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Chinese activist in limbo at Tokyo airport

By Kyung Lah, CNN
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Living in an airport
  • Feng Zhenghu denied entry into China 8 times, resides in Narita Airport's arrival concourse
  • Feng, a Chinese citizen, suspects it's due to his prior work as a human rights activist
  • Feng is entering second month in residence even though Japan has offered him asylum
  • Feng plans not to leave Tokyo's Narita Airport until China allows him back in

Tokyo, Japan (CNN) -- If you've passed through Tokyo on an international connection this past month, chances are you've seen a Chinese man wearing a homemade T-shirt with scribbling all over it. His name is Feng Zhenghu, a Chinese citizen who has moved into Narita Airport's international arrival concourse.

"Moved in" in the non-traditional sense, and reminiscent of Tom Hanks in the movie "The Terminal," a story of an Eastern European man denied entry into the U.S., so he decides to live at JFK Airport.

In 55-year-old Feng's case, he's not being denied entry into Japan. Rather, his homeland won't let him back in. He was denied entry into China eight times. Four times he boarded planes and landed in Shanghai before Chinese immigration turned him around. The other four times Japanese officials didn't let him board the plane, saying he'd be refused entry.

The reason has never been given, though Feng suspects it's due to his prior work in China as a human rights activist. The result: a frustrated Feng who decided after eighth rejection he wouldn't leave Tokyo's airport until China allowed him back in.

Feng took two T-shirts and wrote messages in Chinese and English explaining that he is a Chinese citizen refused entry into China.

He began walking up and down the concourse, letting passengers pause and stare at his shirts. Armed with a mobile connection and a camera in his mobile phone, he started twittering and blogging about his life inside the airport, in diplomatic purgatory.

"27th day, hot water," Feng twitters. On a particularly lonely day, "Silence is the loudest sound."

And in a triumphant tweet, "Can eat 2 meals."

Eating is a particularly big challenge, since there aren't any restaurants in the arrival concourse before customs. He's relied on the kindness of flight crews and travelers dropping biscuits as they pass. On one day he got salad and a pizza. Feng was so overjoyed he snapped a picture of it and posted it on his blog.

  • China

Narita Airport officials thought Feng might give up after a few days. Japan was offering asylum and the airport officials didn't reasonably believe anyone could live without hot food or a shower for too long, political protest or not. But now with Feng entering his second month in residence, Yoshiyuki Kurita, Narita's Vice President of Security says he's growing concerned.

"I really like Mr. Feng," says Kurita, who has gotten to know his unofficial tenant so well they call each other "friend." "That's why I want him to enter Japan, for the sake of his health. My wish is that he voluntarily enters Japan. This is not a place to live. I really hope he understands this. We don't need a Tom Hanks at this airport."

Kurita adds that Narita security could escort Feng into Japan, but would rather he do it willingly.

Chinese officials don't appear ready to bend. "China's relevant government agencies will adhere to appropriate regulations and entry-exit laws to address this issue," said China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman, Qin Gang.

Passengers, many who say they support Feng, are at the same time pessimistic about his ability to wait out Chinese officials. "He could spend the next year here," said American traveler Lee Forsyth. "He's going up against the Chinese government. And that's a big thing to go up against."

Feng says he's getting used to his new life and plans to wait it out as long as he can stand it. In one of his latest twitter posts he asserts: "It is when the majority of Chinese have learned about my story that I shall return to my homeland."