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US-based Scholar detained in China - HRIC calls on President Bush to intercede during meeting with China's Vice-Premier

March 20, 2001

Human Rights in China today called upon President George W. Bush to intercede on behalf of a U.S.-based Chinese scholar who disappeared into detention without charge on February 11. President Bush will be meeting this week with Vice Premier Qian Qichen in Washington.

Dr. Gao Zhan, a scholar at American University in Washington, D.C., her husband, Xue Donghua, and their five-year-old son Andrew were detained at the airport in Beijing as they prepared to return to their home in the United States, after visiting relatives in China. They were separated and held for twenty-six days at an unknown location. Andrew was not allowed any contact with his parents or grandparents throughout this period. On March 8, Xue Donghua and his son were released and left China. There has been no word on Dr. Gao’s whereabouts or condition.

Chinese officials neglected to inform the American Embassy that they were holding an American citizen, as required by law. Andrew is a citizen and his parents are awaiting naturalization. They also failed to inform their families or their employers as to their whereabouts.

The letter to President Bush follows, along with a report from Xue Donghua regarding the events surrounding his wife’s disappearance. He can be reached for interviews through Human Rights in China.

President George W. Bush
The White House
Washington, D.C.

Dear Mr. President,

We are writing to you in anticipation of your upcoming meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Qiang Qichen, and to alert you to the situation of Dr. GAO Zhan, a faculty fellow of the School of International Service at American University and a permanent resident of the United States who has been forcibly detained in Beijing for over thirty days. We call upon you during your meetings with the Vice Premier to urge the Chinese authorities to release her so that she may be reunited with her family. Her son is a US citizen and she and her husband are awaiting naturalization.

On February 11, Dr. Gao, her husband Xue Donghua, and their five-year-old son Andrew were stopped by Chinese authorities at the Beijing airport on their way home to the United States after a visit to their families. After a 90-minute search, which yielded nothing, the three were separated from each other and detained separately. After 26 days of questioning, Xue Donghua was released and reunited with his son.

During his detention, Xue repeatedly asked that his son be permitted to stay either with himself or his wife or with his grandparents. His requests were denied, as were his requests for legal representation. Their families and employers were not informed as to their whereabouts, nor was the American Embassy in Beijing. During his detention Xue was interrogated about his wife, Dr. Gao’s research, publications, and about her previous group visits to Taiwan.

Dr. Gao, her husband, Xue Donghua, and their son Andrew have committed no crime. They have been unjustly and arbitrarily detained in flagrant violation of China’s own laws, and international human rights standards. Dr. Gao remains in detention.

This is not the first time that a US-based Chinese scholar has been detained. In 1999, Song Yongyi a historian from Farleigh Dickinson University was detained for more than six months while in China to visit family, attend conferences and to follow up on his research on the Cultural Revolution. He was released as a result of aggressive public campaigns on his behalf.

We have attached a report from her husband with details of their detention. President Bush, we urge you to raise the case of Gao Zhan with Vice Premier Qian, and to request her immediate release.


Xiao Qiang, Executive Director
Liu Qing, President


Xue Donghua's Statement and Description of his detention and interrogation

I write to report to you a case of serious human rights violation happened in Beijing to my whole family.

On January 19, I visited China with my wife, Dr. Zhan GAO and my five years old son Andrew Xue. My son is an American citizen, and both my wife and I are U.S. permanent residents and are waiting for the sworn ceremony for citizenship.

On February 11, we were unexpectedly detained by Chinese national security agents at the Beijing airport on the way back to the United States. At first, they thoroughly searched every piece of our luggage for about one hour and half, and ended up with finding nothing they wanted. However, they still forcefully took us to some unknown place two hours driving distance away from the Beijing airport without any explanations. Three of us were separated in different places without any communications among each other for 26 days until my son and I were released on March 8. Since February 11, I haven’t seen my wife and I don’t know what has happened to her.

During the 26 days of detention, the security agents kept asking me several questions again and again for the first week, then disregarded me in the remaining days. I was kept in a single room, without freedoms of reading, watching TV, listening to radio, telephone calling, etc. The questions they kept asking are the details of my wife’s publications and her two Taiwan trips in 1995 and 1999, including what she has written (She received a Ph.D in Social Sciences from Syracuse University in 1997) and what are her sources of research, who organized and sponsored the two Taiwan trips, who she has met in Taiwan. I can imagine my wife has been asked with the same questions again and again until now. I really can not figure out what is wrong with her open publications and group-visiting Taiwan, since so many overseas Chinese and mainlanders have visited Taiwan in the past, including high-ranking officials in China.

When we were detained separately, I was told my son was kept in a kindergarten. I formally requested them to let my son to stay with either of us, or at least send him to stay with my parents or my parents-in-law because my son knows them. But they denied my repeated requests. They told me that the only way I could see my son was that I told them more stories opposing my wife. In fact, they were using my son as a hostage to push me to say something against my wife. However, I never believe my wife has done anything wrong against the Chinese government, and I have the full confidence on my wife’s innocence.

My other formal request for finding a lawyer was also denied by the security agents. They told me that they just wanted to talk to me, and it was not time for me to have a lawyer. But the fact is they just talked with me in the first several days during the long period.

Moreover, the security agency did not inform our families in China, my employers Electronic Data Systems (EDS), and my wife’s employer American University here in the United States after we were detained. Our families and employers did not know what happened to us for at least a couple weeks, because I was supposed to call my family in China when we arrive home and report to work on February 12, the second day of my detention. Thus, our families in China and employers here in the United States all believed we were kidnapped and even expected that we might have been killed by the kidnappers. EDS established a special legal counsel committee to search for us throughout China for several weeks. Our church lost hope of finding us alive and was even preparing to have a memorial service for our family, including the five years old poor boy, of course.

Around the end of February, EDS finally found out the real story through American embassy in Beijing. Thanks to the efforts of EDS and American embassy, I and my son were released on March 8. The security agents just told me the “talk” session had ended and that I got to leave China as soon as possible. Instead of apologizing for what they had done to me and my son, they forced me to sign a written pledge, promising not to tell anybody anything about what had happened during my 26 days detention period. They threatened me if I said anything about what they had done, it would have serious negative impact on my wife, who is under detention. I asked to see my wife before I left China, at lease let my poor son to see his mother for a moment. But they inhumanly rejected my humble request.

To make the long story short, allow me to highlight the following points:

  • My wife has been detained simply because of her academic research activities. She has been detained for more than one month and is still under detention without any explanations.
  • I was detained for no reason. As a senior computer system analyst in EDS, I have not been able to work since February 11. It is a great loss to both my job career and my employer EDS, a leading IT company ranking among the top 50 companies in the world.
  • My little son, an American citizen, was detained for the reason no body can understand, except for the group of inhuman Chinese security agents. He was seriously hurt psychologically.
  • The behavior of the security agents not only violated the international norms on human rights, but also violated the Chinese laws.
  • According to the current Chinese laws, the security agents are required to inform the detainees’ families or relatives right after they detain anyone. The detention period can not exceed 15 days.
  • According to the international treaty, the American embassy in China must be informed if American citizen is detained by the Chinese government. I reminded the security agents to report to the American embassy about my son’s situation the first day I was detained, they said it was not my business. However, they told the American embassy when my son was released that they did not realize my son is an American citizen in the very beginning.

I believe it is in the U.S. interests to concern about human rights in China. In our case, they are related particularly to freedom of travel, academic research and exchange, and publication.

What we want is freedoms of travel and academic research, and due process legalized by the Chinese laws.