Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, has been described in many ways. It has been called qigong, one of many schools of physical exercises that aim at improving health and developing supernatural abilities. Scholars and mainstream media have referred it to as a spiritual movement or religion, although practitioners claim it is not a religion. It has been called a cult, in the pejorative sense rather than in a sociological context, by the Chinese government and by some Western critics. In the writings of Li Hongzhi, the founder of Falun Gong, it is referred to in different ways, though primarily as a cultivation practice. The question of how to define Falun Gong is not just an academic issue; the use of the cult label has been used to justify the persecution of practitioners in China. To a limited degree, the Chinese Government is able to extend the persecution overseas. How society defines Falun Gong has implications for action on the level of policy, as well as the shaping of social, cultural, and personal attitudes. This research project addresses what Falun Gong is through ethnography. Research methods included participant-observation, semi-structured ethnographic interviews (both in-person and on-line), and content analysis of text and visual data from Falun Gong books, pamphlets, and websites. Research sites included Tampa, Washington D.C., and cyberspace. In order to keep my research relevant to the issues and concerns of the Falun Gong community, I was in regular contact with the Tampa practitioners, keeping them abreast of my progress and asking for their input. My findings are contrary to the allegations made by the Chinese Government and Western anti-cultists in many ways. Practitioners are not encouraged to rely on Western medicine, but are not prohibited from using it. Child practitioners are not put at risk. Their organizational structure is very loose. Finally, the Internet has played a vital role in Falun Gong's growth and continuation after the crackdown.
"Upon musing on the progress of science since Newton I come to the conclusion that Newton would most have desired to see the things which we see and to hear the things which we hear: Would, indeed, that he could live again and witness the completion of the work which he so nobly began. As I awake from my musing, and, abjuring any scepticism which I may have cherished, I confess my faith in modern science. Though hard-hearted as any metaphysician ought to be, I prostrate myself before her shrine--nay, so ardent is my neophytic zeal, that I am tempted to glorify the photographic spectrum which a fellow displayed as a revered relic on his wall. Indeed, had I nothing else to reverence, I could easily worship this. Is it not now an exploded idea that man, or what concerns him, is better worth regarding, than what was called nature by the sophists in the time of Socrates? Is not man himself now in danger of being eliminated out of the kosmos? And as to holding that man has any great significance in the universe, has not the doctrine become fixed that science has to do only with phenomena, i.e., with material phenomena and their relations? Has not man been satisfactorily resolved into nerve-substance and vibrating force, and thus brought under the laws of mechanism? And has it not come to unconscious speech without even the suggestion of unconscious irony, that this is the only way in which man can be scientifically studied, even though by this process he is scientifically disposed of? Is it not now near being demonstrated, that man as body and spirit, as conscience and speech, has been evolved from lower forms of being, with all his furnishings of aspirations, categories and principles; and is it not also a matter of grave question, whether he can long remain in his present transition state--whether, having been evolved from some very indeterminate germ, he may not be evolved into something altogether impalpable? In short, is not man ranked very low in the present estimates of comparative science, and is he not in danger of being very soon left out of them altogether? As there can be no science of nature which does not recognize the science of man, and as the study of nature cannot be prosecuted to the neglect of man, so the study of man will be always furthered by a generous study of nature; that as on the broader field of investigation and culture, so on the narrower field of education and discipline, the scientific study of nature and the scientific study of man are mutually dependent and mutually helpful. We enforce our argument first of all by an analysis of the conception of science. An inductive science of nature presupposes a science of induction, and a science of induction presupposes a science of man. Our position is still further confirmed by the defects in this regard of some of the recent philosophies which are now attracting general attention: positive philosophy, the cerebralists, and finally the thinking of Herbert Spencer." (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2010 APA, all rights reserved).