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The spiritual practice Falun Gong has been a thorn in the side of the Chinese Communist Party for nearly a decade. With the Olympic Games quickly approaching, the Chinese government appears to be cracking down once again on Falun Gong practitioners, who continue to practice their faith, even if it means going to jail or going underground.
KSMU's Jennifer Moore reports on how this issue hits closer to home than some might think.
Jin Pang, a graduate student at Missouri State University, knew something was wrong when she called her father in China Monday night. His voice was tense and he said he had to go.
Ten minutes later, he called her back to say police had raided their home and were still searching it.
Their crime, according to the Chinese Government, was to practice--and propagate--the spiritual discipline Falun Gong. Falun Gong is a mix of meditation and physical exercises and seeks to instill character in practitioners.
Although the People's Republic of China, or PRC, originally praised Falun Gong as beneficial, the government reversed its position in 1999, about the same time numbers of the immensely popular faith exceeded numbers within the actual Communist party.
In the nine years since then, the Chinese government has been accused of arresting, torturing and even killing practitioners of Falun Gong.
Pang says Monday night's raid resulted in the police confiscating about eight thousand dollars worth of property.
She says they took the computers and printers because her family had been printing and distributing information about the faith. She says her mother was arrested in 2000 for practicing Falun Gong in public, and that her mother is currently in hiding.
Pang said hundreds of homes in her city were raided at the same time, all of them homes of Falun Gong practitioners. She believes the Chinese government is cracking down on Falun Gong practitioners because it doesn't want them to cause an embarrassing situation during the Olympics.
Dennis Hickey, political science professor at MSU, just returned from spending five months as a Fulbright Scholar at the China Foreign Affiars Univeristy. He agrees that the Chinese government is nervous about the upcoming Olympics and the potential for problems from all sorts of groups, domestic and international.
Hickey says from the government's perspective, the disruption in Tibet earlier this spring was a wake up call.
He says since the government cracked down on Falun Gong in 1999, practitioners have responded with fire, disseminating their own DVDs and material, which he says is extremely anti-government.
And as Springfield Falun Gong practitioner Jin Pang awaits word on her family's safety, she's pushing back in her own way. She and a friend are handing out pamphlets and DVDs, and are trying to meet with Missouri lawmakers to see if there is anything they can do to help her family on the other side of the world.
For KSMU News, I'm Jennifer Moore.