By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
Yongsheng "Jason" Wang sits at the worn wooden table that serves as his desk. The 39-year-old physicist spends his days in a dark bedroom, writing and faxing countless letters to members of Congress, begging U.S. politicians to help stop China's persecution of Falun Gong practitioners.
A clothesline stretches over his head from the closet to the window; the wall is covered in his three-year-old son's purple crayon scribbles. A slab of plywood serves as a headboard on the full-size bed in the corner; there is no mattress on the baby's bed. On the bookshelves are dozens of copies of the 2002 Falun Gong Report, which has graphic pictures of people shocked, burned and brutally beaten to death.
Jason was raised on the Jiangsu River. But today he lives a semi-reclusive life in a ratty, one-bedroom apartment near the University of Houston, where he once was a stellar, straight-A graduate student.
Jason followed a college classmate to Texas; his friend said America had more advanced technology that Jason could study and take back to China. Jason's parents expected him to get his Ph.D. in physics and then return to his hometown of Nanjing, where he could teach, write and conduct research at one of 50 universities.
Instead, after graduation, Jason sold his textbooks and bought boxes full of Falun Gong brochures, pamphlets, reports and informational videos. He spends his days locked indoors, trying to memorize the teachings of Falun Gong leader Li Hongzhi. Jason studies news reports of Falun Gong practitioners being persecuted worldwide.
Almost every evening, and all day Saturday and Sunday, Jason plants himself in front of his enemy. Wearing a bright yellow Falun Gong T-shirt, he practices the five yogalike exercises on the grass in front of the Chinese consulate in Montrose.
Jason applied for asylum, but his request has not been granted. The INS has formally charged him with overstaying his visa and wants to remove him from the country.
So Jason spends his days waiting and worrying that he and his wife and three-year-old son will be deported. Once they arrive in China, they expect to be arrested at the airport, sent to a labor camp and tortured to death.
Ten years ago, Li Hongzhi, a government grain clerk in northeast China, created Falun Gong. Formally known as Falun Dafa, which means "great law wheel," Falun Gong loosely translates to the energy-harnessing exercises and practice of the law. Falun Gong combines ancient Chinese quigong exercises, Buddhism and Taoism, with a dash of supernatural spirituality.
Master Li, as he calls himself, claims to be a more powerful, more meaningful messiah than Jesus Christ. He even changed his birth date to that of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism.
Like most fundamentalist religious leaders, Li declares that his way is the only path to redemption. Li teaches that the world is full of condemned souls, but if people follow his five easy exercises, they can climb the ladder he built to heaven.
Sounding like a late-night TV skin-cream commercial, Li preaches that practicing Falun Gong produces a delicate, rosy-white complexion. He promises that wrinkles miraculously disappear, women long past menopause resume menstruating, and the entire body feels light. After practicing Falun Gong, Li says, "all of the illnesses that ordinary people get are not allowed to occur in your body."
"It cultivates your spirit and heart," says structural engineer Howard Song, a Houston Falun Gong practitioner.
While doing the exercises, most practitioners visualize a shining ball of sunlight spinning inside their stomach. Master Li promises to personally instill a mini-universe below each practitioner's intestines. The glowing falun (wheel), represented by a spinning yellow swastika, rotates clockwise, sucking up good energy. He claims that practitioners can harness this energy and stop speeding cars.
Zhuan Falun, the Bible-like collection of Li's lectures, reads like an only-you-can-help-you self-help book. He says no one can make a person practice Falun Gong, because it won't work unless a practitioner truly believes it will. Doing the exercises for a week or two can temporarily make a person feel better, but illnesses will return. He demands total commitment; he doesn't want halfhearted disciples.
Li asks practitioners to relinquish materialistic attachments, jealousy and competitive urges to lie, cheat and steal to get ahead. He says everyone should love their fellow man, but Li doesn't tout a particularly open, accepting faith. For instance, he equates homosexuality with homicide.
If people follow his dogma, Li says, their bodies will be purified in time for the apocalypse. And the end, Li says, is coming soon.
Jason was raised in Nanjing, China's Houston-sized Silicon Valley. Capital of the Jiangsu province, Nanjing is one of China's premier scientific research hubs. Jason earned a master's degree in physics at Nanjing University, then spent eight years teaching at the Nanjing Institute of Posts and Telecommunications. There, he met and married engineering student Jinxia "Gina" Wei.
The couple moved to America in 1996. While Jason studied physics, his wife obtained a master's degree in electrical engineering. Now they study how the Chinese government continues to torture other Falun Gong practitioners. The Falun Gong Society reports that more than 10,000 people have been sent to labor camps, where at least 1,600 have been tortured to death.