Within months, his school and more than 3,000 businesses and teaching and treatment centers belonging to the Zhong Gong group had been closed, its millions of followers dispersed, practitioners said.
The movement "collapsed, died in complete silence," said Bai, the disciple, who did not want his full name used for fear of official reprisals.
Behind the scenes of China's highly publicized war on the Falun Gong spiritual movement, the government is also waging a devastating campaign against Zhong Gong and other health and meditation groups. Like Falun Gong, the communist leadership views them as a threat to its monopoly on power.
Falun Gong exploded into Chinese leaders' consciousness last April 25 when 10,000 followers protested outside Communist Party headquarters in Beijing to seek legal protection from official harassment.
The group's organizational flair, multimillion-member following and adherents' devotion to founder Li Hongzhi sharpened official suspicions of all groups derived from traditional Chinese "qi gong"' (pronounced chee-gong)--meditation and breathing exercises to promote health.
China's entirely state-run media and the government have trumpeted the crackdown on Falun Gong. Thousands of practitioners have been detained since it was outlawed in July in the campaign against what the government says is an evil cult.
But authorities refuse to talk about the clampdown on other qi gong organizations, and state media have all but ignored it. So far the campaign has affected at least five groups, practitioners, government sources and human rights organizations say.
China's Foreign Ministry, police, Cabinet and Religious Affairs Bureau refused to answer questions about the wider crackdown. With the U.S. Congress set to vote in May on trade with China, officials may be trying to avoid adding to the international criticism generated by the assault on Falun Gong.
According to Amnesty International, the purported founder of Cibei Gong was arrested Sept. 8 and at least five leaders of Guo Gong were detained in November. A Bodhi Gong training center in Beidaihe, a seaside resort where Chinese leaders meet annually, was shut down last year, an official there said. Xiang Gong followers are reportedly being monitored.
Zhong Gong, founded in 1987, was the largest of the groups. It attracted millions of followers.
In an appeal to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, the group said authorities have detained nearly 600 followers, including 25 organizers.
One of those, Cheng Yaqin, has been held for six months in a detention center in Baoding, a city 95 miles south of Beijing, her daughter said. The daughter was detained with Cheng, held for three weeks and released. Authorities have refused to say why Cheng is being held, she said.
Zhong Gong's founder, Zhang Hongbao, is thought to be in hiding. His first company, a three-story clinic and teaching center in Beijing, stands empty, its gates padlocked, its sky-blue exterior weathered.
Before it was closed around the time of the government's Oct. 1 celebration of 50 years of Communist Party rule, hundreds of people from all over China visited the center each day for classes and treatment, practitioners said.
Zhong Gong ran clinics, training retreats and businesses throughout China that sold tapes, books, qi gong uniforms, health products and sundries like Tibetan incense and mineral water, according to reports sent by Zhong Gong adherents to a Hong Kong-based rights group, the Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy.
By 1990, Zhong Gong had 38 million followers, including many local government officials, said Bai, the disciple who worked as a security guard at group gatherings before moving north to Inner Mongolia in 1997 to set up a center there.
Like Falun Gong followers, Zhong Gong members refer to their founder as "master" and themselves as "disciples." They said they use Zhong Gong to open energy channels in their bodies, promoting health and vitality. They also said Zhang's teachings promote moral living.
Bai said that with Zhong Gong exercises, he can get by on two hours sleep a night.
Zhao Liping, a Zhong Gong teacher who moved around China teaching and healing people, said it helped her overcome a history of illness and her husband's death in a car crash. "Our master gave me a second life," she said.
Before the crackdown, practitioners met in parks at dawn to perform breathing and meditation exercises. Bai said the more people who practice together, the greater the energy they create, like putting electric batteries in a row.
"I do miss it," he said. "You can't eradicate qi gong from people's hearts."