By Matthew Cella

August 20, 2001

Demonstrators outside the Chinese Embassy in Northwest say they are in good shape after the first two days of a hunger strike to protest the imprisonment of 130 Falun Gong practitioners in China.

The demonstrators, Chinese citizens and Falun Gong practitioners themselves, began the hunger strike Friday in a small park across the street from the Chinese Embassy after their statement of protest, slipped between the embassy's curtain-covered glass doors, was hurled back at them moments after it was delivered.

"Falun Gong practitioners have peacefully appealed in front of the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., for a year, yet the authorities have repeatedly rejected our appeal letters," the statement reads. "Therefore, we have decided to launch a hunger strike as our strongest call to justice."

Practitioners of Falun Gong say it is a form of refining the body and mind through special exercises and meditations. The Chinese government banned the practice in 1999, calling practitioners, who often gather in public places to perform its yoga-like exercises, an [Jiang Zemin government's slanderous term omitted].

Dozens of Falun Gong leaders were arrested after weeks of demonstrations throughout China after the ban, and the demonstrators say 263 persons have been tortured and killed since the ban began.

The demonstrators outside the Chinese Embassy number 17 -- ten participating in the hunger strike and seven others who have come in support. They huddle barefoot on small, yellow mats in the park across the street from the embassy, which they call "Tiananmen Garden." They wear blue sashes with the words "hunger strike for justice" hand-painted in white letters. When it rains, they put on yellow plastic hoods. Mostly, they sit quietly, praying, reading under the trees or talking among themselves, but not about food.

"We try not to put our minds to that," said Shean Lin, one of the organizers of the protest.

Mr. Lin, 30, a virus researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said the hunger strike was inspired by the 130 practitioners imprisoned in the Masanjia labor camp in China. Those detainees have been on a hunger strike for three weeks.

"When we saw in the news that 130 people had gone on a hunger strike, we just felt we had to do something," said Sam Lu. He said the hunger strike has made him a little tired, but he quickly puts his in perspective. "When I think about what they suffer, I think it's really nothing."

Mr. Lu, 33, is from Shenzhen, in the Guangdong province of China. He knows firsthand about the Chinese government's violent crackdown on Falun Gong practitioners. A tax auditor who spent nine years working for the Chinese government, he was forced to give up his job in 1999 when he wouldn't renounce Falun Gong and was jailed two months last year for practicing the exercises.

Mr. Lu has been in the United States only since February. His wife, also a Falun Gong practitioner, is being held in a Chinese labor camp, he said.

Mr. Lin said the hunger strike was organized quickly to show solidarity with those fasting in China, so demonstrators didn't have time to prepare their bodies. In fact, none of the demonstrators has participated in a hunger strike before, and they are more or less making up the rules as they go along.

When a case of Pedialyte, a fruit juice-based drink that contains sugar, was offered, demonstrators declined, opting only for water. At night, the demonstrators sleep in cars, similarly rejecting a supporter's offer of a hotel room.


April Zhang, 31, of Atlanta said she decided to join because she's been haunted by a January news account of a woman and her 8-month-old child killed by Chinese police because the mother practiced Falun Gong.

As she looked at their picture again yesterday, she began to cry, thinking of her own 11-month-old child back home.

"I miss my baby, but I have no choice," she said. "I should be here."