New Challenges for a New Year

Protesters using laser pointers at a 2019 anti-extradition bill protest. Image Credit: Studio Incendo; licensed under CC BY 2.0

Dui Hua Executive Director John Kamm visited Hong Kong from January 6-16, 2020. This was Kamm’s second trip to the Special Administrative Region (SAR) in less than six months. His purpose was three-fold: to take the measure of the city after nearly seven months of unrest; to carry out a risk assessment of the International Symposium on Girls in Conflict with the Law, scheduled to take place at the University of Hong Kong in April 2020; and to meet with Chinese government interlocutors to discuss cases of political and religious prisoners.

Kamm’s visit took place during a period of relative calm. Yet virtually everyone with whom Kamm spoke – Hong Kong and Chinese government officials, pro-democracy figures, protesters, journalists, foreign diplomats, senior staff of human rights groups – expected protests to resume. This did in fact prove to be the case. Hong Kong began the first day of 2020 with a massive anti-government march that ended in over 400 arrests. On January 19, three days after Kamm left the SAR, the Central District, where a rally with a turnout of 150,000 took place, descended into what has become its usual mayhem: four plain-clothes police officers were beaten; tear gas, pepper spray, and water cannons were deployed; arrests were made.

Towards the end of Kamm’s visit, police found a pipe bomb in an apartment in a densely populated district. About 100 grams of high explosives were also found buried in farmland. Ten people were arrested for multiple charges, including possession of explosives and conspiracy to manufacture explosives.

By the numbers

During his eight days in the SAR, Kamm learned that:

  • As of January 19, 2020, 7,143 people had been arrested. Of those people, 40 percent, or 2,902, were students. One thousand one hundred and six have been indicted, and most of them are charged with unlawful assembly or rioting. Forty-one people were convicted, and 12 received jail sentences, including two boys ages 15 and 17 who were sentenced to a rehabilitation center for criminal damage of light-rail stations;
  • As of December 9, 2019, 10,000 rubber bullets, 16,000 canisters of tear gas, 2,000 bean bag rounds, 19 live shots, and 1,850 sponge grenades had been fired;
  • The Hospital Authority reported that 2,633 people had been injured while participating in protests as of December 9, 2019.

The effect of the protests on the mental health of Hong Kong people has been profound: according to an estimate published in the medical journal Lancet, fully one-third of Hong Kong adults suffer from symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder. The situation is likely worse among students, many of whom are despondent and worried about their future.

Kamm heard from young people trying to leave Hong Kong, and there are many tragic stories of families torn apart. He also heard from members of the establishment. They supported a hardline response to the protests and backed the actions of the police in suppressing the demonstrations.

The week before Kamm arrived in Hong Kong, Beijing replaced the head of the Central Liaison Office with Luo Huining, a former provincial leader seen as tough on dissent and corruption. A party official told Kamm that his appointment signals a sterner approach to the Hong Kong protests.

The impact of the protests on Hong Kong’s economy has been negative. The region’s GDP slipped into recession in the third quarter of 2019 and is expected to shrink 1.3 percent for the year as a whole. Tourist arrivals have plummeted, as have retail sales. Property transactions fell by 50 percent in 2019.

Risk Assessment

For more than two years, Dui Hua and its partners at the Centre of Comparative and Public Law and the Centre for Criminology of the University of Hong Kong (HKU), the Juvenile Unit of the San Francisco Public Defenders’ Office, and Penal Reform International have been planning to hold the International Symposium on Girls in Conflict with the Law in Hong Kong in April 2020. The program would be a first: there has never been an international gathering devoted solely to issues related to the incarceration of female juvenile offenders.

For multiple reasons – the inability to meet travelers in the arrival hall, the closure of the HKU campus to outsiders without a formal invitation letter, a tepid response from the Hong Kong government, the inability to visit facilities where arrested girls are held, problematic attendance by mainland Chinese experts – Kamm, in consultation with partners and grantors, concluded that the symposium should be postponed and relocated to San Francisco, a city at the forefront of juvenile justice reform. The symposium will now take place in early November 2020.

The postponement and relocation of the Symposium on Girls in Conflict with the Law is but one of many conferences and events that have been affected by the protests.


While Kamm was in Hong Kong, reports emerged of an outbreak of a new coronavirus in Wuhan, a city with which Hong Kong shares deep economic ties. The first case was identified on December 31. In the weeks that followed, almost 10,000 cases were identified, and more than 360 deaths were recorded (as of February 2, 2020), the great majority of which occurred in Wuhan.

As the crisis deepened, extraordinary measures were adopted. Borders were closed, and foreigners were evacuated. Anticipating a big impact on Hong Kong’s economy, economic activity slowed, and the stock market plunged. Hong Kong is now grappling with two crises, one political, the other health related.

Political Prisoners

While in Hong Kong, Kamm was given information on political prisoners by two Chinese interlocutors. The information concerned two high-profile detainees in Xinjiang and three prisoners in Guangdong, He was also given a census of prisoners in Hebei and had a useful discussion on the deprivation of political rights, a supplementary punishment imposed on prisoners who are sentenced for, among other crimes, endangering state security.


In January, a government response given to Dui Hua confirmed where seven Falun Gong practitioners (three female, four male) are serving their prison sentences in Hebei. All of them were convicted of Article 300 of the Criminal Law: organizing/using a cult to undermine implementation of the law. 


Bai Meifen  (白梅芬)

Liu Xia (刘霞)

Yu Zhaoxia  (郁兆霞)


Hebei Provincial Women’s Prison

Bian Changxue (边长学)

Dong Huaxin (董华新)

Wang Haisheng (王海升)

MJidong Branch of Hebei Provincial Prison

Bian Lichao (卞丽潮)

MShijiazhuang Prison

Dui Hua learned important updates on three cases of endangering state security (ESS). The first one concerned Deng Hongcheng (邓洪成), Wang Jianhua (王建华) and Li Jiangpeng (李江鹏), who were sentenced to five to 12 years’ imprisonment for subversion by the Shenzhen Intermediate People’s Court on January 13, 2020. The judgment was made more than three years after they were detained in what became known as the “Shenzhen Crackdown” in November 2016.

Deng, Wang, and Li were among a group of activists who went missing or were detained after attending a dinner gathering in Shenzhen on November 14 to discuss politics and current affairs. The crackdown was also extended to friends and relatives who inquired about the whereabouts of their loved ones. Dui Hua’s Political Prisoner Database has information on a total of thirteen individuals, most of whom have been charged with subversion in connection with the crackdown. Among them, four were released on bail from 2016-2019, while six remain in custody. In September 2019, Dui Hua attempted to inquire with its interlocutors about the status of those in custody, but to no avail.

NameCurrent Status
Deng Hongcheng (邓洪成)Imprisoned; sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment on January 13, 2020
Li Jiangpeng (李江鹏)
Wang Jianhua  (王建华)
Imprisoned; sentenced to 5 years’ imprisonment on January 13, 2020

Ding Yan (丁岩)
Huang Anyang (黄安阳)
Li Nanhai (李南海)
Ma Zhiquan (马志权) [a.k.a. Shen Li 沈力]
Wang Wei (王威)
Xiao Bing (肖兵)

Believed to remain in custody for subversion since November 15, 2016. 
Deng Jianfeng (邓剑峰)Released on bail on December 27, 2016
Dong Lingpeng (董凌鹏)
Song Liqian (宋立前)
Released on bail on March 14, 2018
Wang Jun (王军)Released on bail on November 28, 2019

The second ESS case involved the Sichuan-based Early Rain Covenant Church. On December 30, 2019, the Chengdu Intermediate People’s Court sentenced church founder Wang Yi (王怡) to nine years’ imprisonment with three years’ deprivation of political rights for inciting subversion and illegal business activity. The Department of State has expressed alarm at the sentencing and called on China to immediately and unconditionally release him.

The Early Rain Covenant Church is one of the best-known unregistered churches in China. The crackdown began in late 2018, when the church properties were seized and members faced repeated evictions from their homes. Jiang Rong () and Pastor Li Yingqiang (李英强) were among the first ones to have been detained; they were released on bail in June and August 2019. On November 29, the Qingyang District People’s Court in Chengdu sentenced Elder Qin Defu (覃德富) to four years’ imprisonment for illegal business activity.

From left to right: Pastor Li Yingqiang, Pastor Wang Yi, Elder Qin Defu.
Image credit: Early Rain Covenant’s Church’s Facebook page

Dui Hua’s research into online judgments revealed that Li Nanhang (李南航), founder of the “China Democratic Republican Party,” completed his subversion sentence in Yunnan No.2 Prison on March 6, 2019. Li received two sentence reductions totalling 13 months: the first reduction of five months in 2013 and another reduction of eight months in 2014. The clemency judgment, however, was only posted online in June 2019.

Li was sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment with two years’ deprivation of political rights by the Kunming Intermediate People’s Court in March 2011. He was accused of founding the “illegal party” online at the end of 2009 and was detained in April 2010 for convening online meetings and contacting overseas “anti-Chinese” organizations. Since Li’s imprisonment, Dui Hua has included Li on over a dozen prisoner lists submitted directly or indirectly to the Chinese government.


Featured: Human Rights Journal, January 9, 2020: Leftist Dissent Under Xi: The Young Leftists Part I, Who Are the Young Leftists?

Xi Jinping leads members of Politburo Standing Committee and other state leaders in celebrating the 200th birthday of Karl Marx in the Great Hall of People on May 5, 2018. Image Credit: Xinhuanet

In May 2018, Xi Jinping led a celebration of the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birthday. During the event, Xi delivered a speech hailing Marx as the greatest thinker of modern times and holding up Marxism as the guiding ideology of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The days before and after Xi’s speech were marked by numerous celebratory events, including the placement of a golden Marx statue in Xi’s hometown.

Just months later, the CCP would engage in a crackdown on leftist supporters who not only shared the same ideological bedrock as the CCP but were actively working to apply Marxism at the local level. The tactics used by the party may not surprise those familiar with the CCP’s handling of any dissent regardless of political ideology. However, the stark contrast between the tone struck by Xi in May and the party’s blatant rejection of those same ideals when carried out by its citizenry served as another reminder of the CCP’s intolerance for dissent, even that which seeks to bring local standards in line with the government’s stated values.

This is the first entry in a two-part post that examines dissent among the ideological left in China. In previous entries, Dui Hua examined the grievances of the “old leftists,” including their efforts to form political parties, and leftist subversion in China from 1980-2013. This post turns to a young generation of Marxists who emerged more recently and quickly faced repression in Xi’s China. The second part of this post discusses the young leftists’ roles in the 2018 Jasic workers’ protests, as well as the consequences they faced after the government crackdown.

The emergence of young leftist dissent, which culminated in the outbreak of workers’ protests at Jasic, a welding company, in the summer of 2018, represents an unlikely challenge for the CCP. Xi is continuing China’s decades-long effort to instil the political ideology of the CCP as the rightful successor to Marxism in the education curriculum. He also widely celebrates his own thoughts on socialism by adding “Chinese characteristics” to Marxism.

Continue this story here, or read Part II here.


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

A Prison for Juveniles

I had already begun working on a juvenile justice program in China when the Dui Hua board approved expanding the foundation’s mission to include at-risk detainees other than political prisoners (read “Li Yan Has Survived!” parts one and two to learn about Dui Hua’s expanded focus). Shortly after board approval, I set in motion a plan to bring a delegation from China’s Supreme People’s Court (SPC) to visit the United States to study its juvenile justice system. I had already raised this possibility with the Court’s Research Department and the Office of Juvenile Courts in 2007, and they were receptive. We agreed that the delegation would take place in the summer of 2008.

On May 12, 2008, a devasting earthquake, measuring 8.0 on the Richter Scale, took place in Sichuan Province. More than 69,000 people were killed, and all overseas trips by Chinese government officials were put on hold. The Chinese juvenile justice delegation was eventually rescheduled, and it took place in October 2008.

The visit included meetings, presentations, and tours of courts and detention facilities in Chicago, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco. A highlight of the two-week trip was a meeting with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, well known to Chinese legal circles as the justice who wrote the 2005 Roper vs. Simmons decision which declared that executing juveniles (individuals under the age of 18) was unconstitutional. Kennedy referenced China’s own abolition of capital punishment for juveniles in 1997 in his majority opinion.

Associate Justice Kennedy (left) received the delegation and US hosts in Washington on October 16, 2008. Image credit: Dui Hua Foundation

Upon the delegation’s return to China, Senior Judge Hu Weixin, who led the delegation, wrote a report on the visit. The report was widely circulated within the government and court system. On my visit to Beijing in July 2009, I was told by Chinese officials at the SPC and Ministry of Foreign Affairs that the report had been read by Premier Wen Jiabao. The Chinese juvenile justice delegation to the United States was considered one of the most successful programs in the field of legal exchange between the United States and China. It provided impetus for the reform of China’s juvenile justice system.

During the July visit I was invited to organize a return delegation of American juvenile justice practitioners to China. I followed up this visit by traveling to China twice during the first few months of 2010 to prepare. We agreed that the delegation would visit Beijing and Qingdao in May 2010 to make presentations, hold a mock trial, and visit juvenile detention facilities.

Tour of the Beijing Juvenile Reform Center

The delegation, led by Judge Lillian Sing of the San Francisco Superior Court, arrived in Beijing on May 8, 2010. We were met by a senior SPC official and transported to the Jianguo Hotel. We spent May 9 seeing the sites around Beijing (Great Wall, Forbidden City). In the evening we were hosted at a banquet held by SPC Vice President Xi Xiaoming.

On May 10 we set out for rural Daxing County on the outskirts of Beijing. There, surrounded by acres of agricultural land and several other correctional facilities, was the Beijing Juvenile Reform Center. Founded in 1955, the center is the only juvenile prison in Beijing. It is managed by the Beijing Bureau of Prison Administration under the Ministry of Justice. At the time of our visit, it held 470 juveniles (in China, juveniles are 14-18 years old), 60 percent of whom had been sentenced to prison for violent offenses. There are also “work study schools” – now known as “specialized schools” – in Beijing. They are managed by the Public Security Bureau and hold juveniles who have committed less serious offenses but who are not tried by courts. Although 95 percent of those held in the center were males, there were 12 females. They were housed in a cell block separate from the boys.

It took more than an hour to reach the center from our hotel. Our cars encountered a massive traffic jam which necessitated our taking a back road. A colleague quipped, “They must have known you were coming.”

Beijing Juvenile Correction Center. Image Credit:

Upon arrival our delegation was met by Madame Sun, a formidable lady who was a senior cadre in the Beijing Prison Bureau, and by the warden and deputy warden of the Beijing Juvenile Reform Center. I had met Madame Sun once before, when I visited Beijing Number Two Prison in 2001.

We were treated to a performance of traditional Chinese drumming by around 100 boys, decked out in colorful peasant garb. The sound was deafening, and it seemed to go on for an eternity. The noise made it impossible to carry on a conversation with the wardens. Finally, SPC Judge Hu, who had accompanied us, stepped in and asked for the performance to end. At this point we were told that the boys were the only inmates that we would see on the visit. Everyone else was required to participate in the center’s annual sports day. It was odd that our visit was scheduled on one of the only days of the year when we could not see, much less interact with, incarcerated young people, something we had arranged for the Chinese delegation when they visited the United States. Sessions between young detainees and the Chinese visitors were among the most valuable experiences of the 2008 delegation’s visit to the United States.

Our group proceeded to visit the empty male and female cell blocks, classrooms and other activity rooms. We were told that the average inmate age was 17 and a half years old. Inmates who turn 18 but who have two years left on their sentences are typically not transferred to adult prisons and instead serve the remainder of their sentences in the juvenile reform center. Two juveniles were serving life sentences at the time of our visit.

The wardens explained the system of awarding points for good behavior. Each month, inmates can earn a maximum of 10 points: one for “showing remorse,” one for performing well in “thought reform,” and eight for general behavior such as observing discipline, classroom performance, good hygiene and so forth. Violations result in the deduction of points. Accumulation of points leads to citations which in turn form the basis of applications for sentence reductions.  Every year 20 percent of juveniles in the center are granted parole, a rate much higher than the rate in adult prisons.

Teens incarcerated in the center are entitled to one family visit a month, and unlike inmates in adult prisons, this privilege is not restricted as a form of punishment. Inmates can also make phone calls and send letters to family members. Unlike in the United States, there are no gangs in juvenile prisons in China, and fights are uncommon due to intense monitoring by staff. Although there is a protocol for solitary confinement, it is rarely employed. The biggest problem is that it is difficult to deliver vocational training given the varying ages and sentences of the young people in the center.

After we left the cell block, I tried to find out if any inmates were serving sentences for endangering state security. Madame Sun jumped in before the wardens could answer my question. “You’re always asking about such people,” she exclaimed. I failed to get an answer.

After our second juvenile justice delegation concluded, Dui Hua organized three more delegations, two to China and one to the United States. American experts introduced such practices as “diversion,” the sealing of juvenile records, gender-specific measures, and psychological and behavioral assessments at every stage of adjudication and incarceration. Several of these practices were enshrined in the amended Criminal Procedure Law promulgated in 2012.

In 2010, when I visited the Beijing center with our delegation, 80,000 juveniles were arrested in China. More than 68,000 were given custodial sentences. In 2017, the year our last exchange with the SPC took place, fewer than 33,000 juveniles were given custodial sentences by Chinese courts, a drop of more than 50 percent.

I later learned that the Ministry of Justice, under my nemesis Minister of Justice Wu Aiying, resisted allowing the Americans into the Beijing Juvenile Reform Center. Because of the high-level support our exchanges enjoyed, the ministry was forced to relent, but it took measures to ensure that the visit was of little value to the visitors. As for me, the May 2010 tour of the center was the last time I was allowed into a prison run by the Ministry of Justice. Even after Wu was expelled from the Communist Party for corruption in 2017, the ban on visits to ministry facilities and meetings with ministry officials remained in place.