In DepthQ&A

Geologist reflects on life behind bars in China

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  03 Jul 2015:
Vol. 349, Issue 6243, pp. 13-14
DOI: 10.1126/science.349.6243.13

You are currently viewing the summary.

View Full Text

Log in to view the full text

Log in through your institution

Log in through your institution


When Xue Feng landed his first job after academia as a petroleum consultant in 2000, he was delighted. His new employer, Denver-based IHS, had high ambitions for the young geologist: overhaul how the company—a corporate intelligence firm—gathered oil and gas data on China. By 2005, Feng had snared a rare, unclassified database of 30,000 oil wells in China from a private broker. Disaster struck on 20 November 2007. Feng was on a business trip in Beijing when he was abducted from his hotel room. Chinese security personnel charged the Chinese-born U.S. citizen with selling state secrets. His chief crime: arranging for IHS' purchase of the oil well database, which had been declared a state secret in 2007. In 2010, Feng was convicted and sentenced to 8 years in prison, including the 3 years he had already spent in detention. He was finally released in April—10 months before his sentence was set to expire—and immediately deported to the United States, where he rejoined his wife and two children in Houston. Feng spoke with Science about his time in prison and what other researchers working abroad might glean from his experiences.