On November 12, 2003, I received a detailed response from my interlocutor. It confirmed much of what I had been told by Congressman Tierney, but added new details. The picture of Liang Shaolin that emerged from this response was of a strong-willed, defiant woman fiercely devoted to Falun Gong.

From June 1996 to June 1997, such letters were sent to Chinese Ambassador Li Daoyu by Senator Craig Thomas (D-Wyoming), Congressman Lee Hamilton (D-Indiana), Congressman Matt Salmon (R-Arizona), Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana), Senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minnesota), and Congressman Doug Bereuter (R-Nebraska). Congressman Ed Royce (R-California) sent a detailed letter to Chinese Premier Li Peng asking him to instruct the Ministry of Justice to resume cooperation with me.

Thanks to these letters, and the support of the White House, the “prisoner information project” resumed in 1998 following Jiang Zemin’s state visit in 1997. While it was no longer necessary to ask members of Congress to write letters to the Chinese government on my behalf, I stayed in close contact with members, attending congressional hearings, roundtables, and forums at their invitation.

One such event that I participated in was a breakfast meeting with members of the House of Representatives organized by the Aspen Institute on July 17, 2002. One of the congressmen attending the breakfast was Congressman John Tierney (D-Massachusetts).

An Email from Congressman Tierney

On January 28, 2003, I received an email from Congressman Tierney asking for assistance on behalf of a constituent whose older sister, Ms. Liang Shaolin, had been detained in a Chinese labor camp for practicing the banned spiritual practice known as Falun Gong.

In his email, Congressman Tierney described Liang Shaolin’s situation:

“In September 1999, Shaolin is reported to have been detained in her workplace, the Maoming Oil Company, and not allowed to return home. She is said to have continued working but escaped after one month and seized as she made her way to Beijing ‘to appeal on behalf of Falun Gong.’ The police in Guangzhou sent her to a local detention center from where she was released after a seven-day hunger strike. Not long after, she was again detained by police and in January 2000 was sentenced without trial to two years in Sanshui Labor Camp; (she was) denied visitors, including family members. In 2002, the family received a phone call saying she had been transferred to the Legal School of Maoming City, yet to this day she is not allowed contact.”

Congressman Tierney then asked if I could find a way to obtain some relief for Liang Shaolin. I was familiar with Falun Gong, but had never heard of a “Legal School” used as a carceral facility.

Falun Gong

Falun Gong is a popular spiritual movement that arose in the early 1990s, initially in China’s northeastern region. The practice involves a mix of beliefs and practices that combine Buddhism and Taoism with qigong, defined by Wikipedia as “a holistic system of coordinated body posture and movement, breathing and meditation, natural products, spirituality, and martial arts training.”

Falun Gong spread rapidly in China in the 1990s, and by the end of the decade the movement reportedly had a following of tens of millions of Chinese practitioners. The rapid growth and popularity of the movement alarmed China’s top leaders. In April 1999, as many as 10,000 Falun Gong practitioners traveled to Beijing where they surrounded the central leadership compound, Zhongnanhai, in a mass demonstration calling for the release of imprisoned Falun Gong practitioners. The event had an immediate impact, and soon many more practitioners and their leaders were detained by authorities. In July 1999, Falun Gong was classified by the government as an “evil sect,” and repression intensified, repression that has continued to the present day.

Heilongjiang Legal Education Campus

After receiving Tierney’s email, I began looking into “legal schools,” but could find little information about schools being used as detention sites. I found one or two references to “legal education schools” or “legal education bases” as places where petitioners and adherents of unauthorized religious groups were placed for indeterminate periods of time.

I phoned Congressman Tierney’s office and we agreed that we would meet on my next visit to Washington in April 2003. When I arrived at his office I couldn’t help but notice the striking painting that hung behind his desk. It was a large oil painting of a scene from the Salem Witch trials, a troubling page in American history. In colonial Massachusetts in 1692 and 1693, twenty people, mostly women, were prosecuted and executed for practicing witchcraft. Salem, a city in Congressman Tierney’s district, was famous for being at the center of the mass hysteria which resulted in the executions. The congressman told me that the painting served to remind visitors that religious persecution was no stranger to the US, and that Americans should reflect on their own past before criticizing others for human rights violations.

A Plan to help Liang Shaolin

We settled on a plan to help Liang Shaolin. I would try my best to put Liang’s name on all requests for information on prisoners submitted by the US government to China, and I would activate my relationship with a provincial research association based in Guangzhou to seek information on Liang Shaolin. Congressman Tierney’s staff would help by composing a letter on the case that I could send to my Guangdong interlocutors.

Upon my return from D.C., I received the letter on Liang’s case by fax. The letter provided helpful information including the name, address, and telephone number of the legal education school in Maoming, the names and phone numbers of the officials in charge of the legal education school, the name and address of Liang Shaolin’s former employer, Maoming Oil Company, and the names and phone numbers of the officials in charge of the company’s “610 Office,” a specialized unit established in offices and enterprises across China in charge of suppressing Falun Gong practitioners. In the following months, I managed to get this letter into the hands of my Guangzhou interlocutor and put Liang Shaolin’s name on a prisoner list submitted by the International Commission on Religious Freedom.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to visit Guangzhou until September 18, 2003. I took the train up to Guangzhou from Hong Kong and met with my interlocutor that same day. Liang Shaolin’s case was raised. I included it on a new list of five prisoners in Guangdong Province about whom I was concerned. I followed up the meeting with an email sent on October 15, 2003 . In less than a month, I would receive a response from my interlocutor.

A Response from Guangdong

On November 12, 2003, I received a detailed response from my interlocutor. It confirmed much of what I had been told by Congressman Tierney, but added new details. The picture of Liang Shaolin that emerged from this response was of a strong-willed, defiant woman fiercely devoted to Falun Gong.

The email stated that Liang began practicing Falun Gong in 1996. After the government officially declared Falun Gong to be an “evil cult,” Liang “confronted the government” and conducted activities that violated the law including “gathering crowds and making a disturbance,” promulgating Falun Gong teachings, and collecting and distributing propaganda and publications banned by the government. For these reasons, Liang was sentenced to two years and three months in a reeducation through labor (RTL) camp.

The email went on to say that, after entering the RTL camp, Liang continued her activities, which now included secretly distributing subversive messages written on small strips of paper. Because of this, when her RTL sentence ended, she was sent to the Maoming Legal Education School “to continue her education.” Liang had stayed in the school for a fairly long time because she had continued to try to influence and incite other students. “Recently, she started shouting slogans supporting Falun Gong three times a day. Because the school is in a residential area, her actions have had a negative influence on nearby residents.”

The response concluded by outlining an arrangement under which Liang Shaolin would be freed. Liang, it was claimed, was healthy – aside from an eye infection that she refused to have treated, citing Falun Gong beliefs – and not being tortured. She had received visits by family members, but because of the SARS epidemic, which hit Southern China particularly hard, family visits to the Maoming Legal Education School had been suspended. Liang Shaolin’s husband, who was not a Falun Gong practitioner, had filed for divorce. The school had hired a lawyer to help her.

“The school has indicated to Ms. Liang that if she promises to be a law-abiding citizen after leaving the school, she can leave. The school does not forbid her to believe in and practice Falun Going, so long as she does not practice in public and endanger social stability. She not only refuses to make such a promise, but has also indicated that she wants to continue popularizing and propagating Falun Gong to the society at large.”

A Meeting in Guangzhou

I decided to travel to Guangzhou to explore the proposed arrangement under which Liang Shaolin could be released. I left for Beijing on December 1, and after meetings with Chinese government officials and foreign diplomats, I traveled via Hong Kong to Guangzhou, arriving on December 11, 2003. My interlocutor, a professor affiliated with the research association who held relatively liberal views, and his assistant met me at the train station. It was a cold and overcast day.

We went to a restaurant in the Pearl Island Hotel, a location favored by provincial party and government officials. After settling into a well-appointed private room for a ten-course “light” lunch, we immediately began discussing the Liang Shaolin case.

“Legal Education Schools have been built to house ‘seriously poisoned’ Falun Gong practitioners,” I was told. “There are two things you need to know about them. First, the Maoming Legal Education School is by no means the only such school in China. There are many of them. Second, legal education schools have no basis under Chinese law. This is a problem that must be addressed.” (The professor made clear that he favored the abolition of all forms of arbitrary detention.)

The professor and his assistant had previously traveled to Maoming Legal Education School, to look into Liang Shaolin’s situation. The response they had sent me earlier in November was an account of their visit to Maoming. Although they did not directly speak to Liang, they were able to observe her. She appeared thin and her eyes swollen, but aside from this she appeared healthy and energetic. They reported that “Three times a day – in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening – Liang Shaolin shouts in a loud voice: ‘Long Live Li Hongzhi (the founder of Falun Gong), Down with Jiang Zemin (China’s president who initiated the crackdown against Falun Gong).’

If Liang Shaolin were to be released and she took to the streets and shouted such things, I was told she’d be arrested and sentenced to prison under Article 300 of the Criminal Law, which criminalizes organizing religious groups that the Chinese government considers “cults.” “We are prepared to release her and allow her to return home where she can practice Falun Gong,” I was told. “But under no circumstances will the police allow her to publicly propagate Falun Gong. If you were in our shoes, what would you do Mr. Kamm?”

I replied that I did not believe in placing restrictions on free speech. On the other hand, I did not want Liang to be put in prison. I suggested that the authorities continue to practice gentle persuasion, and under no circumstances should she be mistreated. I wondered aloud whether she could be given a passport to travel to the United States to join her brother who lived in Congressman Tierney’s district. The response: “Possible, but not likely. If she were given a passport and allowed to leave, other Falun Gong practitioners would see this as a reward. It might encourage them to behave like Liang Shaolin.”

Better Treatment and Release

After we concluded our lunch, I took the train back to Hong Kong, and soon was homebound to San Francisco. I summarized the meeting held in Guangzhou and sent a memo to Congressman Tierney. He replied by email on January 28, 2004: “As a result of your attention and the intervention of some of your friends in the Guangdong government, Liang Shaolin appears to be receiving better treatment.” Congressman Tierney encouraged me to “do everything possible to insure her safety and good treatment. . . I respectfully renew my request for a member of Liang Shaolin’s family in the United States to contact her at the Maoming Legal Education School via telephone.”

Over the next 14 months I continued to communicate and meet with my Guangdong interlocutor. I submitted two more written requests for information in February and June 2004. In these I asked that Liang Shaolin be allowed to return home and be allowed to communicate with her family in the United States. In January 2005 at a meeting with my interlocutor in Hong Kong, I pointedly asked if it were legal to hold Liang Shaolin indefinitely.

Finally, in early April that year, I was advised that, while Liang Shaolin remained unrepentant, she had been allowed to return home. The authorities in Maoming had presented her with an agreement for her release: if she agreed not to go to the streets and practice Falun Gong and shout slogans, she would be allowed to leave the school. I was told that she tore up the agreement, crumpled it, and threw it back at the authorities. Finally, her sister in Guangzhou, who was not a Falun Gong practitioner, had to be brought to the school and to sign the agreement on Liang Shaolin’s behalf.


In July 2016, an article appeared on a Falun Gong website with Liang’s name. It said that Liang Shaolin had been detained in September 2009 and subsequently sentenced to nine years in prison for “organizing a cult to sabotage implementation of the law.” Another source claimed that her date of release would be September 9, 2018.

I immediately put her name on a list of Guangdong prisoners and submitted it to my interlocutor, and in January 2017 I was advised that Liang Shaolin had been convicted and sentenced to nine years in prison on May 18, 2010. She was in Guangdong Women’s Prison (said to be the largest women’s prison in the world). I was told that Liang Shaolin is due for release on December 23, 2017.

Congressman John Tierney lost his bid for reelection in November 2014. In February 2016, he was appointed the executive director of the Council for a Livable World and the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation based in Washington D.C. Dui Hua remains actively engaged with its Guangdong interlocutor, and is monitoring Liang Shaolin’s release.