Zhang Hongbao in Blast Furnace
A Documentary on How the Outstanding Spiritual Leader
Transformed to a Political Leader
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From New York Times Message Board
When Is He Going to Ride the Wind and Waves?
--On Mr. Zhang Hongbao’s Political Future
In the late eighties and early nineties of the 20th Century, Zhang Hongbao was a legendary figure in China. As an intellectual without any social background, he empty-handedly founded Zhonggong and, within a few years, developed it into the largest Qigong organization in China. Successfully bypassing the various restrictions imposed by CCP on trans-regional social organizations, Zhonggong assumed the form of group companies. Amazingly, without drawing too much public attention at its early phase, the organization achieved a phenomenal growth to become a conglomeration of more than 3,000 businesses, with millions of disciples. What is more significant is that fact that, at the very peak of Zhongong’s development, Zhang Hongbao suddenly announced his retirement and disappeared from the public view. Even the government public security facilities, which had tried to keep Zhang under close surveillance, lost track of his whereabouts. In fact, during the following five or six years after announcing his retirement, Zhang Hongbao stayed somewhere in the Southeast Asia, monitoring the operation of Zhonggong as a vast social organization in China.
As Zhang’s political asylum case became more and more complicated and the international media began to focus its attention on Guam, the world is getting better acquainted with Zhang Hongbao and his Zhonggong. The unusual attention the highest Chinese authorities have allocated to Zhang’s case, (as well as the enormous pressure the American judiciary authorities involved in processing the case have experienced in the form of administrative interventions from the executive branch), has led people to conclude: the Chinese government must regard Zhang Hongbao as a dangerous person who poses a tremendous threat to the authoritarian rule of CCP. As Zhang commented during an interview with the foreign press, “Jiang Zemin knows best who I am.” The acute awareness of Zhang as a dangerous element has led CCP to try every means within its power, even come up with fabricated criminal evidence, to launch an elaborate campaign to put a stop to the widening influence of this charismatic leader. In the articles published by the Chinese authorities to discredit Zhang, CCP admitted that “Zhang Hongbao is the most capable and the most charismatic among all those Qigong masters.” The question to be raised here is what role Zhang and his massive organization will play in China’s political arena in the future.
More and more friends who are concerned with China’s political future have begun to pay their attention to the important roles the Qigong organizations such as Zhonggong and Falungong will play in the country’s democratization process. The courageous and continuous movements waged by Falungong members, together with Zhonggong “99.8” national campaign that became known recently, have turned a brand-new, glorious page in the history of the Chinese people’s struggle for basic human rights. In the 50 years of the communist rule in China, this is the first time that the social and political resistance forces, independent of the government facilities, manifested their presence, survived brutal crackdowns, and refused to disappear from the domestic political scene. It is indeed a miracle that these organizations are still operating effectively.
There are some other reasons why we cherish great expectations for Zhang Hongbao and Zhonggong. The primary reasons is that, unlike Falungong with its almost entirely spiritual goals, Zhonggong has engaged itself more closely with mundane affairs. Through the establishment of social institutions such as businesses, universities and research institutes, Zhonggong laid down a solid social foundation. Zhang Hongbao has always had an acute interest in politics, having written a series of essays to denounce Marxism and, surreptitiously, given his support to the domestic political resistance movements.
Secondly, during the first round of its opposition movements, Falungong has suffered enormous sacrifice but, at the same time, accrued precious experience for the future, especially in the aspect of how to take advantage of the modern communication technologies in coordinating and directing opposition movements. As an old Chinese saying goes, one sows and another reaps. Falungong’s struggle has set up a good model for Zhonggong in its resistance against CCP tyranny. Furthermore, as Zhang Hongbao retired from the public view ten years ago, during the heyday of Zhonggong’s development, to provide his leadership from backstage, and directed Zhonggong, immediately before and after the “99.8” national campaign, in its successful strategic shift, Zhonggong still managed to retain its basic strength as an organization. Numerous Zhonggong disciples are looking forward to new orders from their master, to an imminent resurgence of the dynamic opposition movement.
Thirdly, compared to Falungong, Zhonggong is able to claim a more extensive inheritance of the traditional Chinese culture and a more successful combination of the ancient Chinese Taoist art of Qigong cultivation with the modern Western science. From this perspective, it may be relatively easier for Zhonggong to be adapted by the contemporary Chinese elite groups, and to be generally accepted by the Chinese society as a whole.
Finally, Zhonggong is a compact organization, with a comprehensive organizational structure from the higher levels to the grass roots. Zhang Hongbao, Zhonggong’s top leader, is a graduate from Beijing University of Science and Technology, received a systematic education and training on modern science and culture, and possesses an exceptional charisma as well as an outstanding leadership.
China has a long tradition of the involvement in contemporary politics by leaders of religious groups, feudal sects or secret societies. The earlier examples are Zhang Jiao and Zhang Liang of the last years of the Han Dynasty; the more recent examples include Hong Xiuquan at the latter phase of the Qing Dynasty. Many prominent figures in the modern Chinese history, such as Sun Yat-sen, Chiang Kai-sheh, Chen Ying-shi, and Liu Bo-cheng started their political careers within traditional secret societies. Sun Yat-sen was a marshal responsible for military affairs in the Hong Sect, whose members played a crucial role in the struggle to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. In fact, among the seventy martyrs of the 1911 Revolution, many were brethren of that secret society. And it is a well-known fact that Chiang Kai-sheh was active in both the Blue Gang and the Red Gang, prominent secret societies toward the last years of the Qing Dynasty. By founding the organization of Zhonggong, Mr. Zhang Hongbao has surpassed his precursors in the promotion of the traditional Chinese culture. What remains for Mr. Zhang to accomplish is a two-fold mission: to continue to expand the Zhonggong organization overseas and to build up its economic strength; and at the same time, to contribute to the advancement of a comprehensive political transformation in China.
In the United States, a country that always upholds its democratic principles, it is very unlikely that Zhang Hongbao would be repatriated and subject to the Chinese government’s judiciary farce. The interventions from CCP have only served to enhance Zhang’s renown, not only as the leader of China’s largest Qigong organization, but also as a rising star on the international political arena, opening up a new, global horizon for Zhang’s continuous engagement in politics. Zhang’s regaining of freedom is only a matter of time, and what remains to be seen is not whether he will get involved in politics, but to what extent he will get involved.
The Chinese democratic movements have provided timely assistance for Mr. Zhang Hongbao in adversities. Many leaders of pro-democracy organizations have made public appeals for Zhang Hongbao’s freedom, and thousands traveled to Guam to voice their support for Zhang. Many people have come to believe, therefore, that Zhang Hongbao is very likely to participate in the overseas activities for China’s democracy and become a leader in the democratic movement. Some people even hope that, after regaining his freedom, Zhang will step out from behind the scenes and establish a new political party, taking advantage of the existent resources owned by Zhonggong to push for a new climax in the democratic movements. In my opinion, this is not a feasible option, for an overtly political gesture is likely to place Zhang Hongbao and his Zhonggong organization in a tight corner. Of course, Zhang’s individual capability and the resources at his disposal make him stand out among the leaders of the current democratic movements, but we should take into consideration the reality: during its last high tide, China’s democratic movement enjoyed broad support from the Chinese people and had no shortage of talents, financial resources, or support from both the ruling parties and opposition parties of the Western countries, but it has inevitably moved towards a decline. Indeed, as long as expatriate political oppositions are concerned, overly politicized operations should be avoided. Today, China’s democratic movements have lost their appeal, for they are completely out of joint with the masses of overseas Chinese students on the one hand and with the Chinese people at home on the other. As capable as Zhang Hongbao is as an individual, he is unable to revert the situation single-handedly. If Zhang throws himself into the democratic movement right now, the most likely scenario is the emergence of another sect in the amalgam of overseas Chinese democratic organizations. Instead of an impetuous dash into political entanglement, what is needed now is a carefully planned-out utilization of Zhonggong as a platform for carrying out solid, grass-root preparations. After regaining his freedom, Zhang Hongbao should not hasten to make manifest political gestures; instead, he should focus his efforts on grass-root works, laying down a solid economic foundation and increasing his influence among overseas Chinese students and residents. Afterwards, buttressed on the economic and religious foundations, Zhang Hongbao can get himself involved in politics, from the angles of human rights and religious freedom, and try to establish good working relationships with political and religious leaders in the United States and other western countries. In this respect, Dalai Lama presents an example of outstanding success.
In our age of cyberspace and information, in today’s world of globalization, China is no longer what she was a century ago. Although a successful revolution of the social system in China has not been accomplished yet, Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s age, an age characterized by military struggles, is over. The peaceful strives pioneered by Zhonggong and Falungong have drawn back the curtain for a new stage in China’s history, a new stage of large-scale, non-violent resistance movements. Opposition political parties that take root in China’s indigenous soil will be born among waves of peaceful resistance. Nobody is able to forestall the advent of democracy in China. In her long history, China has produced many politicians with rare gifts and bold strategy, many heroes who are willing to exchange their blood for liberty, but today we need a Gandhi-type visionary leader who is able to transcend politics and bring the Chinese people out of the vicious cycle they have been trapped over the past century, a leader who can guide the Chinese people in their genuine march into the 21st Century.
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