Transformers: Chinese Self-Cultivation Traditions in Taiwan's Falun Gong

Submitted by James Miller on Mon, 12/24/2012 - 18:12
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TitleTransformers: Chinese Self-Cultivation Traditions in Taiwan's Falun Gong
Publication TypeThesis
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsAdams, R. J. T.
Corporate AuthorsYang, Mayfair M.
Academic DepartmentProQuest Dissertations and Theses
Date Published2012
PublisherUniversity of California, Santa Barbara
Place PublishedUnited States -- California
ISBN Number9781267648860
Keywords0318:Religion, 0326:Cultural anthropology, 0342:Asian Studies, Buddhism, China, Chinese religion, Daoism, Falun Gong, Li, Hongzhi, Philosophy, religion and theology, Self cultivation, SOCIAL sciences, Taiwan

The current work considers the phenomenon of Falun Dafa through a textual analysis of the major texts of the movement's founder, Li Hongzhi, as well as through an ethnographic study performed amongst practitioners in Taipei, Taiwan. Through an application of Michel Foucault's methodologies of genealogy and ethics, the current work seeks to understand both how and why practitioners submit themselves to and carry out the program of ethical development as taught by Li, as well as how they understand their practice and beliefs to relate to, continue and transform other such practices and beliefs throughout the longer history of religions in China, most notable among these Buddhism, Daoism and Confucianism. My study is concerned both with ethics in Michel Foucault's sense of 'morality', which he defines as "the real behavior of individuals in relation to the rules and values that are recommended to them," as well as with the 'ethical work' of Falun Gong that, to again quote Foucault, "one performs on oneself, not only in order to bring one's conduct into compliance with a given rule, but to attempt to transform oneself into the ethical subject of one's behavior." What is discovered is that 'good' and 'evil' in the forms of de and karma are understood in Falun Gong to have physical existence and these substances attach to the body in unseen dimensions, but nevertheless cause physical, as well as emotional and psychological, health or illness. Through Falun Gong self-cultivation practice, these physical substances and the body itself are transformed. Practitioners perform their identities as 'cultivators', meeting in groups daily for the physical exercises and weekly for reciting Li's texts and reflecting upon, in a sort of communal confessional, their behavior in their everyday lives in relation to Li's ethical teachings. Fieldwork conducted in these settings allows a glimpse into how practitioners understand their own practice and interpret the events and conditions of their own lives, as well as how they construct and maintain those understandings through social practice. Thus, my study is concerned, finally, with the ways in which Dafa performs 'religious work' in the lives of practitioners.