- The Washington Times - Monday, August 27, 2001

Falun Gong supporters say they are weak and may have to change their tactics a bit as they enter the 10th day of a hunger strike outside the Chinese Embassy in Northwest.
Two men, Mike Chen, 36, a student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Eugene Cui, 34, a Web site master from Atlanta, are the last who remain of the six original demonstrators who began a hunger strike at 3 p.m. Aug. 17, to protest what they call the "illegal extended imprisonment" of 130 other Falun Gong followers in the Masanjio labor camp in the Liaoning province of China.
Others have joined the strike, but the original strategy of death by starvation may be changed to that of an ongoing demonstration in which protesters will starve in shifts.
"It's better to have more people involved, to reach deeper into society," Shean Lin, 30, from Birmingham, Ala., said yesterday. He was one of the original six hunger strikers.
The remaining two plan to go on as long as they can.
"We keep a very strong spirit," said Mr. Chen, enjoying the cool weather yesterday. During their protest, he and the others endured heat that reached the mid-90s, flashes of lightning and heavy downpours of rain.
Apart from a scuffle with embassy staff last week, the demonstrators have been ignored by Chinese officials.
Mr. Chen said he doesn't know how much weight he has lost. He sat lotus style in a small park across from the embassy that demonstrators call "Tiananmen Garden." He tugged at his belt to show it had been tightened to the last notch and was still loose at the waist.
Mr. Cui said he has been told he hasn't been so thin in 10 years. He laughed about it, but it's hard not to notice the dark circles under his eyes. He has been living on water all this time, but in a few hours he would sip some juice. It would be the first time he allowed himself this luxury. Most hunger strikers mix juice and water when they feel dangerously faint.
Outdoors on a sunny afternoon, both men looked weary.
Two of the original six ended their hunger strikes on Friday. One of them was April Zhang, 31, who left her husband and daughter in Atlanta to join the hunger strike. When her husband, John Tang, 31, and their daughter, who was celebrating her first birthday, paid a surprise visit Friday, Mr. Tang saw his wife was weak and noticeably thinner. They decided she would end her hunger strike and he would take her place.
"I was really worried about her," Mr. Tang said. Yesterday he wore the blue sash painted with the words "hunger strike for justice."
While food is scarce in the small park, Mrs. Zhang found a piece of pizza. It was the first thing she had eaten in a week. She motioned from her throat to her stomach, describing the pain she felt after she ate.
Mr. Lin was replaced Friday by his wife, Hua Du, 30, a software engineer. He said the demonstrators, most of whom are Chinese citizens, began reconsidering their strategy after it became clear the embassy would not speak with them.
"We know perseverance is most important," he said. The group is considering rotating demonstrators, staging shorter hunger strikes. "I don't think we'll leave this park empty."
Demonstrators have all but given up in their effort to begin a dialogue with the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Yang Jiechi. Their third attempt to deliver a statement of protest went unanswered Friday.
An embassy spokesman last week called the hunger strike a "political farce."
They now hope they can get President Bush to address the subject during his visit to China in October. Last week, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said the Bush administration finds the crackdown on Chinese Falun Gong practitioners "disturbing."
Today, a contingent of demonstrators is expected to climb into two cars and drive to New York City, where they will meet others of the Falun Gong who have been staging rotating 48-hour hunger strikes. Together, the group will present a statement to representatives of the United Nations, calling for an end to Chinese persecution of the Falun Gong.


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