- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2000

TAIPEI, Taiwan If this were Tiananmen Square, Tsao Huei-ling could barely manage the warm-up move "Buddha Showing a Thousand Hands" before being pummeled by the hands of China's security police.
But here in Taiwan's own replica of the Beijing's 100-acre plaza, practitioners of Falun Gong not only practice in peace, their numbers appear to be growing in reaction to China's repression of the Buddhist sect.
On a recent morning, with the light struggling to penetrate heavy clouds, Mrs. Tsao and her husband approached the large public square in central Taipei.
Despite the cold rain, six other persons joined the couple in performing the slow-motion exercises of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.
On the same autumn day, more than 200 Falun Gong followers were kicked and punched by Chinese policemen in Tiananmen before being thrown into waiting police vans. Their demonstration marked the upcoming one-year anniversary of the criminalization of Falun Gong.
But Mrs. Tsao and her fellow believers were left undisturbed, for they live in Taiwan.
While Beijing wages war on the "evil sect" it accuses of subversion, Taipei happily condones the activities of the Falun Gong faithful.
Their slogans beckon the curious on public buses, squeezed between advertisements for a range of cosmetics.
"The Chinese government has created trouble for itself," Mrs. Tsao said of the crackdown on the mainland that has imprisoned thousands for their beliefs. "We are not plotting to overthrow the Communist Party; that's ridiculous. Like Master Li Hongzhi said, Falun Gong practitioners should not be concerned with politics. But once millions of practitioners outnumbered the Communist Party, they were frightened we would unite and protest against them."
On Oct. 30, 1999, China's rubber-stamp parliament rushed through an "anti-cult" law to criminalize retroactively both Falun Gong and several other groups that Chinese leaders feared were becoming too popular.
More than a year later, there is still no shortage of martyrs prepared to risk arrest, torture and death by protesting at Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of China.
The crackdown has pushed membership of the Taiwan Falun Gong Research Society, run by Mrs. Tsao and her husband, up to some 30,000 people.
"I thought Falun Gong must be good after I saw television news of the mainland authorities arresting people in Tiananmen," said Han Lee-chuan, rubbing her numb feet after an hour in the lotus position.
Every morning, the 59-year-old retiree comes to Taipei's Forest Park to meditate with a group ranging from students to great-grandmothers.
"People who knew me before say, 'How come you have such spirit now?' I used to feel tired all the time. Every day was passing, and I was getting old. I felt pains in my legs, back and waist. But after practicing Falun Gong, all my ailments have gone," said Mrs. Han.
"Even my memory is great, and now I have a purpose in life. And if my legs hurt after meditating, I know the master is helping me eliminate bad karma."
The feeling of rejuvenation is common among adherents. Mrs. Han said, "I want to tell everyone on the street how good Falun Gong is."
As she sits oblivious to the world in deepest cultivation of the all-important "mind-nature," her stall of leaflets attracts a few onlookers.
But unlike their mainland cousins, the 23 million citizens of Taiwan are somewhat spoiled for choice.
"There is religious freedom here," explains Huang Ke-chang, director of Taiwan's Religious Affairs Department. "Over 11 million people follow one of 16 different religions. As long as people obey the law, they can believe what they like.
"But we don't even think of Falun Gong as a religion. They registered as a sports organization, and we have had no trouble from them."
For Mrs. Tsao, born in 1949, the year China and Taiwan went their separate ways, Falun Gong represents the culmination of a long search.
"I had read Buddhist books and New Age texts, but I always reached a plateau," she said. "I still had bad feelings in my heart I could not dispel."
Until she found Li Hongzhi, the master, in 1998, after Taiwanese visiting relatives on the mainland brought back his mystical doctrine.
Mr. Li now lives in exile in the United States.
For her part, Mrs. Tsao is determined to take his message to the world. From Geneva to Toronto, Paris to Sydney, Mrs. Tsao is globe-trotting for the cause.
In September, she joined practitioners protesting Chinese President Jiang Zemin's presence at the Millennium Summit in New York.
"The police said we were the most peaceful demonstrators it was refreshing to look after us," she said. "We want people to know the truth about us, to understand that China was wrong to ban Falun Gong. We are peaceful, law-abiding people who help social stability. We don't want to overthrow anybody."

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