Banned new religious movement reappears in China

The new religious movement, Zhonggong, which was banned in China and supposedly extinguished four years ago, has made a comeback in the country to the consternation of government officials, according to the newsletter Bitter Winter (December 25). The movement was started in the 1980s by Zhang Hongbao and was based on Qigong healing and martial arts. Zhang was actually a respected member of the Communist Party and taught his martial arts and healing techniques to government officials, but the party started viewing him as a potential rival. After the Falun Gong movement was outlawed in the late 1990s, all independent Qigong organizations were also banned, and Zhang eventually found asylum in the U.S. and passed away in 2006. The movement was kept alive by a woman named Zhang Xiao, who transplanted the group to Japan and started a clandestine network in China using various names, such as “Oriental Health Cultivation Method.” But Chinese authorities believed they had eradicated the group by 2016.

But by the time of the outbreak of Covid-19, Zhang Xiao had launched a popular series of Qigong exercises to target the virus through her network in China. “Originally believed to operate mostly through the Internet, in fact, Zhang Xiao’s incarnation of Zhonggong has local. centers in several provinces,” writes Massimo Introvigne. Hundreds of police in the Northern province of Heilongjiang recently surrounded and arrested practitioners doing anti-Covid exercises in public parks. Introvigne notes that the supposed eradication of Zhonggong has been “one of the few ‘success stories’ the specialized agents tell about their long-lasting fight against the xie jiao [banned religious movements]. However,” he adds, “it appears that even this ‘success’ was not definitive.”

(Bitter Winter,