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An underground challenge to China's status quo

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Perhaps that explains the extraordinary appeal of the Tuidang movement, which organizers say has more than 60 million participants. It began in late 2004, when New York-based Chinese dissident newspaper
DaJiYuan (Epoch Times, affiliated with the spiritual movement Falun Gong) ran a series of polemic editorials detailing the history of the Communist Party in China.They also proclaimed that the country would not truly be free or prosperous until it was rid of the party, which, it argued was at odds with China's cultural and spiritual values.

Millions of copies of the articles found their way into mainland China through e-mails, faxes, and underground printing houses. Some Chinese readers say the articles finally confirmed what they suspected all along – about the Great Leap Forward, the Tiananmen massacre, the Cultural Revolution. This offered recognition that their memories were real and their suffering was shared.

But despite appearances, this is not a political movement in the conventional sense. Unlike the student movement of 1989 or the more recent Charter 2008 manifesto – both of which embraced the language of Western democracy – the Tuidang movement employs distinctly Chinese language and meaning. More Confucian than humanist, it often makes its points by drawing on Buddhist and Daoist spirituality.

Denouncing the party is thus not simply political activism, but takes on spiritual meaning as a process of cleansing the conscience and reconnecting to traditional ethics and values.

In December 2004, one month after the articles were published by the dissident newspaper, its editors starting receiving statements from readers declaring their wish to disavow membership in the Communist Party, the Communist Youth League, or the Young Pioneers, sometimes after their memberships had technically expired. Today, statements representing some 60 million people have been sent to the newspaper, which posts them to an online database.

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