“Jude is a very honest person, and he was very clever when he was a boy. He had a strong sense of self-confidence, and he became very ambitious,” said Shao’s older sister, Jingli Shao, 48, an eye doctor who coordinates his legal defense campaign. As a teenager, she raised Shao when their parents and two older brothers were banished to the countryside during the chaos of the Cultural Revolution in the early 1970s.
The fraternal bonds run deep, especially after their father died in June 2002 at the age of 72. “If Jude is released I hope he can travel between the U.S. and China,” said Jingli Shao. “He’s a U.S. citizen, but his home and family are in Shanghai.”
Asked about his father in his jailhouse interview, Shao’s voice cracked. “That’s the background that shaped my attitude about many things,” he said.
Shao fought bitterly with prison officials for the privilege to wear plain clothes, not prison garb, when he made a deathbed visit—in irons—shortly before his father died, said cellmate Ohmert.
After becoming an American citizen in 1997, Shao was imprisoned in China’s Qing Pu Prison on tax fraud charges from 1998 to 2008.
Shao, 54, came to the United States in 1986 to study educational technology at Rhode Island College. He later earned a master’s degree at Stanford and began splitting his time between San Francisco and Shanghai, where he ran a company exporting U.S. medical imaging equipment to China. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1997.
He was among the first class of expatriates to try their hand at business in China, as the country’s economy began to take off after years of strict central control. His business grew quickly until Shanghai officials came knocking at his door. Shao told tax auditors they could see the books, but after that he locked the door and refused to cooperate or pay a $50,000 bribe, he says.
His refusal, he says, landed him in more trouble with the authorities. They accused him of tax evasion and detained him at the Shanghai airport when he arrived on a flight from the United States.
Shao’s staff called the U.S. Consulate when he didn’t show up to work.
“Because I’m not white, I’m Chinese just like them, they didn’t know they were holding an American citizen,” Shao said. “By that time it was too late. They were playing hardball.”
Shao, 45, had about five years left on a 16-year sentence for tax evasion and fraud — allegations that his supporters say were false.
For years, Shao’s former classmates from the Stanford Graduate School of Business led a campaign seeking his freedom, and many members of Congress and the Bush administration pressed the Chinese government to release him.
Under China’s legal system, Shao had been eligible for parole since 2006 but had been denied, with no public explanation given. But Wednesday — a day after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice concluded a visit to Beijing during which human rights were discussed — Shao walked out of Qingpu Prison, on the outskirts of Shanghai.
Shao’s release came a day after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice concluded her visit to Beijing, and the LA Times reports several China specialists who noted, with the Olympics next month, Beijing was eager to buff up its image, which recently had been tarnished by deadly riots in Tibet and other incidents in which Chinese lawyers, journalists and human rights activists had been silenced.
XIE (CHARLIE) CHUNREN, 56
HOME: Somerset, N.J.
ARRESTED: May 2005
STATUS: Released September 2005
Quit computer job to found natural products exporter. Sold $3 million of U.S.-made vitamins and supplements to China.Arrested at Chengdu airport on suspicion of spying for Taiwan, despite having no business or political ties there. Claims he was interrogated over three months, sometimes for 12 hours a day. Released after pressure from State Department, but he lost most Chinese contracts due to press accounts of alleged spying.
FONG FUMING, 70
HOME: West Orange, N.J.
ARRESTED: February 2001
STATUS: Released October 2003
Worked as a consultant for foreign power companies in China. Arrested on business trip to Beijing, accused of paying $245,000 in bribes for secret documents. Disputed charges and claimed he was extorted by a local official. Held 20 months without a trial, according to Human Rights Watch. Eventually sentenced to fiveyears in prison. Released three and a half years early after exhibiting “repentant behavior.”