American Concern

Naturalized American citizen and geologist Xue Feng (薛峰) received his first sentence reduction in 2012 and is now due for release in January 2015, reliable sources told Dui Hua. The 10-month reduction could be followed by an additional sentence reduction in 2013 or 2014. On July 7, 2010, the Beijing No.1 Intermediate People’s Court sentenced Xue to 8 years’ imprisonment for illegally procuring state secrets—charges that originated from his acquisition of a publicly available oil database. Xue’s case underscores the heightened risks former Chinese citizens face in doing business in China.

Despite repeated inquiries, prominent Communist Party critic and permanent US resident Wang Bingzhang (王炳章) has yet to have his life sentence commuted or to receive medical parole. Chinese police detained Wang in Vietnam in 2002 and convicted him in 2003 of spying on behalf of Taiwan and plotting terrorist activities. The allegations followed his widely circulated critiques of one-party rule and efforts to found political parties in the US and mainland China. Unofficial media sources report that Wang suffers from hepatitis, rheumatism, and other ailments.

Reductions on Espionage Sentences

Since last October, Dui Hua has received official updates regarding 12 political prisoners in Guangdong. The information confirmed that three individuals recently received sentence reductions and that three others may be eligible for sentence reductions later this year. Individuals convicted of espionage were the focus of new information, which reinforces our concern that individuals convicted for speech and association offenses are less likely to receive sentence reductions.

Great Britain

Wei Pingyuan (魏平原) received a sentence reduction of 28 months in May 2012 and is now due for release on October 20, 2022. This is his fourth sentence reduction, including a commutation from life imprisonment and two reductions totaling 30 months. Wei was one of three British nationals convicted of espionage by the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court in 2004. All three were senior officials at Xinhua News Agency—Beijing’s de facto embassy in Hong Kong prior to 1997—who allegedly provided state secrets about Sino-British handover negotiations to British intelligence agents in the 1990s. Their trial came a year after Hong Kong saw its largest July 1 protest, joined by an estimated 500,000 people, to mark the transfer of the territory from the United Kingdom to mainland China on July 1, 1997.

Some link the prosecution of three British nationals to the 2003 protests (pictured here) marking the July 1 anniversary of the British handover of Hong Kong to mainland China. Photo credit:Hong Kong Economic Times

Wei’s colleague Chen Yulin (陈瑜琳) may receive a one- to two-year sentence reduction in the first half of this year “contingent upon his behavior.” To date, Chen has received a total of three sentence reductions. Dui Hua has also made repeated inquiries about Liu Lin (刘林), alleged to be the third Briton involved in the case, but has been told that information on Liu cannot be found. According to Yazhou Zhoukan, “Liu Lin” was a pseudonym used by Wei Pingyuan.

Unofficial sources reported that former Hong Kong official Cai Xiaohong (蔡小洪) was released on parole in early 2012. The former secretary general of Hong Kong’s Central Liaison Office (previously Hong Kong’s Xinhua News Agency) was sentenced in November 2004 to 15 years’ imprisonment for espionage and procuring state secrets. He received a 20-month sentence reduction in 2007 and was transferred from Guangdong to Beijing in early 2009 to be closer to his ailing father, a former justice minister who passed away in September 2009.


Taiwanese resident Tong Taiping (童太平) was released four years early on June 22, 2012, after receiving at least two sentence reductions. He was arrested in 2003 during the espionage crackdown that ensued in the mainland after Chen Shui-bian spotlighted China’s missile deployment strategy in his bid for presidential re-election in Taiwan. Tong was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment for allegedly collecting naval intelligence at Guangdong’s Huangpu Shipyard.

The first official response on Wang Ruiquan (王瑞泉) revealed that the former air force logistics officer is now serving a life sentence in Guangdong’s Meizhou Prison and that his sentence may be commuted to fixed-term imprisonment of 18 to 20 years’ in 2013. Wang is one of two individuals known to have been sentenced to life imprisonment for espionage charges since Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jieu took office in May 2008. According to the verdict against him, Wang was paid by Taiwanese agents between 1994 and 2007 to take pictures of classified documents, some of which discussed China’s military preparations to prevent Taiwanese independence.

Official information confirmed the early release of Gu Zhiyuan (顾智元) from Meizhou Prison on January 12, 2012. Gu received a second sentence reduction of about 2 years after a 21-month reduction in 2008. Gu was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment on July 8, 2005. That year, six people, including Gu, were convicted of espionage by Guangdong High People’s Court. Most publicly reported cases of espionage cases in Guangdong are alleged to involve Taiwan, but there is little information on the circumstances that lead to Gu’s arrest.

No Leniency for Milk Activist

Guo Li (郭利) has not received clemency. Previous information from the Chinese government said he may be eligible for sentence reduction in the second half of 2012 or the first half of 2013, while recent responses lengthened the period of eligibility to the entirety of 2013. Guo was convicted of “extortion” after launching a campaign to obtain compensation from an infant formula maker that allegedly poisoned 300,000 children, including Guo’s daughter, with melamine-tainted milk powder. Guo was sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment by the Chao’an County People’s Court on January 12, 2010.

Sentence Reduction (SR) Status of Selected Prisoners
Length of Recent SR
Next possible SR
Chen Yulin (陈瑜琳)
1-2 years, first half 2013
Gu Zhiyuan (顾智元)
~2 years
Already Released
Guo Li (郭利)
Tong Taiping (童太平)
4 years (aggregate)
Already released
Wang Ruiquan (王瑞泉)
Commutation, 2013
Wei Pingyuan (魏平原)
28 months
Xue Feng (薛峰)
State secrets
10 months
2013 to 2014

The Circumstances of Incitement

Before to the popularization of the Internet, big character posters, like the ones running along the bottom of the wall in this 1974 photo, were a common means for Chinese people to anonymously express political opinions in the public sphere. Photo credit:

Chinese government interlocutors have found “no criminal record” for Zhao Xishui (赵西水), a mentally ill man tried for inciting subversion by the Guangzhou Intermediate People’s Court in 2008. Zhao, also known as Liu Weiqiang (刘伟强), posted or wrote a total of 23 reactionary slogans on bulletin boards, bus stops, and bridge pillars in Guangzhou between 2004 and 2007. Zhao may have been given lenient punishment or been exempt from punishment due to his “cognitive problems” and “limited ability to understand and communicate.”

Dui Hua discovered the case of Ding Qingyun (丁青云) in archival research, and recent government responses confirm that Ding was sentenced to 2 years’ imprisonment for inciting subversion. He was detained on May 7, 1998, for his involvement in three incitement cases between 1997 and 1998. On January 24, 1997, he posted in a marketplace big character posters (dazibao) that read “New Chinese United League” (xintongmenghui), likely in reference to the Chinese United League (tongmenghui), a secret society Sun Yat-sen cofounded in 1905 to organize resistance to the Qing Dynasty. The following year, Ding allegedly graffitied a washroom with the words “Down with the Communist Party”, “Down with socialism” and “Down with the proletariat dictatorship.”

In recent years, individuals convicted of inciting subversion for expressing critical political opinions have been more likely to receive longer sentences than Ding. This is likely due in part to the proliferation of the Internet, which allows for the wider circulation of comments deemed to have a negative impact on society. Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database (PPDB) shows that, between 1999 and 2000, 2 of the 21 people (9 percent) known to have been convicted of inciting subversion received sentences of more than 5 years, while between 2010 and 2011, at least 6 of 16 prisoners (38 percent) received prison sentences of 5 years or above. The longest sentence, of 11 years, went to Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波).