Fears For Taoist Author

A scholar of Chinese Taoist philosophy is in poor health in prison, where he is serving time for 'superstition.'

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taoisttemple305.jpg People pray at a Taoist temple in Beijing, Jan. 30, 2011.

Relatives of a Chinese dissident serving a jail term for "superstition" because of his research into the social relevance of ancient Taoist texts have raised concerns about his health.

Guan Shaohong, 63, was in poor health during a recent visit by family members to his jail in the northeastern city of Donggang, a relative surnamed Wang said.

"The prison authorities wouldn't discuss this with me, and told me if I tried to, that they would cut the visit short immediately," said one family member, surnamed Wang.

"I only saw him for about 10 minutes."

The former deputy head of a textile factory was an independent scholar of traditional Taoist philosophy in his spare time, publishing three articles in 2003 titled "A Return to Chinese Civilization: The Dissemination of Taoist Culture."

Wang said the articles were distributed to cultural and literary scholars, winning Guan widespread interest and support from academics.


She said the local authorities were suspicious of his income levels, however, and frequently ran checks on his financial affairs, accusing him of leading people into "superstition."

She said Guan was finally jailed in 2006 in an attempt by the authorities to cover up their confiscation of more than 1 million yuan (U.S. $153,000) in assets.

He was sentenced to a total of 19 years' imprisonment, of which he would serve 15 for "using superstition to interfere with the enforcement of the law," "running an illegal business," and "tax evasion."

His writings on Taoist sage Lao Zi and other Taoist philosophers were published in Hong Kong in 2008 with a foreword by Sun Shili, U.S.-based chairman of the Forum for the Revival of Traditional Chinese Culture and distributed widely among scholars and officials in mainland China.

"There were a lot of academics, including from Beijing and Qinghua Universities, who thought that his book was thoroughly scientific," Wang said.

"The police ... however, misrepresented the book and took sections of it out of context. They even added things that weren't in the book at all."

"None of our thoughts or actions contravened Chinese law," she added. "They were protective of President Hu [Jintao] and the central government."

She said Guan's book and his attempt to circulate its message had led to similar convictions in around 20 Chinese cities and provinces. Six people were still serving prison terms linked to his activities, she said.

Spiritual groups targeted

China banned the Buddhist-based spiritual movement Falun Gong in July 1999 after the group staged a massive silent protest outside the main leadership compound in Beijing.

The central authorities then launched a nationwide campaign against any activities it designated to be those of an "evil cult," jailing hundreds of Falun Gong followers and sending thousands to labor camps without trial, according to exiled rights groups.

Some of those jailed were followers of other spiritual groups which the authorities accused of peddling superstition and misleading their followers, often for money.

The official Chinese media have consistently portrayed Falun Gong as a fringe, fanatical sect.

Followers describe Falun Gong as a set of mostly age-old practices aimed at self-improvement through physical exercises and spiritual beliefs.

The movement claims tens of millions of followers in China, and millions more in other countries.

Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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