The members of Fulan Gong in the West are mainly wealthy, educated Chinese immigrants, suggesting that the movement is far from a refuge for the superstitious and poor.
Much has been written on Fulan Gong, especially on the group’s persecution by the Chinese government, but there has been little research on the meditative movement’s large following in the West. Writing in the current issue of the journal Nova Religio (October) Susan Palmer and David Ownby find that the movement has few Western followers, at least in North America, even though Fulan Gong has welcomed non-Chinese members. From preliminary interviews and observation, Palmer and Ownby find that the large Chinese membership is highly educated, with fully two-thirds holding at least a university degree.
Close to 30 percent have incomes of over $40,000. Most of the Western followers can be described as “spiritual seekers,” having joined several spiritual groups in their past. The Chinese members had also sampled other kinds of Chinese meditative groups and practices (broadly known as “qigong) before joining Falun Gong, with 20 percent holding previous membership in a Christian or Buddhist congregation.
The most noteworthy finding for Palmer and Ownby is the wealth and high education of the Chinese members [which, judging by recent news reports, also applies to the movement in China]. “This finding suggests that one must treat carefully Chinese government claims that Falungong practitioners are `ignorant’ victims of clever charlatans.”
(Nova Religio, Seven Bridges Press, LLC, P.O. Box 958, Chappaqua, NY 10514-0958).