A Challenging Year: 2019 in Review

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Since its establishment in 1999, Dui Hua has faced many challenges. Some have been mundane: securing adequate funding; hiring the right staff; finding suitable office space in San Francisco and Hong Kong, two of the most expensive cities in the world. Others go to the heart of the foundation’s mission: helping Chinese detainees at risk in a human rights climate that many see as deteriorating.

Over the last 20 years, Dui Hua has had to deal with the fall-out from multiple crises in US-China relations – tensions over the South China Sea and Taiwan, trade disputes, and conflicts over human rights at the United Nations. Public crises in Hong Kong, including the SARS epidemic in 2003 and the Occupy Central movement in 2014, have also heightened tensions at times.

In 2019, Dui Hua faced increasingly intense challenges when engaging in human rights dialogues. US-China relations have worsened. China has been accused of committing serious human rights abuses against Muslim minorities and Christians. It is said to be responsible for shipping massive quantities of fentanyl, a deadly opioid that has killed thousands of Americans, to the US. In Hong Kong, protests that began in June have disrupted life in the city so much that the city’s fate has also become a contentious issue between the two nations.

Looking back over the past 12 months, the scale of this downturn in relations is stunning. The trade war has resulted in more than $500 billion of tariffs imposed on Chinese and American products; in the first 10 months of 2019, American imports of Chinese goods fell 14.4 percent compared to the same period in 2018. American exports to China similarly fell by 13.6 percent.

Blistering rhetoric is employed by both countries, and insults are flying. The US Department of State has called China a “thuggish regime,” with Secretary of State Pompeo referring to China’s alleged internment of more than a million Uyghurs as “the stain of the century.” China’s Foreign Minister has called the United States the biggest source of global instability. Both countries now view the other as the greatest threat to their security.

The quantifiable dimensions of this downward spiral in relations are staggering:

  • In the fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2019, the United States issued 45 percent fewer visas to Chinese citizens than in FY 2018.
  • At the end of 2016, the two countries were engaged in more than 100 dialogues and consultations on a wide range of subjects. There are fewer than 20 such dialogues and consultations today.
  • Chinese investments in the United States declined by 83 percent in 2018, and Chinese purchases of American real estate dropped by more than 50 percent.
  • Executive orders have been issued banning American companies from doing business with Chinese companies, and more than two dozen Chinese officials have been blacklisted.
  • According to one count, more than 150 bills targeting China are currently being considered by Congress.
  • More than 15 Confucius Institutes on American campuses have had to close due to threats to deny federal funding to colleges that accept Chinese money.
  • Over 1,000 cases of Chinese espionage are being investigated by the FBI. Several alleged spies have been convicted in American courts. American citizen Li Kai has been sentenced to 10 years in prison by a Shanghai court.
  • China has announced it will restrict visas to Americans who hold anti-China views and otherwise sanction American human rights groups, and it has reportedly banned Chinese publishers from publishing books by American authors. Senior officials of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong have been denied entry to Macau, a Chinese territory.
  • American public opinion towards China has worsened. According to a poll taken by the Pew Research Center, perceptions of China are at their lowest point since the events of Tiananmen in 1989.

Hong Kong Protests

Hong Kong, a Special Administrative Region of China, has been roiled by protests. The Hong Kong government estimates that more than 900 demonstrations have occurred since June 2019. Marches involving more than one million people have taken place, the airport was shut down for several days, and transportation links have been disrupted on multiple occasions.

The protests started with objections to a bill that could have been used to extradite suspects to China and other jurisdictions; the bill was initially suspended and finally withdrawn. The movement has demanded an independent inquiry into police violence, the release of detained protesters, universal suffrage, and that the government cease referring to the protests as riots.

By December 9, after six months of large-scale protests, police had fired around 16,000 canisters of tear gas and 10,000 rubber bullets at protesters. 19 live rounds have been fired on 13 occasions. Over 6,000 people have been arrested, of whom 2,393 are students and 946 are juveniles. 342 are under the age of 16, including 102 girls, as of November 28. More than 2,600 people have been injured. In a show of public support for the protesters’ goals, the pro-democracy camp swept the District Council elections on November 24, taking 85 percent of the seats and winning control of 17 out of 18 district council seats.

The Hong Kong protests have emerged as another issue in the increasingly tense US-China relationship. On November 27, 2019, President Trump signed into law the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act despite warnings from Beijing of “serious consequences.” The President also signed a bill that prohibits exports of tear gas and rubber bullets to Hong Kong police. China has threatened countermeasures and on December 2 announced the suspension of all visits by American ships and planes to Hong Kong.

Dui Hua Activities

Despite tensions between the United States and China, Dui Hua had a productive year of dialogue. It submitted 26 lists to Chinese interlocutors and received responses on 73 individuals, matching the response rate in 2018. Some of these responses came through WeChat. Dui Hua has learned of 18 acts of clemency for individuals on its prisoner lists. Both Yao Wentian, father of an American citizen, and American pastor David Lin have been granted sentence reductions.

At the same time, Dui Hua has learned of harsh treatment directed against Americans, including a death-with-two-year reprieve sentence against Mark Swidan, currently awaiting the outcome of his appeal. Permanent resident Cao Sanqiang was given a harsh prison sentence, and several Americans have had exit bans placed on them. Getting accurate information on Uyghurs subjected to coercive measures has been exceptionally difficult.

Much progress has been made on preparations for the International Symposium on Girls in Conflict with the Law, the first event of its kind, to be held in Hong Kong in April 2020. We and our partners have confirmed the attendance of top experts and raised funds from governments and individuals. The symposium is timely: 280 girls have been arrested for participating in the Hong Kong protests, and there have been allegations of mistreatment by police.


Library research conducted by Dui Hua in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in October uncovered a new, sensitive security case concerning state secrets. Ouyang Yi (欧阳毅), who worked for China’s Shanghai Theme Park Office, has been accused of providing four “secret-level” documents to a project coordinator of the Walt Disney Corporation. The government record vaguely stated that Ouyang’s action “adversely influenced the negotiation of the Shanghai Disneyland project” without providing further information. In June 2007, the Shanghai No.1 Intermediate People’s Court sentenced him to a prison term of five years for illegally providing state secrets or intelligence for an organization outside the country.

Dui Hua also found new case specifics concerning three other individuals convicted of espionage:

  • Liu Guihui (刘桂辉) was recruited as an underground Kuomintang (KMT) member after sending critical letters about China to Taiwanese agents based in Hong Kong and Macau. He also provided military and political intelligence in the late 1980s. The Beihai Intermediate People’s Court sentenced him to 13 years’ imprisonment in 1990.
  • A government record also confirmed that Xu Shizhou (徐士洲 or 徐世洲) and Tian Huili (田惠丽) had spied for KMT agents based in Japan until they were arrested in 1983. They were both sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment. No information was provided on the court or year of judgment.

Outside of Harvard, Dui Hua has learned new information about Chinese officials who were convicted of spying for foreign governments. Just one day after the four-day Fourth Plenary of the Communist Party of China ended on October 31, 2019, state-news media reported three new espionage or state secret cases:

Zhang Xiangbin. Image Credit:

Chen Wei. Image Credit:
  • Zhang Xiangbin (张向斌), a ministry-level translator stationed overseas who fathered two children with an official of a foreign government, was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve for espionage and illegally obtaining state secrets by the Guangxi Baise (Bo’se) Intermediate People’s Court in February 2019.
  • Chen Wei (陈伟), an Intranet administrator who worked for a subsidiary company affiliated with a military research institute, was sentenced to life imprisonment by the Beijing No.2 Intermediate People’s Court in March 2019. Both Zhang and Chen were said to have provided over five thousand classified documents to foreign agents.
  • Qiu Degui (邱德桂), a 29-year-old journalist for the Publicity Department, was convicted of illegally providing state secrets to foreign entities in June 2018. It is unclear where Qiu was tried and where he is serving his four-year sentence.

Since the counter-espionage law came into effect in 2015, at least 13 Japanese citizens have been detained in China on various charges, including espionage (Dui Hua’s PPDB has information on four of them). One of them is Saki Tsuchikawa (土川纱辉), a China-born Japanese citizen who worked for a Japanese language school in Tokyo. She was sentenced to six year’s imprisonment by a Shanghai court for crimes involving state secrets in December 2018.

More recently, Iwatani Nobu (岩谷将), a law and politics professor at Hokkaido University, was reportedly detained in China in September 2019 after accepting an invitation from a Chinese think tank to participate in a conference. Iwatani specializes in contemporary Chinese history, including the intelligence history of the CCP. He worked for the National Institute for Defense Studies under the Japanese Ministry of Defense for ten years before obtaining his professorship in 2016. The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs alleges that Iwatani violated the Criminal Law and Counter-Espionage Law on September 8 by illegally obtaining a large amount of state secrets in China. The spokesperson did not confirm the charges against Iwatani. Nobu was released on bail after receiving “criticism and education” and subsequently returned to Japan on November 15.

Another case with Japanese connections concerned Jin Xide (金熙德), an ethnic Korean and leading Japan scholar who was released from Chaobai Prison in Beijing on October 8, 2019. Jin was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment for espionage by the Beijing No.2 Intermediate People’s Court in November 2010 for allegedly leaking information about Kim Jong-il’s health to Japan and South Korea. The sentence was affirmed by the Beijing High People’s Court a month later. Dui Hua’s research into court websites indicated that Jin received four sentence reductions totaling 39 months from 2013 to 2019. In its submission to the 2018 Universal Periodic Review of China, Dui Hua included Jin’s clemency information, which was publicized online, to illustrate China’s efforts to increase judicial transparency.

Publications Round Up

Featured: Human Rights Journal, December 4, 2019: Sharp Drop in Number of Juveniles Convicted by Chinese Courts

Records of People’s Courts Historical Judicial Statistics: 1949-2016 (Renmin fayuan sifa tongji lishi dianji 人民法院司法统计历史典籍) were published by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) at the end of 2018 and contain extensive information on the convictions of juveniles, including girls, by Chinese courts. Statistics are available for trials from 2002 to 2016, a period of 15 years.

Table 1 shows the number of juveniles convicted, with a breakdown by gender. It reveals that the number of juveniles tried and convicted from 2008 to 2016 dropped by more than 60 percent. However, while the number of girls convicted by courts decreased until the end of 2016, the number of girls convicted as a percentage of juvenile convictions has increased.

Table 1. Total Juvenile Convictions, by Gender


All Juveniles Convicted (ages 14-18) 

All Girls Convicted 

Girls as Percentage of the Year’s Total Convictions 

All Boys Convicted 

Boys as Percentage of the Year’s Total Convictions 



























































































Political crimes – endangering state security and organizing or using a cult to undermine implementation of the law – are rare. Twenty juveniles, almost certainly Tibetans or Uyghurs, were convicted of splittism and inciting splittism from 2010-2015. Eighty juveniles were convicted of organizing or using a cult to undermine implementation of the law during the same period; these are thought to be predominantly Falun Gong practitioners.

Recent evidence suggests that there has been a sharp increase in the percentage of girls convicted of crimes from 2016-2017. Based on data collected from Beijing News, the SPC statistics volumes, and China Law Yearbook 2017, Dui Hua estimates that the rate of female juvenile convictions reached its highest rate since at least 2002, with conviction rates of girls nearly doubling from 2016 to 2017.

Continue this story here.


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

Defiant: Li Huanming’s Long Road to Freedom 

Guangzhou’s CITIC Plaza, one of the tallest buildings in China. This is one of the locations where Li Huanming planned to distribute his flyers. Source:

Dui Hua researchers started finding the names of political prisoners on Chinese court websites in 2003. One of the first names we found was Li Huanming. My colleague Joshua Rosenzweig found his name on the Shenzhen Intermediate Court website. Later, in a work report out of Shenzhen, we confirmed that Li stood trial for inciting subversion in a high-profile case in 2002.

Months later, in late 2003, Dui Hua sent Li’s name to a professor based in Guangzhou who enjoyed good relations with local security bureaus and courts. Within months, the professor responded with details on Li’s case, marking the first time Dui Hua received information on a political prisoner we identified from a Chinese government website.

The information came from “friends” in the Shenzhen Public Security Bureau. We learned that Li was from Ankang Municipality in Shaanxi Province. He was charged with inciting subversion for distributing or planning to distribute tens of thousands of “reactionary” flyers in Shenzhen and Guangzhou. In one instance, he put flyers near the Shenzhen-Guangzhou Highway so trucks hurtling by would blow the flyers across the countryside.

Diwang plaza in Shenzhen. Image Credit:

According to the email: “The case shocked the Ministry of Public Security, which dispatched two bureau chiefs to Guangzhou to personally supervise the investigation. The Central Committee’s Political and Legal Affairs Committee even hosted a special meeting to discuss the case.” When police detained Li in Guangzhou’s Tianhe District, he “shouted reactionary slogans [demonstrating that] he is a very stubborn person.”

From the time Dui Hua first learned of Li Huanming in 2004 until his release in 2010, we put his name on 11 prisoner lists to the Chinese government both directly and through foreign governments. In 2005 alone, we put Li’s name on four lists submitted to both the central government and the Guangdong government. These interventions yielded eight written responses, which painted a picture of a young man who refused to bend to authority. The court sentenced Li to nine years in Shaoguan Prison in northern Guangdong Province for inciting subversion and to another three years of deprivation of political rights upon his release. He refused to give legitimacy to the Chinese government and did not appeal the sentence, which was the longest for inciting subversion that Dui Hua was aware of at the time. (In 2009, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo would be given an 11-year prison sentence for inciting subversion.)

In prison, he was defiant. Li served every day of his sentence before being sent back to his hometown in Shaanxi Province on September 1, 2010. He spent several spells in solitary confinement, making him ineligible for clemency. I later learned that prison authorities forbade monthly phone privileges to call his family, and he did not receive family visits.

Nonetheless, the stream of prisoner lists we sent beginning in late 2003 improved life for Li. Authorities put him in solitary confinement on three occasions in 2003, but never again after 2004. Li Huanming says that, in 2005, he was excused from working overtime and on weekends. He was given light work in the prison commissary. In 2007, he refused to do any manual labor, and he was not punished. He was left alone to write what would become a long novel that he was not allowed to take out of China.

The China Alliance of Virtuous Youth

In a conversation in 2005, the professor told me that Li originally faced harsh treatment for three reasons. First, he had a bad attitude. Second, authorities took issue with the high volume of reactionary leaflets he distributed and how he distributed them. Third, Li had a record, having served a three-year prison sentence for counterrevolution during the 1990s.

While he was a student at Ankang Normal College (now Ankang Normal University), Li started the “China Alliance of Virtuous Youth.” Made up of five members, the group drafted a manifesto that was then confiscated by the police. Li was detained right before graduation in June 1993. He was subsequently convicted of organizing and leading a counterrevolutionary group and sentenced to three years in prison in 1994. Li was the only member of the group sentenced to prison. He finished the sentence in June 1996 and then moved to Guangdong to find employment. After working several jobs in the Pearl River Delta, he wound up working for a real estate company in Shenzhen.

A Message from Vietnam

Less than a year after Li finished his prison sentence, on June 15, 2011, Dui Hua’s Hong Kong office received an email from a reporter in Hanoi. The journalist had run into Li Huanming. He had entered Vietnam illegally and was facing difficulties.

I subsequently learned that Li had taken a train from Shaanxi to Guangzhou. He was contacted by public security agents in Shaanxi and ordered to return to Ankang to serve his deprivation of political rights sentence. Li ditched his cell phone, borrowed money, and headed for the border with Vietnam. He crossed the border at Pingxiang in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and was immediately detained by Vietnamese border guards. He paid them off.

Li took a bus from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. From there he headed to Cambodia and then to Thailand. He entered Thailand, a month after leaving Guangzhou, but lost nearly all his documents on the way. He had been stopped by border guards and police on several occasions but managed to bribe or talk his way out of each brief detention. He spent a week living on the streets in Bangkok before finding a place to stay.

On July 22, Li called Dui Hua from Thailand. He had had his first meeting with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNOHCR). Afterwards he visited the embassies of the United States, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. None could help. He also sought out the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), but since he was not a Christian, Li was not optimistic he’d get assistance. I contacted the Department of State to see if it could help Li and asked for help from Dui Hua Director Bill McCahill, who asked Father John Shea SJ to intervene with JRS.

On August 16, a lawyer working at JRS asked me to provide supporting documents to help verify Li’s claim for political asylum. I gathered and submitted all the official responses I had received on Li from the Chinese government.

On September 16, Li had his first formal, full-day interview with UNOHCR. He presented the materials from Dui Hua and JRS. His second interview was scheduled but delayed due to a lack of Chinese interpreters. Li was advised that it usually took two years after the first interview to have a second. Months went by. Li worked at part-time jobs and earned enough to survive, but he was increasingly dispirited and pessimistic.

Finally, on August 27, 2012, Li called Dui Hua’s Hong Kong office to report that his refugee status had been approved by UNOHCR. After months of the UNOHCR trying to find him a new home, Li arrived in Finland on May 7, 2013.  He settled in Mikkeli, a scenic city on a lake that is a two-and-a-half-hour drive from the capital, Helsinki. His life is good. He has made many friends and is free to travel around Europe.

Li Huanming’s case demonstrates the value of submitting prisoner lists to the Chinese government and getting responses in return. The lists led to better treatment in prison, and the responses supported Li’s successful request for political asylum.

Dui Hua’s work is as unique as it is important. Mr. Rosenzweig calls Li’s story a classic case of a successful Dui Hua intervention on behalf of a political prisoner. In the words of Li Huanming: “Dui Hua under John Kamm’s direction was the only human rights organization that cared about me.”

Li Huanming in Mikkeli, Finland

<strong>The June 15 Reactionary Leaflet Case in Shanghai</strong>

Chinese police have a practice of naming important cases after the date on which the offense was committed. Li Huanming’s reactionary leaflet case was known as the “August 23” case, named after the date in 2001 when Li dropped a large quantity of leaflets from a tall office building in Shenzhen. Li’s case bears a striking similarity to the “June 15” case reactionary leaflet case in Shanghai.

On June 15, 1989 – days after the political protests in Beijing were suppressed – a number of reactionary leaflets were tossed from a building in Shanghai. From that date until his arrest on October 2, 1989, Shanghai resident Yu Rong distributed 1,450 reactionary leaflets on 52 occasions in separate districts around the city. It was the largest case of reactionary leaflets in the history of Shanghai. In the words of the popular tabloid People’s Police, Yu Rong’s reactionary leaflets “caused serious damage to social stability and to people’s peace of mind.”

As in the Li Huanming “August 23” case, solving the Yu Rong “June 15” case became a top priority for both the Shanghai Public Security Bureau and the Ministry of Public Security in Beijing. Zhu Rongji, then mayor of Shanghai and later China’s premier, personally oversaw the investigation that eventually led to Yu’s arrest. Hundreds of public security officers were deployed in stake outs in an attempt to catch the “counterrevolutionary” in the act of distributing the leaflets.

Yu Rong – who, like Li Huanming, had served time in prison – used pages from middle-school textbooks to write his messages. Thirty-five-year-old Yu, who worked at the Shanghai Automobile Service Company, lived alone, and committed the crime without assistance from anyone else. His father had served a prison term for counterrevolutionary crimes. Yu resented the Chinese government and was inspired by the June 4 protests.

Under interrogation Yu admitted that he was responsible for distributing the reactionary leaflets. He also confessed to setting 22 fires and to having dropped bricks from tall buildings on more than 50 occasions, killing three people.

From the time Dui Hua first learned of the Yu Rong case in People’s Police to the present day, the foundation has placed Yu Rong’s name on 15 lists submitted directly or through foreign governments to the Chinese government. It has thus far received only one response. In April 2006, the Shanghai authorities advised Dui Hua that Yu Rong had been diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1990 and been placed in a psychiatric detention facility known as Ankang run by the Public Security Bureau. If Yu is alive he is likely still there.