The protesters were so quiet and peaceful, it was hard to believe that they were actually demonstrating.
About 50 local members of the Falun Gong spiritual group, the target of a crackdown by the Chinese government, gathered Tuesday outside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, where China's ambassador to the United States was appearing.
The demonstrators, including three on hunger strikes, mostly meditated in the lotus position or stood silently holding banners in English and Chinese, urging China's President Jiang Zemin to stop the persecution of fellow believers in China.
Local followers came downtown in an attempt to deliver a letter to Ambassador Yang Jiechi, who was welcomed by the county Board of Supervisors during its meeting Tuesday.
Falun Gong is a nonviolent spiritual movement that combines Buddhist and Taoist thoughts with slow-motion martial arts-like exercises. Two years ago, Chinese officials said there were as many as 6 million serious followers in China, but estimates from practitioners are in the tens of millions.
Inside the hall Tuesday, Supervisor Mike Antonovich handed Yang and members of an urban and planning delegation from China a proclamation welcoming them to the county. Outside, Falun Gong followers displayed photos and accounts of torture of fellow practitioners in China.
"[We] are a peace-loving people, who believe in truthfulness, compassion and forbearance," said Ying Niun Wu, associate professor of statistics at UCLA and a Falun Gong practitioner.
He accused Jiang of committing "crimes against humanity," by subjecting people to torture and death for what they believe.
Jiang is the leader most closely identified with outlawing Falun Gong as an "evil cult" two years ago. Since then, thousands of practitioners have been sent to labor camps.
Local Falun Gong practitioners say 268 followers have died in police custody in the last two years. They said 130 followers, mostly women, in Masanjia Labor Camp, have been on a group hunger strike for nearly a month.
"I am extremely concerned about their lives," said Xiuhua Zhang, 44, of Arcadia, one of the three hunger-strikers who said they had been consuming only water since Friday, in support of the labor camp detainees.
Zhang, her sister, Renee, 37, and 62-year-old Shuqing Ying, who also live in Arcadia, have been sleeping at night outside the Chinese Consulate in the Mid-Wilshire district. Eighty other followers have continued a 268-hour vigil there in observance of the number of deaths in China's crackdown, said Gina Sanchez, a Pasadena acupuncturist and a Falun Gong practitioner.
The local group said its prior efforts to deliver "an open letter" to the Chinese ambassador were stymied both at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., and at the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles.
On Tuesday, two police officers assigned to the Hall of Administration accepted the letter. They said the county protocol office will forward the letter to the Chinese ambassador.
Consulate officials could not be reached for comment.
Michael Ye, a doctoral candidate at USC's School of Policy, Planning and Development, expressed the hope that Americans will help them by writing letters to President Bush, who is expected to visit China in October.
Ye said he believes that Jiang and other Chinese leaders who oppose Falun Gong are scared of the benefits that practitioners attain from meditation and exercise and thinking independently.