SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: May 29, 2019

Attack Types: Imprisonment

Institution(s):Hokkaido University of Education

Region & Country:Eastern Asia | China

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 29, 2019, Chinese authorities reportedly detained Yuan Keqin, a professor at Japan’s Hokkaido University of Education (HUE).

Yuan is a Chinese citizen with permanent residency in Japan. In the 1980s, he received his PhD in post-war East Asian international political history from Hitotsubashi University in Japan. Starting in 1994, he began his career at HUE, and in 2007, became a professor of East Asian political history. Yuan is a member of the Japanese Association for Contemporary Historical Studies and the Japan Association of International Relations.

On May 25, 2019, Yuan reportedly returned to China to attend his mother’s funeral. According to Yuan’s family, authorities reportedly arrested Yuan and his wife on May 29 under unknown circumstances. Yuan’s family also told SAR that Chinese authorities released Yuan’s wife three days later and permitted her to return to Japan on the condition that she come back to China with Yuan’s phone, laptop, and academic materials. In July, Yuan’s wife reportedly contacted HUE officials, telling them that Yuan was being treated for high blood pressure.

Yuan’s family have since claimed that he is being held in a detention facility in Changchun, in Northeastern China. As of this report, Chinese officials have not publicly disclosed Yuan’s whereabouts nor have they commented on any pending criminal investigation. Yuan’s colleagues in Japan reportedly have not heard from his wife since July 2019.

News of Yuan’s disappearance follows the detention of a Japanese professor of Chinese history from Hokkaido University (no official relation to HUE) in October 2019 (see report). On November 15, authorities released the scholar on bail. A Chinese government official stated that the scholar confessed to seizing “materials related to Chinese state secrets.” The official did not disclose the contents of those materials; at least two media sources claim the scholar was in possession of a book containing documents relating to the Kuomintang (KMT), often translated as the “Chinese Nationalist Party,” which was first established in mainland China in the early twentieth century and is currently headquartered in Taiwan.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the arbitrary detention of a scholar in apparent connection with nonviolent academic activity — conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which China is a signatory. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from restricting, retaliating against, or otherwise interfering with the nonviolent exercise of the right to academic freedom. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents undermine academic freedom and democratic society generally.