As Chinese President Xi Jinping embarked this week on his first tour of the U.S. as China's head of state, protesters geared up to call attention to a spate of human and civil rights violations by Chinese authorities. One of the most persistent groups of those protesters, including several dozen outside Xi’s hotel in Seattle Tuesday, comes from Falun Gong, a spiritual movement whose persecution remains official policy in China.

Falun Gong, or the Practice of the Wheel of Dharma, was founded in 1992 as a religious or spiritual movement that includes ritual exercise and meditation to achieve mental and physical health. Also referred to as Falun Dafa, the practice has roots in Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism, but because of Chinese de facto restrictions on religious practices — the constitution allows for “freedom of religious belief,” even as the government persecutes a number of religions and ethnic groups — members have posited Falun Gong as being secular.

Nevertheless, in 1999, at which point Falun Gong had at least 70 million adherents, the Chinese government denounced it as a cult out of fear of its growing influence. It arrested some 100 leaders and sentenced many to years in prison. The government has listed Falun Gong as one of the groups whose members deploy religion “as a camouflage, deifying their leading members, recruiting and controlling their members, and deceiving people by molding and spreading superstitious ideas, and endangering society,” according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

 


 

Chinese Communist Party documents from 2015 show that current official policy still calls for “prevention and handling of ‘heterodox religions’ in 2015,” the Epoch Times reported Sunday. Official documents also described an initiative to close off communication between members of the movement inside and outside China.

In 2006, during a visit by former Chinese President Hu Jintao, a Falun Gong protester interrupted a White House reception, shouting, “Stop persecuting Falun Gong,” the New York Times reported. Meanwhile, Hu continued to speak calmly of U.S.-Chinese relations, as depicted in the video below:

More recently, in March, members of Falun Gong claimed a Queens-based organization with ties to the Chinese Communist Party was attacking and threatening them, the New York Post reported. And at an annual rally in July, adherents gathered at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., displaying banners that condemned China’s crackdown on Falun Gong.