Nobody knows whether Tian Ruisheng died or went into seclusion. What is certain, members of his Xiang Gong movement are still persecuted.
by Liu Wangmin
Bitter Winter has learned that earlier this month the police has arrested in Luoyang, Henan province, several followers of the famous Buddhist master Tian Ruisheng, whose monastic name was Shijakai, accused of spreading the teachings of the banned movement Xiang Gong (香功), originally known as “Buddha Qigong.”
Xiang Gong is part of a list of “harmful Qigong organizations,” which parallels the list of the religious movements banned as xie jiao. For all practical purposes, the groups listed as “harmful Qigong organizations” receive the same treatment as the xie jiao.
A practitioner reported to Bitter Winter that they were told by the police that the movement is indeed a xie jiao, and its practices are forbidden in China.
Tian Ruisheng is a famous and mysterious character in China. He was born in 1927 in the Luoyang area. According to his followers, he was at the point of dying for a skin disease at age 12 when a traveling Buddhist monk healed him, taught him secret healing techniques, and ordained Tian, appointing him his successor in a secret Buddhist Qigong school that had existed for 2,000 years.
Political conditions, Tian later reported, prevented him from teaching what he had learned from the monk, until in 1988 he believed the situation in China had improved, and started teaching esoteric Buddhism and Qigong healing techniques. This happened during the “Qigong boom” in China, and initially even CCP publications reported favorably about Tian and his school, Buddha Qigong, later renamed Xiang Gong. Tian’s reputation as a healer skyrocketed. Crowds gathered to hear him and be healed in soccer stadiums, and in the early 1990s it was reported that Xiang Gong had more than one million followers, and the interest for the movement started expanding internationally.
Later, independent Qigong was seen less favorably, with some CCP media denouncing Tian as a fraud. In the middle of these controversies, Tian disappeared from the public eye in September 1995. The CCP claimed that he had died of liver cancer on September 30, 1995, and his family had secretly buried him. This was vehemently denied by his followers, who claimed that the master had simply gone into seclusion.
Since he claimed his father was alive, his son Tian Tongxin continued to preside on Xiang Gong on his behalf, and to receive Tian Ruisheng’s retirement payments. This was used to arrest Tian Tongxin in 1999 and sentence him for fraud in 2003.
However, Xiang Gong went on, although with a reduced number of followers, who insist Tian Ruisheng (who would now be 94 years old) is still alive. Since 2003, Xiang Gong is considered as a banned religious organization, and being active in it is punished with jail sentences. However, decades of police efforts have so far failed to eradicate what remains a popular set of esoteric Buddhism and Qigong practices.