This post was originally published as part of Dui Hua’s This Month in History series in its April 2015 Digest.

On April 16, 1999, The Dui Hua Foundation was established as a California nonprofit public benefit corporation. Shortly thereafter, the Internal Revenue Service approved Dui Hua’s tax-exempt status, registering it as a 501(c)(3) under the tax code. These twin developments enabled Dui Hua to start operations by opening its first office, hiring staff, and applying for grants from governments and private foundations.

Dui Hua was established for the dual purposes of uncovering the names of political prisoners in open-source publications issued by the Chinese government and submitting lists to the Chinese government inquiring about these individuals. Prospective grantors initially approached Dui Hua’s methods with skepticism, doubting that open-source research would turn up any new names. As one scholar who participated in a peer review of a grant application said: “The Chinese government does not put information on sensitive political cases in publicly accessible materials.”

Dui Hua quickly proved disbelievers wrong. By the end of 1999, Dui Hua had found hundreds of names of previously unknown prisoners and began submitting the names to China’s Ministry of Justice and other ministries. In 2000, the foundation launched its Political Prisoner Database with 1,600 names, 80 percent of which were discovered through Dui Hua research into records and yearbooks issued by public security bureaus, courts, procuratorates, and prisons. By the end of 2014, the database held records on more than 30,000 prisoners, making it the world’s largest and most comprehensive resource of its kind.

One of the earliest cases uncovered by Dui Hua was that of Shanghai labor leader Jiang Cunde (蒋存德). Jiang tried to establish an independent trade union similar to the Polish union Solidarity. He was sentenced to life in prison for “counterrevolutionary sabotage” in 1987. After six years of medical parole, Jiang was sent back to prison in 1999. That year Dui Hua found his name in the 1997 Shanghai Public Security Yearbook and began submitting requests for information about him. Jiang’s life sentence was commuted to 20 years in prison in 2004. He remains in prison in Shanghai, where he is confined in a ward for mentally ill prisoners. According to information received by Dui Hua from a government source in February 2015, Jiang suffers from schizophrenia.