular movement during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution and became a mass movement during the reform period, claiming to be mixture of science and Chinese tradition. The ensuing persecution of the Falun Gong by the Chinese state has been seen in the West as a conflict between freedom of belief and Communist atheism.
David Ownby is director of the Center of East Asian Studies (since 2004) at Georgetown University and a professor of history at the University of Montreal (since 1994).