FALUN GONG: They aim to inform about Chinese nationals who've been persecuted for the art. Sunday, September 14, 2003


RIVERSIDE - Yongyan Zhang, 33, sat in the shadow of Riverside City Hall on Saturday, eyes closed, hands folded as if in prayer.

Nearby, a man rifled through the trash, barely sparing her a glance. Some skateboarders lingered with curious stares.

Yongyan was practicing Falun Gong, a form of meditation that could get her imprisoned -- or worse -- in her native China.

Peter Phun/The Press-Enterprise

Lulu Wu-Corridean of Riverside and other practitioners of Falun Gong came to Riverside City Hall to bring attention to China's persecution of those who practice such meditation techniques.

About 30 practitioners of the peaceful meditation also planned to gather outside San Bernardino City Hall on Saturday. Their aim is to inform Inland residents of the plight of Chinese nationals who have been tortured or killed for defying the communist government's ban on Falun Gong. Yongyan, a Riverside resident, worries about friends and family members who still live in China, where she said millions practice in secret or risk their lives with open defiance.

"The feelings in my heart are complicated," she said through an interpreter. "I feel peace because I can practice here in freedom. But in China they risk their lives or being pulled apart from their families.

"After I left, my friend was killed by torture. All I can do is tell people here about Falun Gong."

Falun Gong is a nonviolent art based on the principles of truth, compassion and tolerance, said Leeshai Lemish, a Pomona College student who organized the Saturday gatherings. Falun Gong was banned in 1999 by the Chinese government for fear that it threatened social stability, he said.

Lemish, 25, was arrested in China along with dozens of international practitioners for publicly meditating.

"I was held for 48 hours, interrogated and beaten. Then they put me on a plane without my shoes and sent us back," he said. Others in his group were severely beaten, threatened or sexually assaulted, he said.

"Falun Gong is a non-religious, nonviolent cultivation of the mind and body, and yet people are being tortured for it. We're here to spread awareness."

Last year, Congress passed a resolution urging the Chinese government to end the persecution of Falun Gong followers.

Riverside residents Joe Sanchez, 13, and Saul Vides, 13, stopped skateboarding Saturday and attempted the meditation poses. They sat by Ming Jing Xue, a 55-year-old native of China who said she spent more than 100 days in a Chinese prison for her beliefs. But she said she never once thought of giving up Falun Gong.

"If you are not true to your heart, what do you have?" she said.

Reach Paige Austin at (909) 893-2106 or paustin@pe.com