Dr. Teng Biao, born in 1973, is a lecturer at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing. He holds a Ph.D. from Peking University Law School, and practiced law with the Beijing Huayi Law Firm prior to the revocation of law license in 2008. In 2003, Dr. Teng helped found the Open Constitution Initiative (also known as Gongmeng [公盟] ), an organization consisting of lawyers and academics that advocates the rule of law and greater constitutional protections in China. In 2007, he conducted research on constitutional law and public interest litigation as a Visiting Scholar at Yale Law School. He was one of the original signers of Charter 08, a manifesto calling for fundamental changes in China, including an independent legal system, freedom of association, and the elimination of one-party rule.
Dr. Teng has received domestic and international recognition for his work. In 2003, he was named one of the “Top Ten Figures in the Legal System” for that year by the Chinese Ministry of Justice and China Central TV. He was also given the Gleitsman Award for Achievement by the Gleitsman Foundation, an organization dedicated to recognizing and encouraging leadership in social activism worldwide. In 2005, Asia Newsweek named him one of China’s top fourteen human rights lawyers and one of its “Persons of the Year in Asia.” In 2007, Dr. Teng received the French Republic Award for Human Rights.
Despite these accolades, Dr. Teng’s advocacy has led to police detentions, surveillance, threats, house arrest, and disbarment.
On November 27, 2006, Dr. Teng traveled to Linyi, Shandong Province, to attend the second trial of Chen Guangcheng, a self-taught legal activist who was arrested after exposing abuses of the local family-planning authorities. Dr. Teng was forcibly detained by Linyi police, pinned to the ground, searched, and his cell phone was confiscated. He was then detained for five hours without explanation before being released.
On March 6, 2008, Dr. Teng was kidnapped as he returned home in the evening, shoved into a car and hooded. His plainclothes abductors identified themselves as members of the Beijing Public Security Bureau, and told him his detention was because of articles he had written on protecting the rights of citizens. They threatened to have Dr. Teng disbarred, dismissed from the University, and charged with subversion if he did not stop speaking to foreign journalists. Dr. Teng was released after being held for 40 hours in a secret location.
In April 2008, Dr. Teng was among 18 lawyers who signed a letter offering free legal assistance to Tibetan protesters who had been detained after an uprising in Lhasa, the administrative capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in the People’s Republic of China. Apparently in response, on June 3, 2008, Dr. Teng and fellow lawyer Jiang Tianyong were denied renewal of their law licenses.
Since being disbarred, Dr. Teng been monitored closely by the state. On June 29, 2008, police placed him under house arrest to prevent him from attending a dinner with two U.S. congressmen. From May 25 to June 5, 2009, in anticipation of the 20th anniversary of the 1989 pro-democracy movement, police placed him under surveillance and insisted that he be escorted whenever he left his home. On September 18, 2010, Dr. Teng was put under house arrest for a day to prevent his participation in anti-Japan protests.
During the period surrounding the announcement and ceremony awarding Liu Xiaobo the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, many of those who signed Charter 08 were monitored by the security forces. In October 2010, Dr. Teng was warned by state security police not to accept any media interviews, and not to discuss either the Nobel Prize or the house arrest of Liu’s wife. On December 9, the day of the ceremony in Oslo, Dr. Teng was seized by police after teaching his class at China Political Science and Law. He was forcibly relocated to Yanqing County, where he was held until December 12.
On the evening of December 23, 2010, Dr. Teng and activist Zhang Yongpan learned that legal scholar Fan Yafeng was under strict house arrest, and decided to visit Mr. Fan’s mother. As they approached her apartment, they were stopped by police, who took them into custody, interrogated them, and beat them. After close to a dozen human rights lawyers and activists arrived at the police station to protest, the two were released.
On February 16, 2011, Dr. Teng attended a luncheon at which he and other lawyers and activists discussed ways of helping Chen Guangcheng, a fellow rights lawyer then under house arrest. Three days later, Dr. Teng was taken into police custody. The police searched his home and seized various personal belongings including two computers. He was released from custody on April 29, 2011. Since his release he has continued his advocacy work and is currently focused on abolishing the death penalty in China with the group he co-founded, China Against the Death Penalty.
Teng is currently living in the United States with his family. From September 2016 to July 2017, he was a visiting Social Science scholar at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study. He has also been a visiting fellow at the US-Asia Law Institute at NYU Law School.
Last updated June 5, 2013
Chris Buckley, “China dissident released after U.S. official’s visit,” Reuters, April 29, 2011, available at http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/29/us-china-dissident-idUSTRE73S3ZJ20110429.
Jamil Anderlini, “Rewards and Risks of Chinese Legal Career,” Financial Times, July 23, 2008, available at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/abf9327c-58c9-11dd-a093-000077b07658.html#axzz1El0J9QFO.
Sally Jenkins, “Dissonance Strikes a Chord,” Washington Post, Aug. 9, 2008, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/08/AR2008080804001.html.