Daily Herald (Chicago, United States): Mom, son reunite despite persecution

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Posted 2/2/2005

She missed eight years of her son's life and three years of her grandson's firsts - first words, first laughs, first steps.

He missed his father's funeral and he missed his mother. Very much.

Tuesday night at O'Hare International Airport, eight years of a personal and political struggle merged in a teary embrace between a mother and son who were separated, they say, because of communist China's crackdown on their [spiritual] beliefs.

Zhiwei "Tommy" Xu, a 34-year-old software engineer at Motorola in Schaumburg, and his mother Cui Zhang, 63, practice Falun Gong, a meditation its followers say leads to better health, less stress and more peace.

They've paid for that practice.

Zhang, who lives south of Beijing, has been jailed twice. Both have been stripped of their passports by the Chinese government, as has Xu's wife, Jing Zuo.

Thanks to the family's persistence and letters to the Chinese government in Beijing from the offices of U.S. Sen. Barak Obama and U.S. Rep. Melissa Bean, a Barrington Democrat, Zhang was able to secure a visa that will let her stay for one year with her son and his family in their Hoffman Estates home.

"To bring a mom here to visit her son is a common thing," Xu said. "But it's taken years."

Falun Gong is one of a number of groups perceived as a challenge to the authority of the Chinese government, in part because they number more than 70 million in China, said Alistair Hodgett, a spokesman for Amnesty International.

The government banned the practice of Falun Gong, also called Falun Dafa, in 1999. Since then, thousands of followers have been arrested and hundreds have died in police custody, Hodgett said.

"It's a crackdown," Hodgett said.

The Chinese consulate in Chicago did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Xu's hope is that the situation in China will end within the year, so his mother can safely return home. He wants to go back as well. If nothing changes in China, Xu said he will petition the United States government to allow his mother more time here.

But first, he said he hopes to make up for lost time, spending a sweeter-than-ever Chinese New Year with his family together. All except his father, who died in July 2003.

"My mom didn't tell me until after the funeral," Xu said. "She was afraid I'd go back and face the same persecution."

Following the 13-hour flight from Beijing, Zhang was greeted by her son, daughter-in-law, and about a dozen practitioners of Falun Gong, holding signs that read "Falun Dafa is good" and "Welcome Falun Gong practitioner Zhang Cui to the U.S."

After the embrace with her son, her eyes focused immediately on Henry, the grandson she never met.

"I love you," Zhang said to Henry, who seemed overwhelmed by it all. "I love you."

Source: http://www.dailyherald.com/search/main_story.asp?intid=3838528

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