Cao Zhixin (曹芷馨)

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<strong>Cao Zhixin (曹芷馨)</strong>


Crime: Picking quarrels and provoking trouble

Length of Punishment


Trial Date: 

Sentencing Date: 

Dates of Detention/Arrest: Taken in for questioning on November 27, 2022; taken away by police again on December 23, 2022; formally arrested on January 20, 2023; released on April 19, 2023

Date of Birth: 1996

Place of detention: Chaoyang District Detention Center

Background Information

Cao Zhixin (曹芷馨), who is originally from Hunan province, received a Master’s degree in history at Renmin University in Beijing, and was working as an editor at Peking University Press when she was taken away by police  [on X date] after attending a “Blank Paper” protest at the Liangma Bridge in Beijing. 

On November 24 in Urumqi, an apartment fire claimed the lives of at least 10 Uyghur women and children. According to a profile of Cao Zhixin published by WOMEN我们’s Substack, before attending an event in Beijing to pay tribute to the Urumqi fire victims, Cao seemed hesitant. She asked in a WeChat group chat, “is there any legal risk?” At the event, Cao, along with her friends, shared poems and brought flowers to mourn and commemorate the victims who had died in the fire in Urumqi.

To her surprise, Cao and her friends were subsequently taken away by police on the morning of November 29 and detained for approximately 24 hours. She was then released. Cao had assumed the ordeal was over.

However, on December 18, while watching the World Cup final, Cao Zhixin suddenly learned that police in Beijing started to take people in again, including Cao Zhixin’s friends– Li Yuanjing (李元婧), Yang Liu (杨柳), Deng Deng (登登), and Li Siqi (李思琪). Cao learned that police were forcing them to sign criminal detention notices with the name of the detention facility and crime intentionally left blank. Cao also found that it became impossible to contact these people. Cao decided to travel back to her hometown in Hengyang, Hunan, to be with her family.

Fearing that she may become a victim of an enforced disappearance, Cao Zhixin also prerecorded a video to describe and defend the innocence of her actions, and she authorized her friends to post the video if she was disappeared. On January 16, 2023, her friends posted the video:

On December 23, 2022, while Cao was still in Hunan, police from Beijing came and took her away again.  . Later, her landlord in Beijing informed her family that Cao was being evicted from her one-room rented apartment in a hutong(traditional narrow alleyway) near Beijing’s Drum Tower.

On January 20, 2023, Weiquanwang reported that Cao Zhixin had been formally arrested on the charge of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” On January 20, Cao Zhixin met with a lawyer, and she learned for the first time that her video had been released. She was also distraught that she had been formally arrested.

On March 15, 2023, authorities prevented Cao Zhixin’s lawyers from seeing her at the Chaoyang Detention Center. After booking a visiting time seven days before the intended visit, on the morning of March 15, when a lawyer attempted to visit Cao Zhixin at the video conference center within the detention center, officials told the lawyer that he could not see Cao because she was being interrogated. The lawyer insisted that Cao should be taken out of interrogation for the lawyer’s visit, as the appointment for the visit had been arranged in advance. The officers denied their request. The lawyer then called another person at the detention center, who reiterated the pretense that a visit would interfere with “interrogation arrangements” – and these were the instructions from the higher up “leaders.” In the afternoon of March 15, a different lawyer requested a visit with Cao Zhixin at the Chaoyang Detention Center, but the results were the same as in the morning. The lawyers filed a complaint with the detention center. 

As Cao Zhixin’s lawyers and family are unlawfully being prevented from seeing her, Cao remains in incommunicado detention, and as such, is at high risk of torture and other ill-treatment. 

On April 20, 2023, AP reported that Cao Zhixin and three other detainees, Li Yuanjing, Zhai Dengrui and Li Siqi , were released. CNN reported that Cao Zhixin had lost her job as an editor.

Further information

China: Free All “Blank Paper” Protestors

Chinese Authorities Must Release “Blank Paper” Protesters and Allow Free Expression on COVID-19 Pandemic

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