American Attitudes Towards China At a Low Point

Against the backdrop of heightened tensions in US-China relations, Dui Hua executive director John Kamm will visit China from September 16 to October 1, 2018. His two-week trip will take him to Hong Kong and Beijing. He will meet with Chinese officials, foreign diplomats, NGO representatives, journalists, and leading scholars, several of whom act as advisors to the Communist Party and the Chinese government.

Although the trade war between the two countries is seen by many observers as the main reason for worsening relations, in fact several other issues are souring opinion in the United States towards China. Issues include accusations that Beijing is encouraging North Korea to reduce cooperation with the United States, that it is seeking to influence American politics and civil society, that it is mounting widespread espionage operations in the United States, that it hacked into Hillary Clinton’s emails, that it is flooding the United States with opioids, even that it is refusing to share samples of a potentially deadly virus. Media coverage of human rights abuses in China – especially in Xinjiang – has been intense.

The extent of the damage to public opinion in the United States can be seen in the results of the Pew Research Center’s annual poll of American attitudes towards China. The poll was conducted in May and June 2018 among 1,500 adults and was released on August 28. It showed that 38 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of China, down from 44 percent in 2017. Opinions towards China are significantly worse among older Americans and adults who identify as Republicans.

The Pew results are especially troubling when compared to the Gallup poll of American opinion towards China. That poll, taken in February and released in March 2018, showed that 53 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of China, the first time since the events of June 4, 1989 that a majority of American adults viewed China favorably. That poll garnered praise from Chinese officials, including Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

The Pew poll identifies the top five problems Americans have with China as 1) the large amount of American debt held by China (89 percent of Americans share this view), 2) cyberattacks (87 percent), 3) China’s impact on the global environment (85 percent), 4) the loss of jobs to China (83 percent), and the trade deficit with China (82 percent).

According to the Pew poll, 79 percent of Americans believe that China’s policies on human rights are a serious problem, and of this percentage 49 percent believe that human rights abuses are a very serious problem, the highest percentage since 2015.

The Trump administration has been silent on the subject of human rights in China. That may change as officials in the Department of State and the White House debate whether to participate in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of China’s human rights record to take place in Geneva on November 6, 2018. Even though the United States withdrew from the Human Rights Council (HRC) in June – the HRC oversees the UPRs of all United Nations member states – it can still participate in UPRs as a member of the United Nations. It can submit questions (they must be filed no later than 10 days before the UPR takes place) and make a statement on China’s report.

The US can coordinate its participation with so-called “like-minded countries,” most of whom intend focusing on what’s going on Xinjiang, where media reports claim that more than one million Uyghur, Kazak, and Hui Muslims have been interned in “political education camps.”

Dui Hua has translated into Chinese a key resource on girls in the criminal justice system. Neglected Needs: Girls in the Criminal Justice System, published by Penal Reform International and the Interagency Panel for Juvenile Justice, examines the specific challenges faced by girls in contact with the criminal justice system and makes recommendations for strengthening the protection of their rights. Find out more here!


Guangzhou publisher Liang Jiantian (梁鉴添) received a six-month sentence reduction in June 2018. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2000 by a Guangdong court, for illegal business activity and producing obscene materials after printing around five million copies of Falun Gong related publications. Panyu Prison disclosed a notice on its website concerning Liang’s latest sentence reduction. His sentence is due to expire on April 17, 2022.

Judicial websites released the case numbers of eight judgments concerning “Educational Placement” in Xinjiang. Among them, Elipani Tohti (依力帕尼·托乎提), convicted of splittism, was ordered by a Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps court on November 9, 2017 to be placed in an Educational Placement facility after his prison term expires. The full content of the judgement is unavailable due to the court’s determination that the content was “unsuitable for disclosure.” Others include Dewula Rehim (代吾拉·热合木), convicted of provoking ethnic hatred, Yasin Husedin (亚森·吾赛丁), convicted of disturbing social order, and Saierjia Bazarbek (赛尔加·巴扎尔别克), apparently an ethnic-Kazakh, convicted of participating in a terrorist organization. Established by Article 30 of the Counterterrorism Law, educational placement is designed for those convicted of terrorism or extremism crimes who still pose a threat to the society beyond their prison term. Without a term limit, educational placement is a de-facto life imprisonment sentence. Of the eight individuals, only Bazakbek was convicted of a crime involving terrorism. The sentencing of the other seven individuals falls beyond the legal scope of Article 30.

A recently uncovered judgement found on China Judgements Online involves a case of illegal publications. Ding Lixian (丁立先) and Zhang Haiqing (张海清) were sentenced by a Shandong court to five years’ imprisonment and suspended imprisonment respectively in November 2017. They were accused of printing 60,000 illegal books that contained rumors about former president Jiang Zemin.


On August 10, 2018 The New York Times published a story on the disappearance of a high profile state scholar in China. A revered academic and expert on Xinjiang folk culture and traditions Professor Rahile Dawut, has been incommunicado since December 2017. Relatives and supporters are certain that she has been secretly detained as part of the clampdown on Uyghurs in China. Executive Director John Kamm commented “Rahile Dawut is the human face of this unspeakable tragedy.”


Featured: Neglected Needs: Girls in the Criminal Justice System (September 6, 2018)

Dui Hua has translated into Chinese a key resource on girls in the criminal justice system. Neglected Needs: Girls in the Criminal Justice System, published by Penal Reform International and the Inter-agency Panel for Juvenile Justice, the paper examines the specific challenges faced by girls in contact with the criminal justice system and makes recommendations for strengthening the protection of their rights.

“All Criminal Defendants to Have Lawyers”: Is Access to Defense Lawyers Enough in a System Designed Against Defendants? (Part 1 of 2) (August 29, 2018)

Stalemate on Detention Center Law (July 25, 2018)

Flouting Global Norms, China Continues to Incarcerate Prisoners for Abolished Crimes (July 11, 2018)

Previous DigestJuly 2018

John Kamm Remembers

John Kamm Remembers is a feature that explores Kamm’s human rights advocacy prior to and since Dui Hua’s establishment in 1999

Target of the Gang of Four (Part 1 of 2)

Shanghai’s Fuzhou Road, a haven for used bookstores, January 1976. All photos by author.

I left America for Macau to take up a teaching position in August 1972. I moved to Hong Kong on Christmas Day, 1972. By the end of 1975 I had lived most of the previous three years in Hong Kong with a spell at Harvard University in late 1974 and early 1975 to earn a Master’s degree. What is now a Special Administrative Region of China, Hong Kong was then a Crown Colony of Great Britain. I worked as a tutor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and, beginning in the summer of 1975, as an assistant editor of Asian Business & Industry, a limited circulation business magazine, published by Far East Trade Press, with readers in every Asian country, including China.

One day in July 1975, as I was walking back to my office in Prince’s Building, I passed by Commercial Press where I purchased a copy of a pamphlet entitled “On Exercising All Round Dictatorship of the Bourgeoisie” written by Zhang Chunqiao. Zhang was a member of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, and the theoretician of a leftist faction that would someday come to be known as the Gang of Four. I read the pamphlet and, based on my understanding of its contents, wrote an article for the August issue of Asian Business & Industry. I called out Zhang for his ultra-leftism – identifying him as the principal spokesman for radical economic policy in the Central Committee — and criticized his call for class warfare directed against the “dictatorship of the bourgeoisie,” referring to a passage in his essay in which he calls for the “iron broom of the dictatorship of the proletariat” to sweep away bourgeois rights from China.

A few weeks after publication, I came to the office to find a stack of copies of the magazine wrapped in filthy rags. The China National Publications Import Corporation, the channel through which Far East Trade Press distributed its magazine in China, had returned all the magazines with a letter on its official stationary. The letter accused Asian Business & Industry of having published a counterrevolutionary article that had “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.” The letter concluded by stating that the magazine would no longer be allowed to circulate in China.

I didn’t know it at the time, but my article attacking Zhang Chunqiao had attracted the attention of Zhang and his leftist allies in what was sometimes called “the Shanghai faction.” Public security began a file on me, known in China as a dang’an. Such files are kept on virtually every Chinese citizen as well as on foreigners who visit China on a regular basis. Thirty years after my article appeared, I learned that it was the first item in my dang’an. The diplomat who gave me this information said that I was known in government and party circles as a “target of the Gang of Four.”

Shanghaied at the Feather and Down Fair

Shanghai Mansions

My chance to visit Mainland China for the first time came in January 1976 when, as a freshly minted representative of the National Council for US-China Trade, I was asked to go to Shanghai to attend the China Feather and Down Garments Minifair (中国羽绒服饰小交易会) put on by the China National Native Produce and Animal By-Products Import and Export Corporation (CHINATUHSHU, 中国土产畜产进出口公司). My visa came through at the last possible moment, enabling me to make the flight to Shanghai from Guangzhou on January 6.

First though I had to get to Guangzhou from Hong Kong. I boarded the Kowloon Canton Railway train that departed from the Tsimtsatsui terminus at 8:24 on January 4, 1976, arriving at Lo Wu station around two hours later.

After crossing the border at Lowu and having a simple but tasteless lunch at the station on the Chinese side, I and other trade fair attendees boarded the 1:00 PM train for Guangzhou. I was accompanied by a young American entrepreneur who had become a leader in manufacturing down garments, then quite the rage in America, and an Australian businessman/scholar and his wife.

From the train windows we could view the countryside, fields left fallow for the spring planting. We passed the small village of Shenzhen, today a major city that is home to China’s first special economic zone. Upon arrival at the Guangzhou train station we hopped into grey Shanghai sedans for the run to the Bai Yun airport. We arrived at Hong Qiao Airport in Shanghai after nightfall, but there was no one to receive me.

Eventually Mr. Ma from the Shanghai Foreign Affairs Bureau showed up and I was taken to the Peace Hotel, the former Cathay Hotel, on the Bund. Mr. Ma was silent for the late-night drive though dark, deserted streets. The next day I moved to Shanghai Mansions, the old Broadway Mansions, where the trade fair was taking place. At the Shanghai Mansions I was given an immense apartment on an upper floor, with balconies overlooking the Huangpu River, Suzhou Creek and the Bund. There was a big radio circa early 1940s in the living room. Radio was the only form of entertainment available to me. I never bothered turning it on.

The next day, January 5, 1976, I visited the trade fair itself, and registered with the liaison office. The office was staffed by cadres from the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), the National Council’s counterpart organization in China. The fair itself was held in four rooms on the second floor of the hotel. Different branches of CHINATUSHU had their own display and negotiation spaces which were fitted out with one or two tables and chairs. A tin of cigarettes was placed on the tables. The exhibition and negotiation hall reeked of cigarette smoke.

One of my tasks was to write an article on the minifair for the National Council’s magazine, China Business Review, so I put in a request for an interview with the trade fair’s leadership. My request received a cool reception. I was told to go to my room and wait for an answer. This was a sensitive time for people doing business in China, and minifairs, an innovation introduced as a modest reform in 1975, were under fire as examples of the “roots of capitalism” being introduced by Deng Xiaoping, arch foe of the Shanghai Faction. I wondered if I would get an interview in Shanghai, or have to wait until I got to Beijing, where a Fur Garments Minifair was about to open.

“Traffic” on the Bund. Not a single car in sight. Today this thoroughfare is multi-laned and bumper to bumper, one of the busiest streets in China.

Rather than heeding the liaison office’s instructions, I decided to take a walk along the Bund and up Nanjing Road. There were few vehicles on the road, the favored mode of transport being the bicycle. I checked out the Shanghai Exhibition Hall, a vast structure built in the Soviet style, and the Shanghai Number One Department Store, said to be the largest in China. Its five floors were stocked with a wide variety of consumer goods, all made in China except foreign watches, the only foreign consumer good allowed for sale in China. I resisted the temptation to buy an Omega for RMB 861.

I have always visited bookstores on trips to China, and my first trip was no exception. I walked into the large Xinhua Bookstore on Nanjing Road, passing through thick canvas curtains meant to shield the building from the bitter cold outside. Upstairs I walked into the room that held internal (nei bu) publications sold only to cadres with the right documents. I was quickly and unceremoniously told to leave.

I wandered back to the hotel, stopping first at the office of the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank, located in a small building on a side street not far from the compound housing the Friendship Store and the Seamen’s Club. The compound had previously served as the sprawling British Consulate in Shanghai. I was greeted by the bank’s British manager with more than the usual British reserve. He and his colleague from the Standard Charter Bank were at the time the only resident foreign businessmen in Shanghai. Unfortunately, they could not conduct business. They were in effect hostages of the Chinese government to ensure that China’s holdings with the banks wouldn’t be expropriated. Their colleagues had in fact been detained during the early years of the Cultural Revolution. They couldn’t leave Shanghai until colleagues arrived to replace them. The fellow I met expressed relief that he would be ending his assignment later that year.

The Shanghai Exhibition Hall

I decided to stop by the Friendship Store, a dreary place selling shoddy goods far below the quality found in Hong Kong’s Chinese products stores. After examining the wares on display, I walked over to the nearby Seamen’s Club. Both the Friendship Store and the Seamen’s Club were located on the grounds of the old British Consulate in Shanghai.

In those days Seamen’s Clubs were the hubs of entertainment for foreigners in China. They served cold beer and one could always find a sailor willing to tell tall tales of his voyages to China. I struck up a conversation with a young Hong Kong sailor who was working on a tramp steamer registered in Hong Kong and operated under the Chinese flag. Together we went back to the Shanghai Mansions where we had a simple dinner and played pool for several hours, drinking beer and eating peanuts. The young sailor told me of his life on a PRC-owned vessel. He complained about the incessant political study sessions he and his fellow seamen had to endure. I listened attentively. Apparently, others were also listening attentively.

To be continued in the October Digest