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HistoryFounded in April 1999, Dui Hua works to advance human rights through well-informed, respectful dialogue with China. Dui Hua helps secure clemency and better treatment for political and religious prisoners, juvenile offenders, and women in prison, and monitors developments relevant to at-risk detainees in China’s criminal justice system. Read about how it got started or skip to a chronology of Dui Hua milestones since the organization’s incorporation in 1999.

How It Got Started

Dui Hua founder and Executive Director John Kamm made his first intervention on behalf of a Chinese political prisoner in May 1990. Kamm, then president of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Hong Kong and regional vice president of Occidental Chemical Corporation, was on his way to Washington to testify at the first Congressional hearings on human rights and China’s Most Favored Nation Status (MFN).

MFN Testimony

Testifies in support of China's Most-Favored-Nation trading status before US Congress, 1990. Photo credit: C-Span

At the time, China’s MFN needed annual renewal from US Congress. The deadline for renewal was the eve of the first anniversary of the Tiananmen killings of June 4, 1989. Given the then minimal trade ties between the United States and China and China’s dismal human rights record, almost all forces pointed towards denial of MFN. As the president of AmCham Hong Kong, Kamm was invited to testify as one of the few voices favoring renewal of the trade status.

Before leaving for the US, Beijing’s senior representative in Hong Kong, Zhou Nan, held a banquet to thank the American business community for its support on MFN. Zhou toasted Kamm, recognizing him in advance for defending China’s status before US Congress. In the middle of the toast, an idea popped into Kamm’s head.

On his way to the banquet, Kamm had heard a mother’s cry for help on the radio. She was the mother of Yao Yongzhan, a Hong Kong student detained in Shanghai for his involvement in the Tiananmen protests and, according to his mother, being tortured in detention. Knowing that Tiananmen would be the main obstacle for MFN and that gestures by China would help ease tensions, Kamm abruptly interpreted Zhou’s toast—“Why don’t you release Yao Yongzhan?”

Zhou was stunned by both the rudeness and audacity of the interruption. But as outrageous as it was, Kamm did not back down. He reasoned that clemency towards political prisoners would facilitate the renewal of China’s MFN status. Zhou was not pleased, but said finally, “I’ll look into it.”

Li Ruihuan
Kamm meets with Politiburo Standing Committee member Li Ruihuan, 1991

Subsequently, Kamm testified, MFN was retained, and Yao Yongzhan was released. Realizing that he could make a difference in a practical and pragmatic way, Kamm made it his mission to advance the rights of at-risk detainees through well-informed, respectful dialogue with China.

Kamm stepped down from his AmCham post at the end of 1990 and resigned from Occidental Chemical in 1991. He established a consultancy and used the profits to fund his human rights work, traveling to Guangzhou and Beijing bearing lists of political prisoners. In November 1991 he was received by Politburo Standing Committee member Li Ruihuan in the Great Hall of the People. Given wide coverage in Chinese media, the meeting signaled high-level approval for engagement with Kamm. Shortly after this meeting, Kamm made his first visit to a Chinese prison, Meizhou Prison in Guangdong Province.

From 1991 to 1994—the year President Clinton unconditionally renewed China’s MFN—Kamm traveled frequently to China. He raised the names of hundreds of prisoners and received verbal information from the Chinese government on more than half. In December 1994 written information was provided for the first time. In early 1995 Kamm reached an agreement with China’s State Council Information Office and the Ministry of Justice. He would submit four lists of 25 names each during 1995, one every quarter, and the Chinese side would make a good faith effort to provide information on the people listed, many of whom were not well-known. The first list and the first response were exchanged in February and April 1995, respectively.

The following month, the United States granted a visa to Taiwanese President Lee Tenghui, touching off a crisis in US-China relations. The Chinese government suspended its unofficial dialogue with Kamm. Rarely granted meetings and not receiving responses, Kamm continued traveling to Beijing and faxing prisoner lists. The Chinese government did not resume cooperation with him until late 1997, when Chinese President Jiang Zemin made his US state visit. Cooperation continued until April 1999, when China cut off talks in response to US sponsorship of a resolution criticizing China at the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission (renamed the Human Rights Council in 2006) in Geneva. Despite challenges and inauspicious circumstances, Kamm went ahead with plans to establish Dui Hua in April, serving as its first chairman and executive director.


1999 -- Dui Hua Is Incorporated

Dui Hua is incorporated as a nonprofit in April and begins operations in August after receiving its first grant.

2000 -- Dui Hua Launches Dialogues, Publications, Research

Seeking entry into the World Trade Organization, China resumes dialogue with Executive Director John Kamm, allowing him to visit Beijing No. 1 Prison and Tilanqiao Prison in Shanghai.

Kamm delivers testimony on China’s accession to the WTO before the US House Committee on Ways and Means, arguing that discontinuing trade relations would worsen human rights in China.

Kamm visits Europe, Australia, and Canada and meets with officials whose countries maintain official human rights dialogues with China.

Dui Hua publishes its first Dialogue newsletter and launches the Occasional Publications series. (The series was discontinued in 2008 and is now available for purchase.)

Dui Hua establishes its Political Prisoner Database and logs information on more than 1,600 detainees—80 percent are unknown outside China.

2001 -- China Responds to Dialogue Inquiries

Executive Director John Kamm tours Tianjin Prison and Beijing No. 2 Prison. The prisons house many individuals convicted of “counterrevolution” and “endangering state security” crimes, charges frequently used to persecute political prisoners.

The Chinese government responds to US State Department request for information on 68 political prisoners, including 48 of 50 counterrevolutionaries recommended for inclusion by Dui Hua.

In prisoner-list responses, the Chinese government includes information on the first case discovered by Dui Hua in its research into official Chinese publications.

Kamm receives Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights for engaging China in “results-oriented dialogue on human rights.”

Political Prisoner Database grows to include more than 4,000 detainees, about half of which Dui Hua discovered in official Chinese publications.

2002 -- Longest-Serving, Youngest Prisoners Paroled

The New York Times Magazine features Dui Hua’s executive director with the cover story “John Kamm’s Third Way.”

Kamm meets paroled Tibetan prisoner Tanak Jigme Sangpo, marking both the release of the longest-serving Tibetan political prisoner and the first Chinese government-approved meeting between a foreigner and a prisoner under house arrest.

Dui Hua announces parole of Tibetan nun Ngawang Sangdrol, believed to be youngest person in China convicted of counterrevolution. A documentary is later produced discussing Dui Hua’s role in her release.

Dui Hua announces medical parole of “endangering state security” prisoner Xu Wenli after years of advocacy work. The announcement acknowledges the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the humanitarian gesture.

The Chinese government provides information to Dui Hua on 33 counterrevolutionary and “endangering state security” prisoners.

2003 -- Focus on Clemency, Hong Kong Law

Dui Hua announces release of political prisoner Fang Jue, acknowledging the hard work of the US State Department and US Embassy in Beijing.

Dui Hua announces 22-month sentence reduction and release of Fang Fuming, an American businessman charged with bribery and illegally obtaining state secrets. Dui Hua played an active role in securing his release, which came a week after Chinese President Hu Jintao and US President George W. Bush met in Bangkok.

Correspondence between Dui Hua and China’s Supreme People’s Court initiates a US-China Legal Experts Dialogue focusing on sentence reduction and parole. Executive Director John Kamm wrote a letter to the court regarding the “strict handling” of clemency for counterrevolution and “endangering state security” prisoners in China.

Kamm tours Yancheng Prison in Hebei Province and Xiamen Prison in Fujian Province.

Kamm attends an international conference in Hong Kong on a Hong Kong national security bill, stating that it would set back human rights in China and could not be enacted without changing Chinese law. The South China Morning Post later publishes an op-ed written by Kamm on the issue.

The Chinese government provides information on more than 150 individuals named in prisoner lists prepared by Dui Hua.

Political Prisoner Database holds about 7,700 detainee records.

2004 -- Dui Hua-China Dialogue Weathers the Storm

Dui Hua’s dialogue with China continues despite suspension of the US-China Human Rights Dialogue.

Dui Hua announces release of Phuntsog Nyidron, last of “Singing Nuns of Drapchi Prison.” The Chinese government tells Dui Hua the release is a humanitarian gesture to mark Tibetan New Year and reflect the nun’s good behavior.

Dui Hua announces medical parole of Wang Youcai, vice-chairman of the China Democracy Party, after months of quiet diplomacy by the US State Department and US Ambassador to China Clark Randt, Jr. Wang leaves China for medical treatment in the United States.

Executive Director John Kamm becomes the first businessman to win a MacArthur Fellowship, which recognizes “individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.” The program describes Kamm as a “human rights strategist.”

Dui Hua produces two prisoner lists per month for dialogues China holds with the US government and other bodies.

2005 -- Dui Hua Gains Special Consultative Status with the UN

Dui Hua receives Special Consultative Status with the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and Executive Director John Kamm delivers a statement to the body.

The Chinese government provides Dui Hua with unexpected information on paroles and sentence reductions for many unknown political detainees.

Kamm speaks on human rights and US-China relations at Renmin University in Beijing.

Political Prisoner Database totals nearly 11,000 detainee records.

2006 – Dui Hua Bolsters Advocacy, Exchange

Dui Hua publishes an in-depth account of UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak’s mission to China.

Executive Director John Kamm observes trials at Chaoyang District People’s Court in Beijing and Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court in Guangdong Province.

Dui Hua announces release of Nyima Choedron a former nun who ran an orphanage in Lhasa. Dui Hua played an active role in commuting the last year of her sentence and securing her release.

Dui Hua hosts a US exchange program for Li Shian, professor of Renmin University and board member of the Chinese Association for Human Rights Studies.

2007 – Hong Kong Branch, New Database, New Evidence

Dui Hua hosts a US exchange program for Dan Wei, senior researcher at the Institute for Procuratorial Theory of China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate.

Senior Research Manager Joshua Rosenzweig delivers testimony on China and the Internet before the Congressional Human Rights Caucus after Dui Hua publishes police records relevant to the Shi Tao and other Yahoo! Internet cases.

Dui Hua opens Hong Kong office and establishes a Mass Incident Database to record popular unrest in China.

NBC Nightly News features Kamm on “Making A Difference” program.

Dui Hua announces a dramatic increase in political arrests in China, a sharp escalation in the suppression of universally recognized human rights.

2008 -- Supreme People's Court Joins First-Ever Juvenile Justice Exchange

Dui Hua appeals to the Chinese government to grant an “Olympic pardon” for long-serving prisoners.

Dui Hua announces parole of US citizen and businessman Jude Shao. He was released from prison in Shanghai after years of advocacy by supporters including Dui Hua.

China’s Supreme People’s Court travels to the United States to participate in its first juvenile justice expert exchange, hosted and organized by Dui Hua.

Major newspapers publish three op-eds written by Dui Hua staff on rule of law and China’s global image.

The Occasional Publications series is discontinued after 27 volumes. In 2010 it will be made available for purchase.

2009 – Twenty Years after Tiananmen

Dui Hua participates in the first UN Universal Periodic Review of China’s human rights record.

Dui Hua publishes the first volume of Reference Materials on China’s Criminal Justice System.

Dui Hua reduces its estimate of remaining June Fourth prisoners based on information from official Chinese sources.

Remarks by Executive Director John Kamm, “How Tiananmen Changed China,” are submitted for the record during a hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China regarding the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests.

While the central government ignores appeals by Dui Hua and other groups for a special pardon to mark the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, provincial prison authorities grant thousands of people parole or temporary leave in the run-up to the holiday.

Political Prisoner Database exceeds 20,000 detainee records, including 35 incarcerated June-Fourth prisoners.

2010 -- Juvenile Justice at the Fore

Dui Hua publishes its first Human Rights Journal article focusing on China’s juvenile justice system.

Dui Hua hosts a dinner in support of its juvenile justice initiative, joined by distinguished guests and 2008 exchange delegates San Francisco Superior Court Judge Lillian Sing and Judge Julie Tang.

Following the success of the 2008 program, Dui Hua organizes a second juvenile justice expert exchange. At the invitation of the Supreme People’s Court, Dui Hua sends a delegation to Beijing and Qingdao to tour courts, detention facilities, and community centers and give presentations to Chinese experts and practitioners.

Senior Manager Joshua Rosenzweig testifies on “Political Prisoners in China: Trends and Implications for US Policy” before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.

Dui Hua participates in the first UN Universal Periodic Review of the United States’ human rights record.

2011 -- Mission Expands to Help More At-Risk Detainees

Dui Hua staff visit San Mateo County Youth Services Center, facilitated by San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Lee.

Political prisoner Xu Zerong is released after years of advocacy by Dui Hua. In an interview, Xu says that American intervention resulted in better treatment for all prisoners.

Dui Hua publishes its first Human Rights Journal article focusing on women in prison in China.

Draft amendment to China’s Criminal Procedure Law introduces a section dedicated to juvenile justice, incorporating many reformative measures proposed in expert exchanges organized by Dui Hua.

Executive Director John Kamm meets with new US Ambassador to China Gary Locke to discuss human rights.

With the launch of a new logo, Dui Hua announces its expanded mission to help more at-risk detainees, including political and religious prisoners, juvenile offenders, and women in prison.

Kamm delivers testimony on China’s treatment of “endangering state security” prisoners before the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.

Welcoming a UN-China seminar on capital punishment, Dui Hua estimates that China currently executes 4,000 people per year.

2012 -- Juvenile Justice, Women in Prison Initiatives Progress

Dui Hua starts the new year by launching a new website.

Dui Hua visits Norway’s largest women’s prison, where staff have implemented many of the UN Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders, also known as the Bangkok Rules.

Dui Hua heads to Geneva for the 19th session of the Human Rights Council, attending events on solitary confinement and the Bangkok Rules. Later in the year, Dui Hua highlights the importance of monitoring the treatment of women in prison worldwide in The New York Times article entitled “Women in Prison Fare Better in China.”

As June 4 approaches, Dui Hua estimates that less than a dozen people remain in prison for participating in the protests that spread across China in the spring of 1989.

Chinese authorities inform Dui Hua that Li Wenshan (李文山), a leader of the Chinese People’s Democracy Party, was released two years early from a 13-year sentence in May 2011. His release marks the first official confirmation of an early release for a prisoner convicted of “subversion” since September 2009.

Dui Hua hosts its third Juvenile Justice Expert Exchange in partnership with China’s Supreme People’s Court. A Chinese delegation spends one week studying the juvenile systems in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Reference Materials go online in a new blog that replaces Dui Hua’s print publications.

2013 -- Closer Ties to China

Dui Hua receives information on 37 Chinese prisoners and nine acts of clemency from central and provincial authorities.

Dui Hua announces release of Jiang Yaqun, the last individual known to be incarcerated in Beijing for “counterrevolutionary” crimes during the 1989 Tiananmen protests.

Justice: Faces of the Human Rights Revolution—a book by photographer Mariana Cook, the last student of Ansel Adams—features Executive Director John Kamm.

The Economist cites Dui Hua’s decade-long tally of Chinese executions as the “best figures available” on the country’s capital punishment statistics.

Dui Hua participates in the second Universal Periodic Review of China’s rights record. As advocated by Dui Hua, China announces invitation to receive the UN Working Group on Discrimination against Women.

Executive Director John Kamm is received at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Vice Minister Li Baodong, China’s senior diplomat in charge of multilateral issues.

2014 -- Women in Prison Symposium, Celebrating 15 Years

Dui Hua staff visit Central California Women’s Facility in Chowchilla.

Dui Hua holds Women in Prison: An International Symposium on the Bangkok Rules in partnership with the Centre for Comparative and Public Law at the Faculty of Law, University of Hong Kong; Renmin University Law School Center for Criminal Procedure and Reform; and Penal Reform International.

Dui Hua revamps Political Prisoner Database to boost efficiency and accessibility. The database had more than 28,000 prisoner entries by March 31.

Dui Hua celebrates its 15-year anniversary with the launch of Digest, a monthly e-newsletter that will replace the Dialogue quarterly.