Falun Gong spreading message on banknotes

The outlawed Falun Gong spiritual group is making itself heard again on the mainland, using a novel method to spread its message and mark the 10th anniversary of its banning.

The group is printing messages on real renminbi banknotes and putting the marked money back into circulation.

In Yunnan province in the southwest, vendors and shopkeepers said they had received many 'Falun Gong notes' over the Lunar New Year holiday - traditionally a peak shopping season.

'I have already received four such banknotes this morning,' a fruit vendor in Kunming , capital of Yunnan, complained.

'[The messages] are in fine print, and the ink colour is very close to the original colour of the money. You have to look closely to notice.

'I dare not use the money; otherwise the police might think I'm the one distributing them. I tried to return them to banks, but bank staff refused to take them, even though these are real banknotes.'

The messages from the spiritual group defend its beliefs and ask the central government to stop persecuting its members.

The owner of a health products shop said he had also received the marked money in the past week. He said those were either 10- or five-yuan notes.

'I have received Falun Gong messages on my fax machine before, but this is the first time I see them printing on real money,' he said.

A tourist bus driver said the marked banknotes had appeared in other cities.

'I have seen them in Dali , Lijiang and even in Sichuan ,' he said.

'They also make DVDs and package them as hit movies and sell them to people in the street.

'The first parts of these movies are normally all right, but then it suddenly becomes a Falun Gong propaganda piece after 10 minutes or so.'

The spiritual group remains on top of Beijing's list of threats to national security.

Beijing in the past has accused the group of trying to hijack television satellites to spread their messages.

Despite central government crackdowns, the group has proved resilient. Its public profile on the mainland has greatly diminished, but with the anniversary of its banning coming up on July 22, it is apparently trying to be heard once again.

Earlier this week, Beijing warned the local authorities in its first policy document of the year to watch out for 'hostile groups infiltrating the countryside under the cloak of religion'.