|Born||5 January 1954
|Died||31 July 2006
|Occupation||Businessman, Spiritual Leader|
|Known for||Founder of Zhong Gong|
Zhang Hongbao (simplified Chinese: 张宏堡; traditional Chinese: 張宏堡) (5 January 1954 in Harbin, Heilongjiang, China, - 31 July 2006, Arizona, USA) was the founder and spiritual leader of Zhong Gong, a qigong-based system of practices and beliefs. He was also a wealthy businessman, and a self-proclaimed leader of the Chinese democracy movement.
He died in a motor vehicle accident in Arizona in July 2006. After his death, no significant activity by Zhong Gong has been reported.
Zhang was born in 1954 in Harbin, where his family trade was coal-mining. Zhang spent ten years during the Cultural Revolution in a state farm in Heilongjiang, during which time he started practising Qigong. In 1977, he was admitted to the Harbin School of Metallurgy. On leaving, he joined the Communist Party and became a physics teacher in a mining region. Zhang gained entrance into the Beijing University of Science and Technology in 1985 where he studied Economic management. Palmer, citing Ji Yi, said Zhang only obtained mediocre grades as a student, but he was interested in a diverse range of modules from Law to Chinese and Western Medicine. He also signed on at the Chinese Qigong Further Education Academy. During this time he developed a style of Qigong which was based on automation, physics, relativity, bionics, and with distinctive use of mechanical engineering jargon. After graduation, he became a paid qigong researcher at a university, where he was to give his first public demonstration of the "Extraordinary Powers" he had acquired.
In 1987, he founded Zhong Gong, launching it on the auspicious date of 8 August. Palmer, citing Ji Yi's 10-million-selling hagiography The Great Qigong Master Comes Down From the Mountains (1990), says that Zhang gave two week-long Qigong workshops which received national coverage in the People's Daily. Among the over a thousand people who participated were prominent academics such as the President of Beijing University, who were reportedly able to capture and emit Qi. Having won over the academic community, Zhang also gained acceptance within the China Academy of Science, and other sections of the scientific community. Furthermore, he became a media celebrity after one workshop was featured in a three-minute news segment on CCTV. He also gained credibility within the media and political elites.
The movement claimed 34 million followers, 120,000 employees, 30 life cultivation bases, and 100,000 “branches” at its peak.
According to Perry, in the early 1990s, Zhang and his followers withdrew to Qingchengshan deep in Sichuan, where Zhang would reorganise his activities into commercial enterprises, the flagship of which was the Qilin Group, based in Qilin City. Cunningham states the group was made up of some 60 companies headquartered in Tianjin. The group reportedly employed 100,000 workers, mostly in qigong-related education, publication and health-product ventures.
Criminal allegations and exile
A close disciple defected from the group and wrote a scathing exposé alleging that Zhang was a fraud and had illicit sex with followers. Independent Chinese sceptic Sima Nan alleges that Zhang is a rapist and may even be responsible for the murder of some former followers. The Chinese Government issued a warrant for his arrest on 7 June 2000, and a statement calling for his return to face four counts of rape between 1990 and 1991, and two counts of using forged travel documents between 1993 and 1994. The 10-year-old rape charge is difficult to verify, and one observer notes that over 40 Chinese dissidents have been charged with sexual crimes in 1999/2000, a way China neutralises opponents of the regime without raising human-rights concerns. The Chinese authorities alleges Zhang was in possession of a bogus identity card in the name of Wang Xingxiang, a Han male born on 8 August 1953.
Life in the United States
Zhang disappeared from public view in 1995 in light of increased criticism of Zhong Gong. Zhang together with his associate and companion, Yan Qingxin, arrived in the American protectorate of Guam in February 2000 without a visa, and applied for political asylum in the United States. While awaiting transfer to the US, Zhang went on hunger strike to press for his release from detention in Guam; several overseas Chinese dissident organizations—including the Free China Movement, the Chinese Democracy Party and the Joint Conference of Chinese Overseas Democracy Movement—organizing a press conference to support his cause. Zhang was denied asylum by the United States, but was granted wrongful withholding, which prevented repatriation to China. After 13 months in detention in Guam, he secured the services of Robert Shapiro, who defended O.J. Simpson. Shapiro claims credit for gaining the support of Trent Lott and Jesse Helms for Zhang's application. Zhang was granted protection residence by the U.S. Board of Immigration Appeal in June 2001, reversing a previous ruling.
In April, the China Federation Foundation (CFF) was founded with money from Zhang, and led by a dissident named Peng Ming. This group wanted to form an alternative government for China through the violent overthrow of the Communist government. Zhang claimed that he planned this for many years, not for creating conditions for formal Political Asylum to avoid being expelled if convicted.
In what may be a power struggle within the democratic China movement, Zhang subsequently fell out with other dissidents, including Yan Qingxin, his domestic partner for 12 years. Until September 2001, Yan was Zhong Gong’s first lieutenant and "helped build the organization into a powerful entity that made billions of dollars". Yan filed a lawsuit on 26 June in Pasadena Superior Court accusing Zhang of assault, battery and false imprisonment, and asked for damages of US$23 million. Yan's sister, Qi Zhang, also a Chinese dissident, filed a suit in Pasadena in July 2003, accusing Zhang of crimes including racketeering and slander. In total, from 2003 to 2005, Zhang was hit by an avalanche of 20 - 40 civil lawsuits with accusations from other plaintiffs. The arrest of Zhang led to division in the democracy movement.
Zhang was arrested in March 2003 at his Pasadena mansion in connection with allegations made by his housekeeper, He Nanfang. Zhang was charged with four felonies, including kidnapping assault and false imprisonment with a deadly weapon. If convicted, Zhang would lose his protection status, and be expelled from USA. In the end, the felony charges in the He Nanfang case were reduced to one charge of battery, a misdemeanor, to which Zhang pleaded no contest on 22 April 2005. On 28 February 2006, Zhang won a criminal case, and soon other lawsuits against him were lost or were successively withdrawn. Only one civil case and a labor compensation case remained.
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He had become a non-person to the mainstream Western media. Zhang's death, in a car accident in the United States at the age of 52, was a non-event which went unreported. At a highway intersection in northern Arizona, his car was crushed by tractor-trailer truck travelling towards it at 60 miles per hour on 31 July 2006. Both he and his female driver, who was also his secretary, died.
After Zhang’s death, Zhong Gong almost disappeared from the public eye due to the internal friction.
- Beijing Public Security Bureau (25 July 2000). "Zhang Hongbao Is a Criminal Suspect in China".
- Palmer, David A. (2007). The Rise of Zhang Hongbao. Qigong fever: body, science, and utopia in China. pp. 146–150.
- Mike Chinoy, Chinese sect leader waits for word on asylum in U.S. Archived 22 November 2007 at the Wayback Machine., CNN, 25 August 2000
- World of Shadows, China Matters, 26 July 2006, Retrieved 25 October 2007
- Thornton, Patricia M. Elizabeth J. Perry, Mark Selden, ed. The new cybersects. Chinese society: change, conflict and resistance. pp. 259–265.
- Philip Cunningham, Falling victim to U.S.-Chinese diplomacy[permanent dead link], The Japan Times, 30 Dec. 2000
- John Kusumi, Zhang Hongbao, qi gong master, Chinese dissident, and lightning rod for controversy dies at age 52, China Support Network, 10 September 2006
- Craig S. Smith, Asylum Plea by Chinese Sect's Leader Perplexes the U.S., New York Times, 31 July 2000
- U.S. Newswire (19 December 2000). "'Campaign to Free Master Zhang Hongbao' to Hold Press Conference Dec. 20".
- "Interviews With Robert Shapiro, Ben Kingsley, Robert Wuhl and Warren Chistopher". Larry King Weekend. Transcript. 2 June 2001. CNN.
- Reuters, U.S. Grants Asylum to Banned China Sect Leader, Apologetics Index, 15 June 2001
- Experts say suits may hinder democracy, Pasadena Star-News, 1 Aug. 2003
- AP, Exiled leader of Chinese spiritual movement charged in beating, Religion News Blog, 5 May 2003
- Wen Hua, Possibly Murdered Qigong Master Disclosed CCP Military Secrets[permanent dead link], Epoch Times, 8 September 2006
- Epoch Times (1 September 2006). "张宏宝车祸身亡 周勇军：疑惑多 Zhang Hongbaos' death in car accident - Zhou: very suspicious" (in Chinese). Boxun.com.