This week, 10 Vienna residents will travel to Texas to protest China president Jiang Zemin's visit with U.S. president George W. Bush. The residents, all practitioners of Falun Gong, say Jiang needs to stop persecuting Falun Gong practitioners in China.
"They create an excuse to persecute," said Vienna resident Tiny Tang.
The Chinese government banned Falun Gong in July 1999, arguing that it induced people to insanity and jeopardized social stability.
In a July 2002 release on the Chinese embassy website, Chinese embassy spokesman Xie Feng called Falun Gong a cult where practitioners, believing they will be healed by the exercises, sometimes die because they refuse treatment for their illnesses. He also said that because Falun Gong practitioners commit crimes such as hacking and broadcast interference, other countries need to be wary of Falun Gong.
"By openly and deliberately attacking Sinosat [state-run satellite] in contempt of international law and regulations, the Falun Gong cult unscrupulously upset the order of wireless communications and launched a challenge against civilization," Xie said in the July 2002 release.
Tang and the others traveling to Texas say that isn't true. Tang says her mother in China had been healed by the exercises. She also says that the government-controlled media in China incorrectly labels all criminals as Falun Gong practitioners.
"They fabricate stories," Tang said.
Falun Gong practitioners use specific exercises to promote both physical and moral health. The exercises incorporate Buddhist and Taoist principles.
Founded by Li Hongzhi, people in the movement estimate that they have over 100 million practitioners in 40 countries.
In the metropolitan Washington area, District residents and practitioners Keith Ware and Nathea Lee estimate there around 200 practitioners although no one knows the exact number. These members practice at sites all across the region, including the Mall in Washington, D.C.
Regardless of actual numbers, Tang and the others say that Falun Gong practitioners are persecuted because of their beliefs. Tang's 55-year-old mother has been arrested by the Chinese police several times since 2000. The first time occurred in October 2000, when police sent her to jail for 15 days and fined her approximately $1,500. The second time was in February 2001, before China's spring festival. The third time was in July 2002, after her husband, Tang's father, died.
And in April 2002, Tang says the Chinese authorities forced her mother and other practitioners to go on television and say something against Falun Gong.
"Everyone knows my mother's good people," Tang said.
Tang's neighbor, Amy Xue of Vienna, says the Chinese government had encouraged practitioners initially, but changed their minds as the movement grew.
"There were people practicing in the park, and the Chinese government began to investigate. There were too many people doing one thing," Xue said.
Like many Falun Gong practitioners who live outside of China, Tang cannot return to visit her family. Tang's last visit to China was in June 2000, but she says she doubts that she can return anytime soon. When her father died earlier this year, she couldn't go back because she was on the blacklist, even though Chinese custom dictates that Tang return home. Instead, Tang communicates with her mother over the phone, although she says both she and her mother know that the police can monitor their phone conversations.
If she tried to return, Xue says the police could detain Tang.
"If caught, you could be put into jail and tortured," Xue said.
Tang and her husband Yong Hui and daughter Linda Wang all practice Falun Gong. Even her husband is on the blacklist, Tang says. He found out he was on the blacklist when the Icelandic government denied him entrance to their country during Jiang's visit to Iceland in June 2002.
"I couldn't get in," Yong Hui said.
Although practitioners face persecution in China, some wonder if they're being monitored even in the United States. Ware says that a member might have had a phone bugged. In another instance, when Falun Gong members successfully reserved hotel rooms a month before a stateside Jiang visit, the members were told one week before Jiang's visit that the hotel was booked, Lee said.
"I think we do tend to feel safe, but from time to time, we do feel like we're being watched," Lee said.
However, despite these concerns, members say they will continue to practice and spread the word.
"She's one who's really quite active," said Lee of Tang. "I really admire all her energy and efforts" to inform others about the Chinese persecution about Falun Gong.
When Tang and Xue protest Jiang's visit to Texas this week, they won't use slogans or shouting. Instead, they will practice the Falun Gong exercises and engage in a peaceful protest.
"We'll do exercises, hold the banner, and tell Zemin and Bush that persecution should be stopped," Xue said.