I got to mingle with a lot of interesting people while majoring in political science at Columbia University. As someone who served in American Special Operations units and who studies these types of units all over the globe, I tend to think I’m pretty savvy on the topic. Of course, you don’t know what you don’t know. As it turns out, there is a whole lot I don’t know, especially when it comes to espionage.

For one of my political science classes, a few other students and I formed a study group to prepare for final exams. There were four of us. One student was Chinese-American and the other two were from the Chinese mainland. During our study session, the conversation turned to China and Chinese politics. In my naive innocence, I asked about Falun Gong, which is a form of meditation and exercises not unlike Tai Chi. The People’s Republic of China has outlawed Falun Gong and persecuted people who practice it. Right here in New York City, you can see Falun Gong members protesting outside of the United Nations building on any given day.

Why did the PRC ban Falun Gong? It’s hard to say for certain, but many theories have been advanced that suggest the practice runs contrary to atheist Marxist doctrine. Personally, I think the PRC is simply threatened by any form of civil society, such as institutions and organizations like Falun Gong, that exist outside of the state’s power structure.

Whatever the case, I asked my study group partners, “So what do you think of Falun Gong? Are they a persecuted minority group or are they really up to no good?”