John Cao

Name: John Cao

Country/Area of Origin: USA, North Carolina (Ethnic Chinese)

Background: Pastor and humanitarian worker in Burma  

Reason for Arrest:

On March 5, 2017, police arrested Cao San-Qiang (John Cao), a Chinese pastor known for his work among Myanmar’s poor. Authorities charged Pastor Cao with “organizing illegal crossings of national borders” between China and Myanmar and, one year later, sentenced him to seven years in prison.

Pastor Cao, 58, is married to an American citizen and is a long-time resident of North Carolina. The pastor, who is currently being held in the Menglian Detention Center, had been crossing the border between China and Myanmar for three years without incident and with the knowledge of Chinese officials. In the Wa State of northern Myanmar, Pastor Cao helped build 16 schools that serve 2,000 impoverished children. He also established educational projects to help alleviate poverty among local minority groups.

In his trips to Myanmar, Pastor Cao would travel with other Chinese Christian missionaries, and for two years these trips were conducted without any interference by government authorities; however, in March 2017, Pastor Cao and some of his peers were detained upon their return to China following their visit to Myanmar. Pastor Cao was charged with “organizing illegal crossings of national borders,” a charge which has historically been used solely in cases of human trafficking.

Experts believe his arrest and sentencing are related to the ruling Communist Party’s attempts to control the house church movement.

Latest Updates:

  • In March 2021, ChinaAid and Church in Chains reported that Chinese lawyer Yang Hui had tried to purchase a Bible and gift it to Pastor Cao while he was in prison, but authorities prevented him from doing so. Instead, lawyer Yang, during a video conference with Pastor Cao, had photocopied the first chapter of James and read it to him. Lawyer Yang ended the meeting with Pastor Cao by praying for him.
  • In August 2020, Pastor Cao’s elderly mother twice traveled to the prison to attempt to visit her son, but was rejected both times by authorities. She explained: “I have been in Kunming for one and a half months. On August 3rd and 28th, I traveled to Kunming Prison. I took a taxi there and rode the bus back. The round trip took about 3 hours. At the prison, I pleaded with officers to please permit me to visit my son, telling them I flew from Changsha [….] Nevertheless, authorities prohibited me from entering the reception room. The entrance guard and police officer patiently explained to me that due to the pandemic, government regulations forbid visits….”
  • Pastor Cao’s request for an appeal was consistently postponed, and as of July 2019, he was transferred to Kunming Prison, Yunnan Province, China, where he continues to serve his sentence.