25 Oct 2019

Book launch: The People’s Republic of the Disappeared 2nd edition is out today

A fully updated and expanded edition of our acclaimed book on China’s growing use of disappearances, The People’s Republic of the Disappeared, goes on sale today (November 1).

For reporters and researchers, read the press release here.


This timely and important book examines China’s feared custodial system of Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location (RSDL), a legalized form of enforced disappearance, through 11 moving first-person accounts. There is also a new chapter exploring the expanding ecosystem of state-sponsored disappearances that has developed in China under President Xi Jinping’s rule. This is the first time any book or material has presented such a comprehensive overview of the many and growing systems that China is now using to disappear its own people, as well as foreigners. 

The book also charts the breakdown in China’s fledging system of rule by law represented by the legalization and practice of RSDL by the police, with an extended analysis through the prisms of both Chinese and international law.

Understanding this breakdown in due diligence, safeguards and the increasing politicization of enforcement is key to understanding the explosion of anger in Hong Kong against a proposed extradition treaty, why the Swedish Supreme Court recently rejected an extradition case to China as being against the European Convention on Human Rights, and the growing global resistance to cooperation with China.



What is RSDL?

Under RSDL, the state can kidnap who they please, deny them a lawyer, and keep their fate and location secret from everybody, including their family, for six months. There is no oversight. Torture is routine. Involuntary medication and forced confessions are common. There is no legal review or appeal. Once inside RSDL, you simply disappear.

RSDL has been in the news most recently because it was the form of detention that Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and Australian Yang Hengjun were subjected to; as well as scores of China’s top human rights lawyers and activists; the Hong Kong booksellers; and even superstar actress Fan Bingbing.

These nine men and women pictured below are among the 11 who wrote their accounts of RSDL for The People's Republic of the Disappeared second edition.



What’s new in the second edition of The People’s Republic of the Disappeared?

  • New first-person testimonies by two veteran human rights defenders who endured the horrors of RSDL during China’s war against rights lawyers;
  • A new chapter exploring the growing and multiplying state-sponsored systems of disappearances in China including:
    • the expansion of RSDL;
    • using false names to hide people while inside official pre-trial detention centers, sometimes for years;
    • the RSDL-like liuzhi system under the new National Security Commission;
    • disappearances as part of the mass incarceration of Uighurs in Xinjiang; and,
    • ‘non-release release’, where people are disappeared for prolonged periods after their official release from prison or on bail.

Read how activist Zhai Yanmin was forced to take three different kinds of medication that made his brain foggy; how police used a power drill to break down renowned rights defense lawyer Wang Yu’s apartment door in the middle of the night; and how rights lawyer Sui Muqing thought he was going to die after his interrogators prevented him from sleeping for five days straight.

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-9993706-8-1.
    Kindle eBook ISBN: 978-0-9993706-1-2.


The Chinese language 1st edition continues to be available for free as pdf and ebook here.


How was the first edition received?

The first edition of The People’s Republic of the Disappeared (2017), was widely praised by top academics and global media from The New York Times to the Los Angeles Review of Books (China Channel) and praised by key academics on Chinese law like Donald Clarke, Jerome Cohen, Terence Halliday and Eva Pils.

It’s been cited by a number of law, civil rights and social justice, and human rights journals and publications including Handbook on Human Rights in China 2019. It also made the list of The Best Human Rights Books of 2017 compiled by Hong Kong writer Kong Tsung-gan.



From the Back Cover

“A set of unique, insider accounts into one of the most secretive prison systems in the world. If you've ever wondered what the rise of China means for human rights around the world, this book has the answer.”

You are now under residential surveillance at a designated location. Your only right is to obey!”

With these words, Chinese lawyer Xie Yang was introduced to the brutality of “Residential Surveillance at a Designated Location” (RSDL), China’s new and expanding system for enforced disappearances.

The book explores the legal framework for China’s expanding use of disappearances, but also gives voice to victims who, in their own harrowing writing, describes disappearing for up to half a year, held incommunicado in long-term solitary confinement in secret prisons, and the threats, torture and forced confessions that goes with it.

This second edition adds an overview of the developments in China over the last few years, including new systems put into place to expand the reach of enforced disappearances and how these developments have hollowed out China’s fledging legal system, reducing even the modest protections against abuse that once existed.

With the rapid expansion in use of disappearances, the last vestige of due process and safeguards are gone.

“…gut-wrenching stories”. “…the world has been mainly oblivious to [this]… Many people in China don’t know what’s going on, either.” Los Angeles Review of Books (China Channel)

“The narrators tell of physical and psychological abuse, beatings and sleep deprivation, humiliations, isolation… rare in their detail.” The New York Times

“…essential reading for academics and journalists…” Magnus Fiskesjö, Professor at Cornell University

“…a profoundly important book.” Benedict Rogers, Deputy Chair of [UK] Conservative Party Human Rights Committee, founder of Hong Kong Watch

“…the most comprehensive collective portrait to date, Disappeared compiles powerful first-person accounts.” Terence Halliday, Co-Director of Center on Law and Globalization, American Bar Foundation          

A “noteworthy” and “deserving” book. Jerome A. Cohen, Professor at New York University