American Engineer Stuck in China

Hu Zhicheng is a naturalized American citizen who attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and wanted to bring his engineering knowledge to China’s growing automotive industry. Specifically, Zhicheng wanted to design catalytic converters, which would help the automobiles create less pollution. Unfortunately, Zhicheng’s efforts in China got him jailed, and currently unable to leave the country for reasons unknown to him.

In 2008, he was jailed for a year and half based on a claim of commercial theft. At the time he was president of Wuxi Weifu Environmental Catalysts and refused to buy components from the Hysci Specialty Materials Company. Hysci’s CEO did not take well to the refusal and was willing to do anything to make the deal go through. The police even told Zhicheng that all charges of stolen trade secrets would be dropped if he did business with Hysci. Zhicheng did not give in to the pressure and was jailed; however, eventually the case was dropped because the prosecutors believed the claims had no merit.

Although he was released from jail, he has been denied the ability to leave the country to go back to his family in Los Angeles. There are no valid reasons for why he has not been able to leave the country, and therefore it is a difficult situation to remedy. Zhicheng has done everything he can to try and get out of the country such as seeking help from American diplomats in Beijing, having his daughter petition for his release, and seeking legal help.

This has been a terrifying experience for his family who has not seen him. His wife and son are too scared to visit him for fear that they will be unable to leave China as well. His wife is worried that he will never return to Los Angeles and his children will have to grow up without a father.

What could Hu Zhicheng do to get out of the country? Is there anything further that America can do to force his release? Should Hysci be questioned on the issue?

Source: The New York Times


  1. Hopefully the proper American authorities can find a way through diplomatic channels to secure this man’s release. The owner of Hysci probably had some well placed friends in Chinese government that he used to try to send a message to those that refused to buy parts from him. I am sure that some diplomatic pressure from the United States government could secure Hu’s release. The charges against him appear to be bogus, and it does not seem to be such a major issue that the Chinese would really lose anything in releasing this man. Sometimes all it takes is the right people in Washington getting the phone with the right people in Beijing to make sure that this man can get back home to America. Hopefully enough attention will be brought to this issue so that it can be resolved and Hu can go home to his family.

  2. Unfortunately, this is one of the times I think that international law is ineffective in helping an individual like Hu Zhicheng. Or, rather, that international law has gone as far as it can and can go no more: ultimately, Hu Zhicheng is within sovereign Chinese territory and little to nothing can be done outside diplomatic channels. Even if China willfully ignores U.S.-China diplomatic pressures, it seems doubtful that the U.S. will pursue harsher measures – it does not seem that Hu Zhicheng is being treated inhumanely now that he has been released and maintaining good economic relations will remain important to the U.S.

  3. This seems a little ironic in that if he was doing things that China and Hysci did not like or approve of, wouldn’t deportation after the charges were dropped, be more logical. This is a frightening thought that he is unable to leave the country for no apparent reason and just because he isn’t being physically tortured, doesn’t mean that this isn’t a form of imprisonment. I hope that he is able to figure out what is keeping him there, whether it is a Hysci connection in the government or something else. Because until they are able to determine what it is, it seems that it would be very difficult to figure out how to fix it.

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