John Kamm wins MacArthur prize for helping free Chinese dissidents

The MacArthur Foundation doles out these $500,000 prizes to very special people each year (they’re usually referred to as “genius awards,” as they often go to artists). That they’ve chosen John Kamm is unusual and inspiring.

Kamm, 53, was a successful businessman and a president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong when he suddenly veered off career course to become an unlikely, but highly successful, champion of Chinese political detainees.

Using business leverage and a non-confrontational approach, Kamm has succeeded in securing the release or improving the conditions of hundreds of jailed political activists, including some extremely high-profile dissidents.

Kamm’s conversion to human rights lobbyist was triggered by the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of pro-democracy protestors in Beijing.

“Kamm found that approaching (Chinese officials) with dignity and respect facilitated their response to his enquiries and uncovered a wealth of information regarding the status and well being of thousands of prisoners,” the MacArthur Foundation said in its citation.

“He has demonstrated his approach as an effective means of addressing contentious human rights issues with Beijing,” it added.

In a statement, Kamm said he would use the 500,000 prize to further the lobbying work of his San Francisco-based Dui Hua Foundation, of which he is executive director.

“Business people can contribute to the advance of human rights in ways previously thought not possible, notably by collecting information on political prisoners and advocating their release to officials of countries where they trade and invest,” Kamm said.

It always amazes me when “ordinary people” step up and do something unexpected, something extraordinary, something that makes a difference for the entire planet. I read about people like this and I feel renewed hope for the planet, even if the Republicans win the White House again.

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 12 Comments

The fact that Kamm was a businessman and became engaged in human rights in China amazes me. Thanks for bringing this piece news!

September 29, 2004 @ 12:16 am | Comment

Yep, a great story. It’s people like this who make the real diffferences.

September 29, 2004 @ 7:40 am | Comment

Republicans in the White House have made something against dictatorships in Afghanistan and Iraq… Even if you won’t admit it, this is the reality.

Regards.

September 29, 2004 @ 7:53 am | Comment

Yeah, sounds like we really brought blooming democracy to Iraq and Afghanistan. Last time i heard, before we stepped in Iraq wasn’t in the midst of a civil war. And thanks to our creating one, we couldn’t hold down Afghanistan. So now we have a double calamity with virtually no possible solution except to hope that the very worst doesn’t take place. Great victory. And at such a low cost — only tens of thousands dead, the treasury depleted, America torn apart, terrorism boosted beyond its wildest dreams, decapitated hostages, maimed and dead US soldiers and the complete disintegration of our standing in the world. Oh, those brilliant Republicans. I’m glad you’re proud of them.

September 29, 2004 @ 8:25 am | Comment

How beautiful were old times! How quiet was the world with Saddam and Talibans in power! Those fucked Republicans…

Regards.

September 29, 2004 @ 8:49 am | Comment

Everything’s relative, Frank. Lots of people are suffering in Burma and Sudan and elsewhere. If you’re such a champion of freedom, don’t you think we should march into those places too, even though it would plunge us into a world war and destroy millions of lives? Sure, it’s fantastic the Taliban were thrown out of power (if only temporarily). We had to do that and I have never criticized it. A Democrat would have done the exact same thing. You cannot declare war and attack America without retribution. But an old powerless weaponless dictator in Iraq??? We had to throw away the victory in Afghanistan to go after old man Saddam when he was at the very abyss of his power?? Stupid, inexcusable, outrageous, retarded, destructive and murderous. In other words, Republican. If we’d done such a splendind thing why do they hate us so much, their children dancing in the streets wielding the severed limbs of our soldiers? Republicans have the oddest notions of what victory and democracy are. I hope that to celebrate our glorious victory over the forces of darkness in Iraq that you head over to Baghdad for Thanksgiving and give us all a report. I’d love to know if you still think it was a great idea.

September 29, 2004 @ 10:25 am | Comment

Really, Richard. Your blog is great in chinese issues…

September 29, 2004 @ 10:49 am | Comment

Thanks Frank. You’re smart; I’m sure you’ll come around eventually.

September 29, 2004 @ 12:43 pm | Comment

Asia by Blog

Asia by Blog is a twice weekly feature, posted on Monday and Thursday, providing links to Asian blogs and their views on the news in this fascinating region. Please send me an email if you would like to be notified of new editions. Previous editions ca…

September 30, 2004 @ 1:16 am | Comment

Simon’s E. Asia Briefing: 2004-10-27

The following is a digest of highlights from the past month’s Asia by Blog series over at simonworld.mu.nu. The round-up has four key areas of focus: China, Taiwan & Hong Kong (Politics, Economy & lifestyle, History sport & culture, Information), Korea…

October 26, 2004 @ 7:07 pm | Comment

Keep up the good work, John.

Ed and Norma McAvoy

April 20, 2006 @ 6:20 pm | Comment

[...] be suspicious of the whinings of John Kamm, an enemy of China who seeks to protect those who would threaten the established order – the very [...]

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