Jason Wang knew all about the crackdown against Falun Gong members back in his native China, but he never thought practicing the exercise and spiritual routine would cause him trouble in Houston.

He was wrong.

When the University of Houston graduate student needed to get his passport renewed earlier this year, he says, the local Chinese Consulate held it for months and then refused to renew it. Consular officials asked whether he was a member of Falun Gong and encouraged him to give up the practice, Wang said.

Without a valid passport, Wang may be forced to leave the United States before finishing his studies, which he says would subject him to persecution back home.

Local Falun Gong practitioners say Wang's problems are part of a much larger campaign against their practices. After cracking down on Falun Gong in China, the Chinese government appears to be quietly using its consulates to work against the movement on American soil.

"It's international persecution," alleges Wang, 38, who sometimes joins Falun Gong demonstrations in front of the Chinese Consulate along with his wife, Gina Wei.

In recent months, the local consulate also held passports of other members, and news reports suggest practitioners have had trouble at the consulates in Scotland. Falun Gong members allege in a report that the Houston consulate pressured a local Chinese language paper, the Southern Chinese Daily News, into discontinuing Falun Gong advertisements -- a claim Publisher Wea Lee would not discuss.

Chinese diplomats in the United States also have pressured the mayors of Seattle and other cities to rescind proclamations praising Falun Gong and its founder, Li Hongzhi.


A spokesman from the Chinese Consulate did not return phone calls. But articles available on the consulate's Web site make it clear the government intends to work aggressively against Falun Gong both at home and among Chinese living in the United States.


With its emphasis on meditation and well-being, Falun Gong was not a phenomenon anyone expected to cause a stir in China. The movement grew rapidly in China during the 1990s, reaching out to more than 70 million people, according to its adherents. Practitioners do not consider it a religion -- it claims no deity and builds no temples.

But after 10,000 adherents protested in Beijing in 1999, the government decided to crack down. [...] The human rights group Amnesty International has criticized the government for rounding up and detaining Falun Gong practitioners, estimating that as many as 300 of them have been killed while in government custody.

In the United States, practitioners distribute pamphlets that tell of the "brutal repression" in China and contain graphic photos of adherents said to have been beaten, raped or killed by Chinese authorities.

The local Falun Gong Web site prominently lists the hours of the demonstrations in front of the Chinese Consulate on Montrose, which take place every day.

"People don't do Falun Gong to stick their thumb in the eye of the Chinese government," said local practitioner Dianna Roberts. "They do it to feel better.

"On the other hand, we want the persecution in China to stop."

Jason Wang's case may be typical. The Chinese native came here in 1996 to study superconductivity, and his wife came with him, getting her master's degree in electrical engineering from UH.

The two have a young son who is a U.S. citizen. Wei applied for, and was denied, asylum.

Wang and Wei never practiced Falun Gong in China. They took it up in 1997, after seeing a flier on a bulletin board at UH. Wang said the exercises helped him get over a severe eye strain he used to suffer while reading.


Their family car now sports a large illuminated sign on top calling for the end to China's "state-sponsored terrorism against Falun Gong."