In an expansion of the government's campaign against Falun Gong, a popular spiritual sect banned by the government last week, police in at least 12 Chinese provinces today raided book dealers and destroyed hundreds of thousands of the group's meditation manuals.

Some frightened followers carried plastic bags filled with their own copies to "clean-up" offices established around the country.

In a modern twist on the practice of book burning, workers were shown on national television dumping the bright yellow and royal blue books into huge, gyrating vats of chemically treated water, which promptly churned them into the gray pulp used to make fresh paper.

The Orwellian recycling drive was just one element of the government's latest effort to stamp out the influence of Falun Gong and to further vilify its U.S.-based leader, Li Hongzhi. Central authorities banned Falun Gong last week, saying the group was stoking political instability in China. The Communist Party has used the offensive to try to revive its fading Marxist ideology, and to unify the party's 60 million members, many of whom had joined the sect.

Local governments sought to outdo each other in what has become a nationwide political campaign. Authorities in the southern metropolis of Guangzhou announced they had arrested seven employees of the Hanwen Publishing House for illegally printing books on Falun Gong. In the coastal city of Qingdao, ranking members of the Communist Party, government workers and ordinary citizens held political study meetings on Falun Gong.

The People's Daily, the Communist Party's flagship newspaper, also sharpened its anti-Li rhetoric today. An editorial called Li a dangerous swindler whose true aim was to "take the place of the government."

"Li Hongzhi has the evil aim of developing Falun Gong into a political force that can be used against the government and the party," it said.

In a government attempt to distinguish between Li and his estimated 10 million followers, the Chinese government also launched a drive to promote aerobics and other "healthy" alternatives to Falun Gong's breathing and exercise regimen.

Several followers interviewed in recent days said they planned to continue practicing Falun Gong in the relative privacy of their own homes.

The state media onslaught made no mention of the detention of thousands of Falun Gong followers over the past week, an unknown number of whom remain in custody.

In a sign that China's capitalist roots run deep despite the state's attempt to revive communist ideology, some government units sought to make a profit on the crackdown.

In China's commercial capital of Shanghai, the People's Publishing House rushed several new books to stores "to satisfy the urgent needs of the readers and the market," according to the Wenhui Daily. One of the books, titled "One Hundred Questions About Doing Away With Superstition," promises to clear up "the masses' questions, such as, 'Is there a God?' and 'Do heaven and hell exist?' "