Posted on August 26, 2003

Joann Kao said when she came back from China last year all she brought back was her clothes and a broken purse.

She said the electronic devices and money that she and others brought for their seven-day trip in China was taken from them by Chinese police officers.

She said she was grabbed by her hair and had her hands tied behind her back. She saw people getting stepped on as she was thrown into a van.

Kao, a Charlotte, N.C., restaurant owner, is one of four people who traveled to Spartanburg, Gaffney and Greenville on Monday to raise awareness of the imprisonment of Dr. Charles Li, a medical doctor from Menlo Park, Calif. Li was arrested in China shortly after arriving there to protest the persecution of practitioners of Falun Gong, a Chinese exercise.

Kao was in China last year with 69 people from around the world with signs that read "Falun Gong is good."

"I feel like I have an obligation to rescue Charles Li," Kao said. "He and I were in the same situation, but I was able to come back."

Kao, Wendy Ling Guam of Charlotte, Josh Jordan of Anderson and Al Whitted of Hillsborough, N.C., are traveling across the Carolinas to bring awareness to the imprisonment and reported torture Li is experiencing in a Chinese prison.

Teams of other Li supporters are traveling across the country with photographs and banners to get signatures of people supporting his release.

Li's supporters have declared Aug. 13 through Sept. 13 "National Rescue Month." They plan to assemble at the State Department in Washington, D.C., with all of the signatures they've gathered to urge U.S. officials to force China to release Li.

"When there's silence, it instigates a persecution," Whitted said.

Whitted said Falun Gong is a meditative exercise that can clear the mind and improve health.

He said it helped release tension he had while teaching middle school. Kao credits it for improving her allergies and Jordan said Falun Gong alleviated a foot problem he had.

"I feel like people are being persecuted for the same thing I'm doing here," Jordan said.

Will Dobson, a Spartanburg native and senior editor at Newsweek, oversees the magazine's coverage of Asia. He said the Chinese communist government is threatened by the exercise because it appeals to a variety of people.

"It's socially diverse and taps into many different communities and that frightens a regime," Dobson said.

Whitted said the exercise has between 70 and 100 million practitioners in China.


The group plans to visit Columbia today before going to Wilmington, N.C.