Jennifer Zhou and her husband, David Xie, greet Jennifer's mother, Ahiua Xu, at the airport. Xu, a Falun Gong practitioner, fled China after months of torture. Falun Gong has been banned in China since July 1999.

Robin Buckson / The Detroit News

TROY -- After months of torture and surveillance in China, Ahiua Xu arrived from Shanghai on Monday morning, and is safe in the home of her daughter, Jennifer Zhou of Troy.

The 64-year-old retired engineer and mother of four sat on Jennifer's burgundy leather sofa and pulled up her pants legs to show the bruises where she said electric shocks had been administered near her ankles. Her daughter sat nearby cringing.

Xu's crime: Publicly practicing the controversial slow-motion exercises known as Falun Gong, which were officially banned in China in July 1999.

Since then, hundreds of practitioners have been arrested and detained in China, and at least 15 deaths have been reported while the practitioners were in police custody.

President Clinton admonished Chinese President Jiang Zemin about persecution of Falun Gong members in September, but Jiang insisted that China does not repress religion, only illegal cults.

Xu, one of 100 million who practice Falun Gong worldwide, said she was not trying to make a political statement with her use of Falun Gong, but was simply searching for a cure for her many illnesses.

"My doctors had told me my body was like a machine, and all the parts had gone bad," she said. "They had given me no hope. But it has been two years since I began practicing, and I no longer suffer from high blood pressure, heart problems, painful joints, and the lump in the back of my neck is gone."

Practitioners claim the exercises and meditation eliminate illness and

create peace of mind.

Falun Gong, a combination of five exercises and a philosophy which espouses truthfulness, compassion and tolerance, is considered a threat to communist rule in China, where it originated.

When Xu first began practicing outside with a group from Eastern China University of Science and Technology near her home, the government had not yet cracked down on it.

"Then one day I went to the park to practice, and the police told us the parks would be closed and we could no longer practice," she said.

What followed were months of surveillance, where police would enter her home, search it and stay all day.

"I even had to ask permission to go to the bathroom, and then I could not close the door all the way," she said. "That was because they thought I might try to escape."

When she confronted a policeman who was beating a practitioner in the streets, she too was beaten by the officer, thrown in the back of a truck and taken to a detention center.

"The authorities gave me shock treatments after they left us in a detention center without food and water for three days. I couldn't eat anything when they finally did feed us," she said through interpreter Tim

Sun, 29, an EDS software engineer who directs Falun Gong workshops in Metro Detroit.

"So they strapped me down, force-fed me through a tube in my nose, and then applied the shock treatments as punishment," she added.

Stories of Xu's mistreatment are all over the Internet, but this is the first time she has spoken publicly about her experiences.

"I still fear what may happen to the other practitioners if this gets back to China, but I feel I must let the public know what is really going on," she said, punching the air for emphasis.

Authorities restricted her from leaving Shanghai, but she requested permission to visit a relative.

"They told me I had to return by Nov. 30, but I already had a passport and a visa, so my daughter and son-in-law sent me a ticket, and I escaped," she said. She does not plan to return to China until the policy changes, which means she plans to stay with her daughter for the long haul. Both her daughter and son-in-law are General Motors Corp. engineers.

While banned in China, Falun Gong is gaining popularity in Metro Detroit.

The mayors of Troy, Farmington Hills, and Rochester Hills issued proclamations declaring Falun Dafa (or Falun Gong) day in October. Sterling Heights, Roseville and West Bloomfield will issue their proclamations on Dec. 9.

Robin Buckson / The Detroit News

Jennifer, left, and her mother demonstrate a Falun Gong pose. While banned in China, Falun Gong is gaining popularity in Metro Detroit.

Falun Gong Sometimes called Falun Dafa, it is a set of five exercises, some performed seated and some standing, combined with meditation, and reading an accompanying book on the pursuit of truthfulness, benevolence and forbearance, or zhen, shan and ren. It was created by the group's leader Li Hongzhi, or "Master Li," who now lives in New York.

Deaths: According to a Hong Kong-based human rights group, there were 15 reported deaths of Falun Gong members who have died in police custody since China banned the movement between July 1999 and April 2000, when the statistics were released.

Practitioners: 100 million worldwide. At least 100 regularly practice weekly at public meeting places in Metro Detroit. Many others practice on their own.

For information: Call (248) 608-0797, (734) 332-0680 or e-mail at

Convention planned

What: The 2000 Great Lakes Falun Gong Convention

When: Dec. 9-10

Where: Ann Arbor, at the Rackham Building, 915 East Washington.

Highlights: At least 700 practitioners from across the Midwest are expected to attend. The convention, which will include an open house exhibition, meditation teaching workshops, group practice and experience sharing, is free and open to the public.

You can reach Shawn Lewis at (313) 222--2666 or at