LIVERMORE -- Nearly every day for a month, Livermore resident Xiao Wang has visited the Livermore library to tell her story, and those of others like her mother, father and brother, punished for adhering to a banned spiritual practice in China.
Wang, a volunteer for the Asian Art Foundation in San Jose, helped bring an international art exhibit to the library featuring artists who also practice Falun Gong, a discipline combining meditation and physical exercises. The prints depict images of peaceful meditation juxtaposed with scenes of persecution, police ransacking homes and torture.
In the lobby, Wang, 37, passes out information on Falun Gong -- also known as Falun Dafa. Most visitors, she said, haven't heard of the practice, or the past 14 years of its suppression.
"They're shocked by it," Wang said. "Lots of people give me a big hug to encourage me."
Wang, who moved to the U.S. from China in 2005 and practices Falun Gong, knows firsthand about the oppression. In 2010, her mother Jiling Song, father Zhansuo and younger brother, Xia, were arrested for practicing Falun Gong, which the Chinese government prohibited in 1999 and calls an "evil cult."
Living in the city of Qingdao in China's Shandong Province, Wang's parents began the practice in 1998, finding it improved their physical and mental health.
"It was very popular," Wang said. "In any park in China you could see it."
According to Dr. Sherry Zhang, a spokeswoman for Falun Gong in San Francisco, the practice was performed privately for thousands of years, until Li Hongzhi -- whom practitioners call "the Master" -- brought it to the public in 1992. Over the next seven years, Falun Gong exploded in China. Government estimates put the number of followers at 70 million.
Zhang said the Chinese government sought control because of the fast growth and, seemingly overnight, practicing Falun Gong became dangerous.
In July 1999, the official campaign began in earnest, with police arresting thousands of practitioners. Several of her friends, she said, were sent to forced labor camps and had their homes torn apart by police.
"This kind of thing happens all the time," Zhang said. "You don't know how they find you."
The campaign is ongoing; the human rights group Amnesty International estimates tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been detained since 1999.
"In jail, they may be tortured or put under psychological pressure," said James Zimmerman, Amnesty's specialist for China. "Any association with Falun Gong is likely to get you in trouble with the police."
Wang's family continued the practice in secret until 2010, when a neighbor asked her father what he did to keep himself looking youthful. The neighbor, Wang said, told police, who broke into the home and arrested her father, mother and brother.
Speaking of the treatment by police, Wang tears up. "They seized all their possessions and ransacked the home. They left no records, receipts, nothing," Wang says. "My father was a judge and attorney. He lost his human rights, too."
Wang said her mother Jiling, 61, was taken to a detention center and beaten and tortured. After two weeks in a hospital, she was placed on home detention for six months.
Wang said her father and brother Xia, 33, remained in jail. To save his son from further imprisonment, Zhansuo admitted to government charges, receiving a four-year jail sentence. Zhansuo, 64, is due for release in 2014, but Xiao Wang fears he won't make it. In 2011, a tumor was found on his liver, Wang said, and a recent photo shows him gaunt.
"He had lost 30 to 40 pounds," Wang said. "I could not recognize him."
Amnesty International's Zimmerman said he was aware of Wang's story, and though it isn't a case the larger organization would pursue, local Amnesty groups may want to investigate.
"We don't have the resources to campaign on all these thousands of cases," Zimmerman said.
Amnesty International has worked to release a number of jailed practitioners, including Bu Dongwei, of San Francisco, granted release in 2008. Prisoners, Zimmerman said, may receive better treatment if there is enough public concern.
According to Falun Gong spokeswoman Zhang, letters from U.S. government officials have helped get some jail sentences shortened. After their release, practitioners can seek asylum through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
Wang has put her effort into a letter-writing campaign and an online petition. Her letters to Chinese officials and protests at the consulate in L.A. ignored, she has contacted several elected officials, but has received little feedback.
Wang moved to Livermore in 2011, and in May, approached Congressman Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin, for help. On May 28, two Falun Gong practitioners met with a Swalwell aide in Washington, D.C., passing along a letter from Wang pleading for aid.
Wang said her own Falun Gong practice, learned from her parents, has been the source of strength during her ordeal.
"No matter where the Falun Gong practitioners are kept or tortured, we keep hope because we believe the good will win out," she said.
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.
To send a letter to the jail housing Xiao Wang's father, write to:
Mr. Wang Zhansuo
Shandongsheng Di Yi Jianyu #11 Jianqu
Shangdongsheng Jinanshi Gongye Nanlu #91
P.R. China, Shandong Province, 250100
To sign an online petition and read more about Xiao's case, visit rescuemyfamily.org. For more on the "Truth, Compassion, Tolerance" international art exhibition, visit falunart.org.
SEE THE ART
The Art of Zhen, Shan, Ren (Truth, Compassion, Tolerance) International Exhibition, featuring oil paintings and watercolors based on the spiritual discipline of Falun Dafa -- also known as Falun Gong -- is on display at the Livermore Library, 1188 S. Livermore Ave. through Friday. For more on the next Bay Area exhibit, visit http://en.falunart.org/ or call David Zhang at 415-937-0615.
For more on Falun Gong, visit faluninfo.net.