Taiwanese publisher of banned books is detained in Shanghai

Island officials say Li Yanhe is 'safe," but decline to give details, citing the wishes of his family
By Jojo Man for RFA Cantonese, Hsia Hsiao-hwa for RFA Mandarin
Taiwanese publisher of banned books is detained in Shanghai Taiwan publisher Li Yanhe was detained while visiting relatives in China.
Credit: Li Yanhe Facebook

A Taiwanese publisher who published many books banned in China is believed detained in Shanghai, according to a leading Chinese literary figure, sparking comparisons with the cross-border detentions and kidnappings of five Hong Kong booksellers in 2015.

Li Yanhe, known by his pen-name Fucha, or Fuchsia, was detained after traveling to visit relatives in China, writer Bei Ling told Radio Free Asia on Thursday.

"I heard it through literary circles in Shanghai," Bei said. "We know that he has been detained, but not where he is."

Bei said Li had come to mainland China to visit relatives and tend to the graves of his ancestors, a reference to the grave-sweeping festival of Qing Ming on April 5.

Bei initially reported Li's detention via Facebook, but later took the post down at the request of Li's relatives. He said an earlier attempt to secure his release during the recent visit of former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou hadn't been successful.

He called on the Taiwanese government, as well as high-profile figures in the media and publishing world to speak out on Li's behalf.

Many people are likening Li’s disappearance to the cross-border detention and kidnapping of five Hong Kong publishers from the Causeway Bay Bookstore in 2015, including Lam Wing-kei, who later sought refuge in Taiwan from an ongoing crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong.

‘Safe and well’

The Taiwanese government agency charged with managing relations with Beijing said Li was "safe and well," but declined to comment further.

Mainland Affairs Council spokesman Jan Jyh-horng said the government is paying attention to developments in the case, and offering "care and assistance" to his family members, the island's Central News Agency reported from a regular news briefing.

"We have to respect the family's wishes, so we are unable to offer further explanations at this time," Jan told reporters. "That's all I can tell you."

Taiwan's semi-official Straits Exchange Foundation said it would always "give priority to the personal safety of the parties concerned, and respect the wishes of the family members."

"We will continue to pay attention to the development of the case and provide necessary assistance," said the foundation, which has previously functioned as an unofficial go-between in closed-door negotiations with Beijing.

Li, who is ethnically Manchu, founded the Eight Banners imprint under Taiwan's Book Republic publishing group in 2009, using it to publish non-fiction works on China's overseas infiltration and influence operations, the 1989 Tiananmen massacre, and other work critical of Beijing.

The Taiwan-based Hong Kong news site Photon News said recent titles offering independent views of Tibetan and Mongolian history could also have sparked Beijing's ire, a view shared by Book Republic's founder and president Kuo Chung-hsing.

"I can only guess that it has something to do with the fact that the views in the books he published were different from the official Chinese view of history," Kuo told Radio Free Asia. "Maybe he is now being investigated [for that]."


Kuo said Li had gone incommunicado three or four days after arriving in Shanghai in mid-March, where he had intended to tend to family graves and visit his sick mother.

"[Li] Yanhe is still a Chinese national, so the officials here [in Taiwan] may not be able to do anything," he said.

"There is a danger, and your security can't be guaranteed," Causeway Bay bookseller Lam Wing-kei says. "[China’s] national security law applies anywhere in the world, and the entire universe." Credit: RFA file photo

Former Causeway Bay bookseller Lam Wing-kei agreed.

"The way they see it, if you were born in mainland China, you are from there," he said. "Back when the Causeway Bay people were detained, they treated two of my colleagues who were born in mainland China a bit differently from myself and Lee Bo, who were born in Hong Kong."

"The difference was that they didn't allow [them] to return to Hong Kong, whereas they did allow me and Lee Bo to go back to Hong Kong," Lam said.

Lam said the incident should remind publishers in Taiwan to reconsider planned visits to China.

"There is a danger, and your security can't be guaranteed," he warned. "Their national security law applies anywhere in the world, and the entire universe."

Eight Banners Press declined to comment when contacted by Radio Free Asia on Thursday, saying they hadn't managed to verify the news of Li's detention independently.

‘Unprecedented bad news’

Germany-based writer Liao Yiwu said via his Facebook account that if Bei Ling's account is accurate, then "it is unprecedented bad news for Taiwan's cultural sector."

"It is as bad as another 'kidnapping case in Causeway Bay,’" he wrote in a reference to the detention of the five Hong Kong booksellers. "Taiwan's political, cultural and journalistic circles, regardless of their political stance, should not remain shamefully silent. Otherwise, the whole free world will look down on them," Liao wrote.

Protestors hold up missing person notices of (L-R) Mighty Current book publisher Lui Bo and colleagues Cheung Jiping, Gui Minhai, Lee Bo and Lam Wing-kei as they walk toward China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong on Jan. 3, 2016. Credit: AFP

Li was born in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning to a Manchu family, and joined the Chinese Communist Party after graduating from university, before rising to become vice president of the Shanghai Literature & Art Publishing House.

He married a Taiwanese woman in 1996, and settled in Taiwan in 2009. His last Facebook post was made on March 12.

In another recent case, Chinese authorities arrested Chen Zhiming, the editor of a Hong Kong-based political magazine who went missing in September 2022, on suspicion of “running an illegal business,” Radio Free Asia reported in January.

The former editor at the People's Daily Press who moved to Hong Kong to set up the Exclusive Characters political magazine specializing in in-depth interviews with influential people, stopped updating his social media accounts from around Sept. 21, 2022.

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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