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Are Researchers Being 'Spirited Away' by the Chinese Government?

Two Chinese researchers teaching at Japanese universities have become unreachable after returning to China for what was expected to be a short stay.



A banner promoting "national security" is displayed in a park in Shijiazhuang, Hebei Province, China, in April 2023, after China amended its counterespionage law. (©Kyodo)

In premodern Japan, bells were struck at sunrise and sunset to mark the dividing line between day and night. After all, when twilight arrived it would be difficult to make out who was approaching.

People in those days believed that although people might be out and about during the daytime, the night belonged to yokai and other supernatural creatures. They therefore referred to dusk when the two intersected as ouma ga toki, which literally means the "hour for meeting demons." Accidents and other misfortunes were said to be frequent around this hour. 

In his book Supernatural Folklore 8 — Boundaries, the historian Shoji Sasamoto notes that many unexplained disappearances in which people were said to be "spirited away" (kamikakushi) occurred at this time of day. 

Modern-Day Disappearances

The ancient practice of kidnapping by tengu, foxes, or other creatures of the "otherworld" may have disappeared, but "spiriting away" is by no means a thing of the past. 

We continue to see case after case of Chinese researchers teaching at Japanese universities who mysteriously disappear after returning to their homeland. 

It has just been learned that Professor Fan Yuntao of Asia University has not been heard from since returning to China in February 2023 for what was expected to be a short stay. People close to Fan say that he was contacted by the Chinese authorities after returning home and they fear that he has been taken into custody.

It was also recently reported that Professor Hu Shiyun of Kobe Gakuin University has also gone missing after returning "temporarily" to China in the summer of 2023. Such reports cannot be viewed nonchalantly in light of the consternation that has arisen in the wake of China's draconian revised counterespionage law having taken effect in July 2023. 

Professor Fan Yuntao of Asia University

A Shadowy 'Otherworld'

That law is extremely dangerous for everyone. There is real concern that it will be misused by the Chinese authorities to arbitrarily target anyone they deem to have adversely impacted national security or China's national interest.

Keeping an eye on the surveillance being conducted by China should be a self-defense strategy for dealing with that country. But Fan and other researchers like him engage in academic activities in Japan, so we cannot turn a blind eye to their situation. Moreover, many Japanese nationals have also been detained in China. 

It seems that in the past when there was an unexplained disappearance, bells and drums would be loudly sounded and a search conducted to find the missing person. It was believed that their sound had the power to connect this world with the other invisible world. 

The door to today's shadowy "otherworld" is to be found in China, but it is a door that will not open unless it is pounded on. 

Japan must raise its voice in loud protest to what is going on. 


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun