Chinese physicist criticized cult

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Mon Feb 5 08:20:55 MST 2001

CB: This NYT reporter is a bit confused in his thinking when he says,

"Yet this advocate of scientific methods is also a devout Marxist who
has published essays questioning whether today's pell-mell market
reforms are steering China off the true path of Marx and socialism."

CB: There is no contradiction between advocating science and advocating Marxism.

New York Times 5 February 2001

Chinese Professor's Attack on a Sect Led to a Face-Off


BEIJING, Feb. 4 - In the spring of 1999, Professor He Zuoxiu, an
elderly theoretical physicist whose avocation is debunking
pseudoscience, hoped to provoke some debate with a short article
warning about the "deceitful lies" of certain "qigong" meditation
sects.  One called Falun Gong, he charged, led a student into mental

At the time, his provocative views were not welcome in the mainstream
press, and the article appeared in the April issue of "Science and
Technology for Youth," an obscure magazine published by a
teacher-training university in Tianjin, 100 miles southeast of

Neither the professor nor anyone else could have imagined that the
article would touch off some of China's most tumultuous events in
years: nothing less than the broadest popular resistance to Communist
authority since the 1989 democracy movement and the harsh government
crackdown that followed.

It was anger over the professor's article that led 10,000 or more
Falun Gong believers to hold a vigil on April 25, 1999, outside the
leadership compound in Beijing, demanding an official apology and
legal recognition.  And it was that unauthorized demonstration that
led the frightened authorities to outlaw the spiritual group, which
had attracted millions of Chinese with its promises of physical and
spiritual salvation through meditative exercises.

Mr. He, now 74, is a Chinese original.  As a physicist he aided
China's development of nuclear weapons in the early 1960's.  Today,
he said in an interview at his small apartment in a compound of the
Chinese Academy of Sciences, he is still collaborating with
scientists at M.I.T. in the search for "dark matter" in the universe.

Yet this advocate of scientific methods is also a devout Marxist who
has published essays questioning whether today's pell-mell market
reforms are steering China off the true path of Marx and socialism.

"As a scientist I make my judgments based on universal laws," he said
in the interview.  "And Marxism is a science just like all the

If his orthodox Marxism is not always welcomed by the leadership, his
diatribes against "evil cults" garner more official respect these
days, and he has no regrets about his cameo role in the bizarre
national drama of Falun Gong.

He said that the latest news, of seven apparent followers trying to
immolate themselves in Tiananmen Square, only meant that Li Hongzhi,
the Falun Gong founder, was even more despicable than he had asserted
before.  "This proves that Falun Gong is more evil than other cults,"
Mr. He said.  "With the Branch Davidians in the United States, at
least the head of the cult burned himself together with the others.
Here the head wanted to sacrifice his followers to achieve his own
ulterior motives."

The immolation attempts, on Jan. 23, left one woman dead and four
people severely burned.  Two others were stopped from lighting
themselves, the authorities said.  Falun Gong representatives in the
United States insist that the incident could not have involved
followers and that "Master Li" opposes suicide.  The government has
launched a renewed campaign to discredit the spiritual movement.

Mr. He was born 1927 to an affluent family in Shanghai, with
Christians and Buddhists in his family background, he said.  His
father, who died when the boy was only 2, had an engineering
doctorate from Cornell University.  Like many idealistic students
during the war against Japanese invaders and the civil war that
followed, he became interested in Marxism.  In 1947, when he moved to
Qinghua University in Beijing to study physics, he became an
underground Communist Party member.

In the 1950's, in the new People's Republic of China, he mainly
worked not in laboratories but in the Department of Propaganda, where
he helped oversee the development of science and technology and wrote
major articles on the Marxist theory of science.

During Mao's Cultural Revolution of 1966 to 1976, Mr. He and his wife
also a physicist, fell into disfavor.  Though they did not land in
prison, with their upper-class backgrounds and insufficient
enthusiasm for Maoist turmoil, they did wind up in a strange
confinement: each day they had to go to separate places where they
were kept locked up, then were released each night to sleep at home.

"Mao had an excessive belief in class struggle, and that became an
obstacle to the development of productive forces," Mr. He said.  "To
my point of view, such thinking was not consistent with Marxism."

So was Mao, in the end, a kind of cult leader himself?  Mr. He smiled
disdainfully.  "You can't compare Mao to Li Hongzhi," he said.

"Mao hoped to raise the living standards of the people," he said.
"He personally lost six family members to the revolution, and during
that period he made great contributions to our people.

"Mao made mistakes during his later years, but these were the
mistakes of a great man."

For the last 20 years or so, Mr. He has pursued a part-time,
unofficial crusade against what he considers superstition and bogus
science.  Qigong masters, who sprang up by the dozens in the 1980's,
were common targets.

Mr. He is among the minority of Chinese who deny the existence of qi,
the supposed cosmic forces in the body and universe that are the
basis of qigong exercises as well as much of traditional Chinese
medical theory.  But while he says the crackdown on Falun Gong should
if anything be intensified - associated rights abuses, he says, have
been greatly exaggerated abroad - he does not call for a blanket ban
on qigong.

"I've never been against endeavors by old people to practice qigong
in pursuit of health and longevity," he said.  "But if you claim that
it can work all wonders, that's cheating people."

"My field is the quantum theory of fields," he said.  "When people
say qigong is a field, I cannot agree."

Since the Falun Gong troubles, the government has tied itself in
knots trying to distinguish between "good" and "bad" forms of qigong.
Mr. He would only say that China "has not fully solved" the question
of how to handle different schools.

Mr. He is unfazed by reports that some Falun Gong members have tried
to direct supernatural punishments at him.  "I welcome that," he
said, "because I know it's impossible."  Then, laughing, he added,
"But if someone tries to use physical force against me they'll
succeed, because I'm old and frail and I believe in Newton's laws of

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