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Son Of Prominent Chinese Human Rights Lawyer Wins Asylum Case In LA

A young Chinese man poses in a gray suit with Los Angeles City Hall in the background. He is wearing a white protective mask.
Bao Zhuoxuan, son of a prominent Chinese human rights lawyer, has won his quest for asylum in the U.S.
(Josie Huang/LAist)
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In a small courtroom in downtown Los Angeles, a young Chinese man sat Friday morning with his lawyers waiting for the interpreter. Tall and rangy, Bao Zhuoxuan wore a thin gray suit and swept his long black hair into a ponytail on what was arguably the most consequential day of his life.

Once the interpreter arrived, the hearing moved at a fast clip. Is he a Chinese national? Yes. Can he swear to his application? Yes.

In less than a half-hour it was over. Judge James Left granted Bao’s asylum request to stay in the United States. Outside the courthouse, Bao balled up his fists in excitement.

“I am really happy and satisfied with the results,” Bao, 22, said in English he’s been studying during the nearly two years he’s been waiting for asylum.

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It was a perfunctory end to an immigration case that has drawn international attention and the intervention of the State Department because of Bao’s mother’s renown.

Bao is the only child of Wang Yu, a leading human rights lawyer well-known for representing sexual assault survivors and farmers, as well as clients who belong to groups repressed by the Chinese government, such as Uyghurs and the Falun Gong.

A middle-aged Chinese woman in black glasses and a bob looks at the camera.
Wang Yu, the lawyer of late Chinese human rights activist Cao Shunli, poses during an interview in Hong Kong in 2014.
(PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP via Getty Images

Wang was one of the first people to be arrested in a July 2015 nationwide crackdown on hundreds of lawyers and activists. That very same day, Bao — then 15 years old — was supposed to board a flight from Beijing to study in Australia. He was with his father, a human rights activist, who was arrested.

From that day on, Bao wouldn’t see his parents for the next two years. He said he was taken from the airport and detained in an apartment for nearly a week. When he tried to leave, he was shoved to the ground, he said.

Several months after his parents’ arrests, he tried to leave China again, this time by crossing into Myanmar with the help of activists.

But he was apprehended by Chinese-speaking authorities who he said beat him. He was sent to live with his grandparents under house arrest, and escorted everywhere by police, including to and from school.

Bao was reunited with his parents after she publicly renounced her work in 2016. As she told the South China Morning Post in a 2018 interview, she felt forced to make the confession out of concern for her son, who she said had suffered mentally and physically.

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Bao’s parents hoped he could safely finish his studies abroad. In 2018, the government allowed him to leave for Australia. But after a couple years, during which he was not offered residency or citizenship, Bao decided to come to Los Angeles, where his parents have friends.

He arrived at LAX in March 2020, but was promptly detained by immigration authorities and held for about a month at the Adelanto Processing Center in San Bernardino County. Lawyers and human rights activists, however, won his release.

A long-haired Caucasian woman at the podium addresses a room of reporters. Behind her are two TV displays of Wang Yu, the Chinese human rights lawyer.
In 2015, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power highlights the case of Chinese lawyer Wang Yu while announcing the start of the #FreeThe20 campaign focused on 20 political prisoners and other prisoners of concern from around the world.
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Getty Images North America)

Asylum cases can languish for years — a bottleneck exacerbated by the pandemic — but Bao's legal team successfully filed a motion to move his hearing date up a year.

His petition got another boost when in February, Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Busby wrote a letter on his behalf, saying Bao would likely “be arrested for his mother’s activism and for his attempting to flee to the United States. In detention, he would likely face physical abuse.”

Ioana Răducu, an attorney with Human Rights First who’s been working on Bao’s case, noted how quickly his hearing went Friday.

“It is unusual but because he had a very slam dunk case because of the evidence and the torture that he suffered, there was really not much to cover,” Răducu said.

Now, as an asylee, Bao can start planning for his life, said his lawyer Juliana Yee, of the firm Munger Tolles and Olson, who has been working on his case with Human Rights First.

“He can live free of fear that he'll be sent back to China,” Yee said. "In a year he'll get legal permanent status. And in five years, he can apply for citizenship.”

A woman of Asian descent with mid-length hair and wearing a suit stands in front of a streetlamp.
Juliana Yee of Munger, Tolles & Olson is one of Bao Zhuoxuan's lawyers
(Josie Huang/LAist )

Yee said Bao's legal team had not contacted his parents to get a statement for his case because they understood them to be under surveillance by the Chinese government.

For that very same reason, Bao said whenever he is in touch with his parents, they only discuss the mundane.

"They ask 'How's your sleeping? How's your studying?" Bao said, with a laugh.

While he doesn't talk to them about their work, he hears things from family friends. His mom may no longer be allowed to practice law the way she once did but he is sure she is providing her legal expertise when she can.

"(My parents) are fighting for the people who are suffering from persecution because of political opinion, because of their religion, their beliefs," Bao said. "Yeah. I mean, I'm really proud of my parents."

Bao said after the hearing that he would celebrate by getting a good meal. Longer-term? He plans to keep studying sociology at Mt. San Antonio Community College in Walnut. And he dreams of meeting his parents one day, likely, he thinks, in the U.S. He hasn't seen them in four years. But he hasn’t given up on the idea of seeing China again.

“I hope someday China will become a democratic state,” Bao said, “and I will be back to my hometown.”

Have a question about Southern California's Asian American communities?
Josie Huang reports on the intersection of being Asian and American and the impact of those growing communities in Southern California.