On April 26, Erping Zhang, a close associate of Li Hongzhi, the mysterious leader of the Falun Gong religious movement, called TIME in New York to say that major events were transpiring in Beijing. "It looks as though quite a few people have shown up," he said. When we asked how many, he guessed that it might be 10,000. "But this is getting bigger," he said. "They are planning to go to the government offices." As it turned out, Zhang was correct. At least 10,000 Falun Gong members gathered in front of Zhongnanhai, the seat of China's government, to demand recognition from authorities and freedom to practice their beliefs. The demonstration appeared to indicate that Falun Gong--which may have as many as 100 million adherents worldwide, mainly in China--is tightly organized. But Zhang insists that the protest was "spontaneous."
A few weeks before the demonstration, TIME interviewed Li Hongzhi, the soft-spoken 47-year-old creator of Falun Gong, in Manhattan where he settled after leaving China a year ago. Li believes the ancient Chinese art of qigong (Falun Gong is one variation) can endow practitioners with superhuman powers. He also says the world is in chaos today because the human race has been invaded by aliens from other planets who hope to challenge mankind through scientific means, especially through human cloning. If Li's ideas seem far fetched, it is worth noting that he has fans and followers worldwide. On Oct. 11, 1996, Houston mayor Robert C. Lanier proclaimed the date to be Li Hongzhi Day. Li was interviewed in New York by TIME correspondent William Dowell. He spoke in Chinese and Zhang acted as interpreter.
Here is the interview:
TIME: How does Falun Gong differ from other types of qigong?
Li: There are different practices of qigong in China and in other countries, but they are primarily aimed at healing illnesses or keeping fit and maintaining good health. I am teaching a higher level of qigong. It encompasses a greater content. It is like the Tao, which is known in the Western world.
TIME: And this expresses an inner energy?
Li: You probably know that some people have supernormal capabilities. They are unique capabilities that are created during the course of the cultivation practice. In order to reach a higher level, we require people to reach the perfection or completion of cultivation. In Chinese we call this attaining the Tao.
TIME: In your book [Zhuan Falun] you talk about people levitating off the ground but you say that they should not show other people. Why is that?
Li: It is the same principle that Western gods in paradise should not be seen by ordinary mortals because they cannot understand its meaning.
TIME: Have you seen human beings levitate off the ground?
Li: I have known too many.
TIME: Can you describe any that you have known?
Li: David Copperfield. He can levitate and he did it during performances.
TIME: You have said that this type of qigong should not be used to cure illness. Why is that?
Li: Healing illnesses belongs to the lower level of qigong. A person with an illness cannot practice to a higher level. One has to purify one's body in order to have gong. Healing and fitness are for laying a foundation at a lower level of practice.
TIME: Would you use qigong to cure an illness?
Li: I can do all of this, but I won't do it.
TIME: Why not?
Li: Because I only teach people how to learn this dafa [great law] and to practice cultivation. I only teach the principles of fa to mankind. I won't do anything else.
TIME: What is the final goal?
Li: The ultimate purpose is to enable people to attain the Tao and to complete their cultivation practice. In the end they can free themselves from the worldly state. I know that human lives are not created from the dimension that human beings think they know.
TIME: Why does the master reveal this path to the qigong now?
Li: Mankind has many things that it never knew before. What I can tell you is that human moral values are no longer good. In the course of the cultivation practice, one can upgrade oneself. Many people will be able to complete their cultivation and attain the Tao. There will be some who will not be able to complete cultivation but will become very good people.
TIME: Why did you come to New York?
Li: In China, the government is a centralized government. Because the number of our practitioners is large, the government may feel pressure.
TIME: It is difficult to teach in China?
Li: In China, there are more than 100 million who practice this. The official estimate of the number of practitioners is 60 million. I want to teach people to be good and not to be involved in politics. I told people not to get involved in political events to make sure that they have a very good practice in their environment without interference.
TIME: So why is the Chinese government concerned?
Li: America is a country with democracy. You probably don't understand what it is like in a country that has a centralized government. The Chinese government knows that what I am teaching is good and that I am teaching people to have high moral values. They are only concerned because there are so many people practicing cultivation.
TIME: When did you learn about qigong?
Li: I started to learn when I was four years old. I was very young, and my teachers taught me aspects that were very simple.
TIME: Who were your teachers?
Li: I do not wish to have their names known. I had masters in two schools. Prior to the Cultural Revolution people enjoyed quite a bit of religious freedom. Chinese were quite used to such things. It was like going to church in the West.
TIME: When did you start teaching?
Li: I am more than 40 years old, and I have been practicing qigong for many years. When qigong became popular, I did not come out in the public. I did not want to teach about stopping illnesses or keeping fit.
TIME: What made you finally come out?
Li: When these masters asked me to come out. At the time I said that there were too many people practicing qigong, and I said that I did not want to cure illnesses or to help people keep fit. They said, "What you do will be different. These people who are teaching how to cure illnesses and teaching fitness, are paving the road for your coming out."
TIME: Where were these masters?
Li: They were in the mountains.
TIME: How did the movement spread?
Li: Many people practice qigong in China. They all want to practice it to the higher levels, but no one was teaching them. They all wanted me to teach them. Some people organized the events and applied to the government for approval.
TIME: When did you decide to come to America?
Li: I came here last year, and I started the application the year before that.
TIME: Did you feel you were in danger in China?
Li: The government did not express a clear position, but the security ministries felt that there were too many people practicing. When we tried to hold meetings, they did not approve them because they felt there were too many people.
TIME: What is the wheel that is Falun?
Li: It is a pattern, or a symbol on the surface. What it is inside is much better.
TIME: So it is an idea?
Li: In the West, the spirit is separate from the body. In the East these are things that are very real and concrete.
TIME: You talk about placing the wheel into the body.
Li: I can use my mind to direct and order things to happen.
TIME: Is cultivation achieved through mental effort or physical exercise.
Li: Both are needed.
TIME: What happens after one attains the Tao?
Li: We have all heard about the Chinese deities. When one completes cultivation, one has special powers.
TIME: Can qigong prevent death?
Li: In the West, one can reach paradise through cultivation practice after death. In the East, one can achieve a divine status through cultivation practice while one is still alive.
TIME: You talk about the period of the end of Dharma.
Li: While Buddha Sakyamuni [563-483 B.C.] was teaching his Dharma, there was no written language so the Dharma was passed by word of mouth. After 500 years, human discourse changed Buddha Sakyamuni's original words and it came to an end. The ending of the Dharma means that the cultivation method began to become chaotic and could no longer enable people to practice cultivation.
TIME: Why does chaos reign now?
Li: Of course there is not just one reason. The biggest cause of society's change today is that people no longer believe in orthodox religion. They go to church, but they no longer believe in God. They feel free to do anything. The second reason is that since the beginning of this century, aliens have begun to invade the human mind and its ideology and culture.
TIME: Where do they come from?
Li: The aliens come from other planets. The names that I use for these planets are different . Some are from dimensions that human beings have not yet discovered. The key is how they have corrupted mankind. Everyone knows that from the beginning until now, there has never been a development of culture like today. Although it has been several thousand years, it has never been like now.
The aliens have introduced modern machinery like computers and airplanes. They started by teaching mankind about modern science, so people believe more and more science, and spiritually, they are controlled. Everyone thinks that scientists invent on their own when in fact their inspiration is manipulated by the aliens. In terms of culture and spirit, they already control man. Mankind cannot live without science.
The ultimate purpose is to replace humans. If cloning human beings succeeds, the aliens can officially replace humans. Why does a corpse lie dead, even though it is the same as a living body? The difference is the soul, which is the life of the body. If people reproduce a human person, the gods in heaven will not give its body a human soul. The aliens will take that opportunity to replace the human soul and by doing so they will enter earth and become earthlings.
When such people grow up, they will help replace humans with aliens. They will produce more and more clones. There will no longer be humans reproduced by humans. They will act like humans, but they will introduce legislation to stop human reproduction.
TIME: Are you a human being?
Li: You can think of me as a human being.
TIME: Are you from earth?
Li: I don't wish to talk about myself at a higher level. People wouldn't understand it.
TIME: What are the aliens after?
Li: The aliens use many methods to keep people from freeing themselves from manipulation. They make earthlings have wars and conflicts, and develop weapons using science, which makes mankind more dependent on advanced science and technology. In this way, the aliens will be able to introduce their stuff and make the preparations for replacing human beings. The military industry leads other industries such as computers and electronics.
TIME: But what is the alien purpose?
Li: The human body is the most perfect in the universe. It is the most perfect form. The aliens want the human body.
TIME: What do aliens look like?
Li: Some look similar to human beings. U.S. technology has already detected some aliens. The difference between aliens can be quite enormous.
TIME: Can you describe it?
Li: You don't want to have that kind of thought in your mind.
TIME: Describe them anyway.
Li: One type looks like a human, but has a nose that is made of bone. Others look like ghosts. At first they thought that I was trying to help them. Now they now that I am sweeping them away.,
TIME: How do you see the future?
Li: Future human society is quite terrifying. If aliens are not to replace human beings, society will destroy itself on its own. Industry is creating invisible air pollution. The microparticles in the air harm human beings. The abnormality in the climate today is caused by that [pollution], and it cannot be remedied by humans alone. The drinking water is polluted. No matter how we try to purify it, it cannot return to its original purity. Modern science cannot determine the extent of the damage. The food we eat is the product of fertilized soil. The meat we eat is affected. I can foresee a future when human limbs become deformed, the body's joints won't move and internal organs will become dysfunctional. Modern science hasn't realized this yet.
At the beginning you asked why I did such things. I only tell practitioners, but not the public because they cannot comprehend it. I am trying to save those people who can return to a high level and to a high moral level. Modern science does not understand this, so governments can do nothing. The only person in the entire world who knows this is myself alone.
I am not against the public knowing, but I am teaching practitioners. Even though the public knows, it cannot do anything about it. People can't free themselves from science and from their concepts. I am not against science. I am only telling mankind the truth. I drive a car. I also live in the environment. Don't believe that I am against science. But I know that modern science is destroying mankind. Aliens have already constructed a layer of cells in human beings. The development of computers dictates this layer of body cells to control human culture and spirituality and in the end to replace human beings.