Members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement gathered in Tiananmen Square for the second straight day today in quiet civil disobedience meant to show Chinese leaders, and others around the world, that they have no plans to bend under a renewed campaign of government pressure.
Police detained dozens of followers as they sat in the center of the vast square that is the main arena for political demonstrations by and against the Chinese government. Officers asked a number of others milling around nearby if they were members of Falun Gong, and when they said yes, police put them into blue and white minibuses and drove them away as well.
The protest came in response to a government announcement that jailed leaders of the exercise and meditation group will be prosecuted for the capital crime of stealing state secrets. Dozens of followers were detained on the square Monday while holding a separate sit-in against a proposed law that would ban "heretic cults."
"I am absolutely not scared," said one practitioner who gave up her job as an office clerk in a southern Chinese city to come to Beijing to protest. "We believe that danger doesn't exist. If they arrest me, it's only on the surface. Even prisoners have freedom."
She suggested that arrests can help spread the word about her group, adding: "We want many more people to know . . . about Falun Gong."
"We don't oppose the government. We just want to kindly tell them that we are good," added the woman's husband, who said he cured his hepatitis by practicing Falun Gong. "If they criticize us, or beat us, we'll face them with kindness."
The continued refusal of Falun Gong followers to submit to the government's July 22 ban on the group--despite widespread detentions, a relentless propaganda campaign and signals that leaders will be harshly punished--has presented an unusual challenge to the Chinese government.
China's leaders have appeared baffled by the depth of loyalty and belief shown by members of the group and surprised that their tools for stifling dissent have not been effective. State media reported that the followers have held more than 300 protests in the past three months.
President Jiang Zemin has voiced bewilderment at foreign critics who say the Chinese crackdown violates religious freedom. On overseas trips, Jiang has offered foreign leaders the explanation that any responsible government would behave in a similar fashion to save their societies from such a dangerous group. He has argued that Falun Gong has claimed the lives of more than 1,400 followers.
But Falun Gong has, for a variety of reasons, filled a deep void for many inside China.
Wang Shan, an independent political analyst in Beijing, said the Falun Gong movement marked the first time since 1949 that China's workers have been centrally involved in a movement that, at least indirectly, challenged the authority of the Communist Party. He said the movement reflected the deep alienation of many workers with China's reforms. Workers' wages have been flat nationwide for several years, and in the countryside they have been falling.
CAPTION: Followers of the Falun Gong movement in Hong Kong are questioned by police as they hold a banner that reads "Falun Gong is not a sect" to protest the arrest of their colleagues in China.