Informant: “My parents told me that a man once told a girl that if she burned herself, she would go to heaven. And that’s what she did. She burned herself. She was saved, but she’s was like deformed. And then she died. It was all because of that religion and the cult. That’s why my parents don’t want me to believe in religion.”
Me: “Have you heard this story from anyone else?”
Informant: “Yes. My friends’ moms know about it too!”
Me: “Do you know what religion it was that caused people to burn themselves?”
Informant: “It was that exercise cult thingy.”
Me: “How does that make you feel? Do you believe in religion?”
Informant: “Any religion that makes you burn yourself is bad. It is not real. It’s… bad. Just bad. I don’t believe in religion because my mom and dad told me that it’s bad.”
Analysis: Through research discovered that the informant was talking about the Falun Gong practictioners and the incident in TianAnMen Square in 2001. Falun Gong is a spiritual exercise, similar to Taichi. In 2001, a group of five people (including one twelve year old girl) set themselves on fire in the middle of TianAnMen square. The incident caused major controversy in China.
This retelling of the story of the self-immolation incident in Tiananmen square is an example of an event improperly portrayed by the media, and through word of mouth became a warning against all religion. In reality, there is no evidence that the people who participated in that incident practiced Fa Lun Gong, according to the article.
China has always been a relatively atheist country. During Mao Ze Dong’s reign, he did an attack on the Four Olds, including old culture, which included religion. At the time, the primary religion of choice in China was Buddhism, but with the drive for “New Thought”, many young revolutionists abandoned religion. This may have contributed to the informant’s parents’ thoughts on religion being bad, as they would’ve been teenagers at the time of the Cultural Revolution in 1976.