A FITNESS technique involving gentle movement and meditation is so innocuous that my pregnancy yoga teacher did a bit of it in her classes.
But go deeper into Falun Dafa – more commonly known as Falun Gong – and you get into the realms of enlightenment and the truth of the universe.
Through the ages, the practice was passed down from a single master to a single disciple but, in 1992, it was popularised in China by Li Hongzhi and became a bit like a religion.
Six years later, around 70 million people had taken up the practice in China and it soon came to be regarded as a threat to the Chinese state.
Falun Dafa practitioners staged a silent protest against a spate of attacks on its members at the Communist Party’s headquarters in April 1999.
Two months later, Falun Dafa was banned in China and the state then targeted its followers in a brutal crackdown.
Supporters outside China claim Falun Dafa followers suffer arrest, torture and abuse and that 2,000 have died in custody since 1999.
There are further allegations of labour camps where organs are harvested from people who die in custody.
Presumably there’s not much that a peaceful movement with no formal leadership can do to defend itself from suppression by the Communist state.
However, a stab at raising awareness is being pursued through art.
Western sympathisers have organised The Art of Truth, Compassion, Tolerance – a title containing the three tenets of Falun Dafa.
This is an exhibition of oil paintings and watercolours by Chinese artists which has toured 200 cities across Europe, Asia, Australia and America, and opens in Newcastle this month.
Falun Dafa practitioner David English has helped bring the show to the North East in conjunction with the Falun Gong Association (UK).
He explains: “I got involved with this project two years ago and the idea was to raise awareness of the persecution.
“The art is by people who have left China and now live in North America, and it is about their experiences of persecution. There is also an element of the higher meanings of Falun Dafa.”
He adds: “The artwork is being well received because of its skill – but it also has depth.
“It’s a combination of ancient and meaningful Chinese painting with Western techniques, and powerful painting is the result.”
David, who is also a musician, started practising Falun Dafa when he was diagnosed with ME. “I was pretty much written off as far as work was concerned. I had to rest a lot of the time,” he says.
“Then I came across the practice and, over time, I have become better than I was before. It is profound but it is also a kind of healthcare.”
The exhibition was drawn together by Professor Zhang Kunlun, former director of the Institute of Sculpture at the Institute of Art in Shandong.
He was detained for three months in a labour camp in China and, in 2004, started to work with other artists who practise Falun Dafa to create this exhibition.
He says: “Our art comes from a pure heart and our work reflects our personal experience. Art is able to greatly influence the way people think and it also directly connects with human morality. And the two interact.”
The Art of Truth, Compassion, Tolerance is open on Saturday and Sunday (10.30am to 5pm) until August 15. Curtis Mayfield House, Carliol Square, Newcastle.