John Kamm, Founder and Chairman of The Dui Hua Foundation, Speaks at USALI

On Monday, March 24, John Kamm, founder and chairman of The Dui Hua Foundation, stopped by USALI to discuss his over two decades of engagement with the Chinese government on the issues of political and religious imprisonment, juvenile justice, women in prison, and the criminal justice system in general.

It was 24 years ago that Mr. Kamm decided to devote himself to the release of prisoners in China. Prior to that, Mr. Kamm had a multifaceted career, taking on positions that ranged from journalist to business owner to the President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

“Interlocking, unanticipated, accidental,” is how USALI Co-Director and moderator Professor Jerome Cohen described the next phase of Mr. Kamm’s career. It all began in 1990, during a dinner held in honor of Mr. Kamm’s support of China’s status as a Most Favored Nation. When asked if there was anything the host, Zhou Nan, Vice Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, could do in return, Mr. Kamm asked that the PRC give clemency to a young Hong Kong student who was being detained and tortured in a Shanghai detention center.  Although this act incited the ire of the Minister, Mr. Kamm’s request was granted. In the following years, Mr. Kamm would travel to China four times a year with a lists of names to present to present to senior party and government officials.

In 1999, Mr. Kamm founded The Dui Hua Foundation, an organization dedicated to continuing conversations with the Chinese leadership to release prisoners detained on the grounds of their political and religious beliefs. Since its establishment, Mr. Kamm has extended his efforts to juvenile justice, women in prison, and other “at-risk detainees.” He is currently in the process of writing up a report on an international symposium Dui Hua recently held that addressed women in prison. Experts from nine countries presented. The largest group of attendees was from China.

Follow this link to learn more about The Dui Hua Foundation. 

John Kamm is an American businessman and human rights campaigner active in China since 1972. He is the founder and chairman of The Dui Hua Foundation. Kamm was awarded the Department of Commerce’s Best Global Practices Award by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights by President George W. Bush in 2001. In September 2004, Kamm received a MacArthur Fellowship for “designing and implementing an original approach to freeing prisoners of conscience in China.” Kamm is the first businessman to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship.

Since his first intervention on behalf of a Chinese prisoner in May 1990, Kamm has made more than 100 trips to China to engage the government in a dialogue on human rights, focusing on the treatment of prisoners and conditions in prisons. He has made 10 visits to Chinese prisons and has submitted requests for information on thousands of prisoners. In the words of Ambassador Max Baucus, “John Kamm, who runs the Dui Hua Foundation has probably been the single most effective American in promoting the release of political prisoners and uncovering the names of previously unknown prisoners.”

Kamm received a B.A. (1972) from Princeton University and an M.A. (1975) from Harvard University. He was the Hong Kong correspondent and representative of the National Council for US-China Trade (1975-1979) and President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong in 1990. He managed Occidental Chemical Company’s business in China and the Far East from 1986 to 1991.