AN ACTIVIST has been detained in one of China's controversial detention centres, after winning a scholarship at the University of Sussex then disappearing.

Sophia Huang Xueqin is a popular journalist and activist in China, documenting and promoting the MeToo movement in her country and investigating sexual harassment in the Chinese media.

She became the subject of a disinformation campaign by the Chinese government due to her work.

Sophia was later awarded the Chevening scholarship, an award funded by the British government to strengthen diplomacy between the two countries, and was due to enrol in gender studies at the University of Sussex.

While travelling to the UK to begin her studies in September 2021, Sophia and fellow activist Wang Jianbing disappeared at an airport in China.

Now it has been confirmed by the BBC that Sophia and Wang Jianbing were detained in one of the country’s “black jails” – secret locations where detainees are kept in solitary confinement.


The BBC said the pair are now set to face trail on suspicion of inciting subversion of state power.

According to Amnesty International, this is a “catch-all charge often used against dissidents and activists who speak out against the government”.

A University of Sussex spokeswoman said: “The University of Sussex community is really concerned about Sophia and her safety, and that she has not been able to start her studies at our university.

“We have raised the matter multiple times with the UK government and have followed their advice throughout. We’ve also written to the UK ambassador in China to express our concerns about Sophia’s safety.

“Since September, the university has replied to numerous journalists with statements about our support for Sophia and efforts to raise her case.”

A student who spoke anonymously to the BBC said the university has faced criticism after students and staff were told not to comment on the subject, advising them that journalists should be directed to the university press office.

However this is standard practice across most large organisations, regardless of the subject.

The Argus: University of SussexUniversity of Sussex

The student also said there was a view that the university was trying to avoid upsetting the Chinese government as Chinese tuition fees are a large source of its income.

The University of Sussex rejects this claim.

“The university’s approach to China is guided by the government’s International Education Strategy and is in keeping with the rest of the sector. We welcome students from 150 territories across the globe. Our proportion of Chinese students is in line with comparable universities,” said the spokeswoman.

“It is our concern for Sophia – and nothing else – which has guided our actions throughout.

“We really hope that Sophia will be able to join us soon.”

A spokesman for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: “We remain concerned that no contact has been made with Huang Xueqin or Wang Jianbing since September, and are following the matter closely.”