An American’s 7 months in a Chinese jail


Play episode:

What's it like inside the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center? Michael Manning discusses the inmate hierarchies, food and fear he experienced inside the facility.

Photo of Michael Manning and Chinese celebrity A Qiu at CCTV; courtesy Michael Manning.
/ Credit: Photo of Michael Manning and Chinese celebrity A Qiu at CCTV; courtesy Michael Manning.

In 2009, Michael Manning was working in Beijing for a state-owned news broadcaster by day, but he spent his nights selling bags of hashish. His position with CCTV was easy and brought him into contact with Chinese celebrities, while his other trade expanded his social circle and grew his bank account.

His dual life came to an end on March 15 when a team of undercover officers knocked on his door as he was receiving a package. That night, authorities hauled him to the Beijing No. 1 Detention Center, where he spent more than half a year.

In this episode of Sinica, Michael discusses how the police nabbed him, the conditions of his incarceration, his daily routines during imprisonment, his cellmates and his surprisingly positive feelings about China after he got out.

You can read a diary that Michael — who now works for a legal marijuana dispensary in California — wrote in secret during his detention here. For more on being incarcerated in China, see our backgrounder: Doing time in Chinese jails and prisons.


Jeremy: The linguistics and language blog Language Log, specifically the explainer on Xi Jinping’s language gaffe at the G20 summit in Hangzhou.

Michael: The film Keanu and CCTV America.

Kaiser: Eve of a Hundred Midnights: The Star-Crossed Love Story of Two WWII Correspondents and Their Epic Escape Across the Pacific, by Bill Lascher.

Related links:

Jingu Bang (Michael’s Chinese name).

A Qiu 阿丘 aka Qiu Menghuang 邱孟煌 (Chinese TV personality pictured above).