John Kamm Remembers: Fifty Years in China

From Businessman to Human Rights Activist: 1990 – 1999

John Kamm testifying to Congress on June 20, 1991 (left). Also pictured: Holly Burkhalter, then-Director of Human Rights Watch in Washington, DC; Xingu Chen, then-President of the Independent Federation of Chinese Students; unnamed Congressional aide. Image credit: C-Span

John Kamm Remembers: Fifty Years in China is an exciting project charting US-China relations with Dui Hua’s advocacy.

In 1972, then-President Nixon traveled to China, setting in motion a thaw in relations between the United States and China. This timeline charts the development of US-China relations with John Kamm’s journey from teacher and writer to businessperson to human rights activist. Part I of this project was launched in August 2022.

Part II will be launched later in the coming months. Please read below to learn more about this time in history, and subscribe to our publications to receive notification when Part II is launched.

1990 – 1999: An Overview & Related Stories

In the aftermath of June Fourth, US-China relations were an intense subject of debate. The next decade saw the reopening of US-China relations, the return of Hong Kong to China, the Third Taiwan Strait Crisis, a formal delinking of human rights from trade with China, and the establishment of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, among other key events.

During this period, John Kamm testified to Congress on trade with China and Hong Kong, urging both chambers to advocate for the release of political and religious prisoners. He began submitting prisoner lists to the Chinese government, conducted his first visits to Chinese prisons and court rooms, and honed his skills to conduct prisoner advocacy.

Read select John Kamm Remembers stories from this period below.

The Banquet (June 1990) 
Going to Bat for Hong Kong (June 1990)
I Guess You’d Call It a Miracle (February 1991)
Mission to Beijing (April 1992)
Two Good Priests (October 1992)
Letters from Congress (June 1996)
A Victory for Rights Diplomacy: Xi Yang Released Eight Years Early (January 1997)
The Forgotten (April 1999)

Go to Period 1: 1972-1989

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