Falun Gong in historical context
The Chinese populace has always been conditioned to associate power with godliness. Even as late as the 1850's, a revolt against the Qing dynasty, known in history as the Taiping Rebellion, would be led by a self-proclaimed Son of God. The Taiping Rebellion leader, Hong Xiuquan (1814-64) who, under the influence of Christian missionaries, including an Anglican, Robert Morrison, and an American Baptist, the Rev. I.J. Roberts, after a hallucinatory fever during which Hong Xiuquan would apparently experience a runaway Pauline vision, would claim to be the 2nd son of the Judea-Christian God and brother of Jesus Christ.
Hong Xiuquan would successfully control, for almost 15 years, the Yangtze Valley, the most fertile part of the Qing empire (1644-1911). Having established the Peace Heaven Kingdom (Taiping Tianguo), Hong Xiuquan would proclaim the Ten Commandments that Moses had allegedly received from the Judea-Christian God on Mount Sinai as constitution for his new Peace Heaven Kingdom and, amid other social and land reforms, would introduce a new solar calendar with a 366-day-year.
The political success of Hong Xiuquan, the self-proclaimed brother of Jesus Christ, would prompt President Franklin Pierce of the United States, in his message to Congress on December 5, 1853, to report euphorically but prematurely, on the political prospect of the Peace Heaven Kingdom (Taiping Tiangou): "The condition in China at this time renders it probable that some important changes will occur in that vast empire which will lead to a more unrestricted intercourse with it."
It would not be the last unfulfilled prediction about China by an American President.
Hong Xiuquan's Taiping Rebellion would be put down in 1865 by Zeng Kuofan, the Qing dynasty general, with the help of American mercenary Frederick Townsend Ward (1831-1862) who would arrive in Shanghai in 1859. After a few victorious battles, F.T. Ward would have himself killed in action 3 years later by rebel forces.
F.T Ward's Fourth Rank (Si'pin) post and the command of the mercenary Ever Victorious Army (Changsheng Jun) would be taken over in 1863 by Charles S. Gordon, known as Chinese Gordon, a British mercenary who had made a name for himself by defeating the ineffective Qing dynasty army in the sacking of Peking by British and French troops 3 years earlier, in 1860.
The saga of Chinese Gordon is as weird as if General Norman Schwartzkopf were hired by Saddam Hussein 3 years after the Persian Gulf War to help suppress revolts by Islamic fundamentalists in defeated Iraq.
Daoism (Dao Jiao) as religion is generally regarded by intellectuals as a corruption of its essence as philosophy. Having evolved originally from a mystic search for truth, Daoism has gradually degenerated into practices of secular alchemy aiming to achieve the transformation of metals into gold, and to discover cures for diseases and formulae for longevity and secrets to immortality.
The historical justification for this censorious view of Daoism as religion gone awry comes from Daoist movements such as Yellow Turbans Disturbance (Huangjin Huo). It is so labelled by the contemptuous Confucian establishment. Eighteen centuries ago, beginning around the year 170, shortly before the final collapse of the Han dynasty (B.C. 206-220 A.D.), roaming bands of disaffected peasants mounted a decade-long disruption of the peace in the provinces. Eventually, in 184, exploiting aggravating dislocations caused by floods along lower Yellow River (Huanghe), a messianic mass movement of social revolution developed in areas between modern-day Shandong and Henan provinces.
Historians call the movement Yellow Turbans Peasant Rebellion (Huangjing Minbian) because its peasant members identified themselves by wearing yellow turbans around their heads. It was the first major peasant revolt in Chinese history.
The leader of Yellow Turbans Peasant Rebellion (Huangjin Minbian) was Zhang Jiao, chief patriarch of the Daoist sect of the Way of Celestial Peace (Taiping Dao).
Zhang Jiao had been an unsuccessful candidate in keju (public examinations) for officialdom. While gathering herbal medicine in the mountainous wilderness, he allegedly met an old sage named South China Ancient Sage (Nanhua Laoxian) from whom he received the 3-volume Celestial Peace Methods (Taiping Yaoshe). A talented propagandist and messianic faith-healer, Zhang Jiao proclaimed himself pope of a new religion based on a synthesis of Huangdi (Yellow Emperor), primeval mythical sovereign, and a deified Laozi.
Huangdi is the ritual appellation adopted by the first monarch in Chinese history, a man named Gongsun, allegedly born on the celestial star Xuanyuan. Legend has it that Huangdi established the first kingdom in history at Youxiong, around Zhengzhou, modern-day Henan province. During his reign, language, costume, architecture, money, measure, medicine and music were professedly invented.
All Chinese consider themselves descendants of Huangdi. Huang (yellow) is the color of ripe wheat. The concept of yellow commands a mythical meaning in Chinese culture, signifying regality, prosperity and civilization, all symbolized by the color of golden harvest.
The Yellow Turbans, with a theocratic organization of over 500,000 zealous cadres leading an army of 360,000 at the height of its influence in the year 184, were ruled with supreme power by Zhang Jiao and his two brothers. The three brothers, as the Trinity of Lords of Heaven, Earth and Men respectively, were supported by a hierarchy of militarized clergy. Communal living was practised with regular public confessions, mass participation in spiritual trances and orgiastic ceremonies in which men and women engaged in prolonged kisses to "balance their vital vapor (luoqi)". Diseases were considered consequences of sin and were believed to be curable by healing amulets applied to affected parts of the body and therapeutic charms worn around the neck or waist. The Yellow Turbans Rebellion was finally suppressed by renegade army commanders of the falling Han dynasty who became independent warlords that kept China fragmented for three more centuries, since 220, before Yang Jian reunited the country by founding the Sui dynasty in 581.
Interesting, Henry. When I spent a year in China (1990) Qi Gong was just gaining a very wide following. A Qi Gong master actually treated a back complaint of mine in Shanghai in 1992. I was in agony on the train and he came up and waved his hands over my back. Lo and behold it helped!
But don't you think the chickens are coming home to roost for the CCP? Under Deng they pulled back on Marxism. In the city where I lived and in the other cities I visited in 1990 you could find very little or no Marxist literature. It was all 'to be rich is glorious'.
At the university when I came out as a Marxist, there was enormous embarrassment among the faculty. I know it is naive but the truth is that part of me expected to be welcomed as a comrade, but no I was treated as if I had violated some very important social code. Eventually they solved the problem by ignoring what I had said and treating me as yet another Westerner.
So I spent most of my free time at the university helping the professors translate Reader's Digest and other material from the USA. The door was wide open. The flies came in and the idealism of the people had no outlet.
When I went back in 1992 things had gotten much worse. There was a total cynicism in certain quarters towards foreigners. If you had money you got the red carpet. If there was no possibility of a 'joint venture' then officials did not want to know you.
For me a key factor in the growth of oppositional movements was and is the rampant corruption of the leadership of the CCP. It was this that has deprived them of moral authority and left the way open for mysticism.