Falun Gong or Falun Dafa (literally means "Dharma Wheel Practice" or "Law Wheel Practice") is a spiritual discipline first introduced in China in 1992 through public lectures by its founder, Li Hongzhi. It combines the practice of meditation and slow-moving qigong exercises with a moral philosophy. Falun Gong emphasizes morality and the cultivation of virtue in its central tenets of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance (Chinese: 真、善、忍), and identifies as a qigong practice of the Buddhist school, though its teachings also incorporate elements drawn from Taoist traditions. Through moral rectitude and the practice of meditation, practitioners of Falun Gong aspire to better health and, ultimately, spiritual enlightenment.
Falun Gong emerged at the end of China's "qigong boom"—a period which saw the proliferation of similar practices of meditation, slow-moving exercises and regulated breathing. It differs from other qigong schools in its absence of fees or formal membership, lack of daily rituals of worship, its greater emphasis on morality, and the theological nature of its teachings. Western academics have described Falun Gong as a qigong discipline, a "spiritual movement" based on the teachings of its founder, a "cultivation system" in the tradition of Chinese antiquity, and sometimes a religion or new religious movement.
Although the practice initially enjoyed considerable support from Chinese officialdom, by the mid- to late-1990s, the Communist Party and public security organs increasingly viewed Falun Gong as a potential threat due to its size, independence from the state, and spiritual teachings. By 1999, some estimates placed the number of Falun Gong adherents in the tens of millions.
On 20 July 1999, after three years of mounting tensions between the group and the government, the Communist Party leadership initiated a nationwide crackdown and multifaceted propaganda campaign intended to eradicate the practice. In October 1999 it declared Falun Gong a "heretical organization" and blocked Internet access to websites that mention Falun Gong. Human rights groups report that Falun Gong practitioners in China are subject to a wide range of human rights abuses; hundreds of thousands are believed to have been imprisoned extrajudicially, and practitioners in detention are subject to forced labor, psychiatric abuse, torture, and other coercive methods of thought reform at the hands of Chinese authorities. In the years since the suppression campaign began, Falun Gong adherents have emerged as a prominent voice in the Chinese dissident community, advocating for greater human rights and an end to Communist Party rule.
Li Hongzhi has lived in the United States since 1996, and Falun Gong has a sizable global constituency; inside China, some sources estimate that millions may continue to practice Falun Gong in spite of suppression. Hundreds of thousands are believed to practice Falun Gong outside China across some 70 countries worldwide.