This post was originally published as part of Dui Hua’s This Month in History series in its May 2014 Digest.

Dui Hua’s story began more than 20 years ago, on May 9, 1990, when Dui Hua founder and Executive Director John Kamm made his first intervention on behalf of a Chinese political prisoner. At the time, renewal of China’s Most Favored Nation (MFN) tariff status was being debated by the US Congress. Less than one year after June Fourth, many who testified before Congress called for removing or conditioning China’s MFN, which would place higher tariffs on nearly all Chinese exports.

John Kamm, then president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, was one of the few to testify in favor of renewing it. On May 16, he told Congress that removing the MFN would hurt human rights in China by further isolating the country and weakening reform-minded allies in China.

One week before Kamm’s testimony, Zhou Nan, Beijing’s senior representative in Hong Kong, hosted a banquet in Hong Kong. Zhou was toasting Kamm for his defense of China’s MFN, when Kamm suddenly interrupted to ask for something in return—the release of a student detained in Shanghai for his involvement in the 1989 protests. Kamm reasoned that clemency towards political prisoners would facilitate the renewal of China’s MFN. Zhou was not pleased but agreed to “look into it.”

Congress renewed China’s MFN and China released the student protester in June 1990. Another nine years would pass before Kamm founded Dui Hua, but his first intervention was testament to a growing belief in the cause of advancing rights through dialogue.