Shiping Peterson, a massage therapist in Fountain Hills who goes by the name Sue Jiang, and her son, David Jiang, had just landed in Shanghai on August 29 when an officer escorted them off the plane and detained her with no explanation.
Dawei "David" Jiang, who's 24 and lives in Fountain Hills, said in an emailed statement that someone came onto the aircraft and took them to a "station surrounded by windows."
"My mom showed her American passport," Jiang said. "They took her phone. My mom asked why are they taking her and they said they would tell her later. They let me go."
David Jiang stayed in China for a while, hoping to be reunited with his mother. But when he called representatives at the U.S. embassy after a few weeks, they told him she was being held for a "crime of provocation." They didn't have access to any more detail.
Nearly three months later, Jiang — an American citizen who has lived here for over a decade — is still reportedly locked up at the Shanghai Detention Center as her friends and family seek answers. Her business in Arizona, Asian Natural Healing, has closed its doors. Her longtime client and friend, Dina Galassini, is attempting to pay her bills while she's away.
"She has helped so many people recover from chronic issues," Galassini said. "And I've been going to her for like five years. I can't believe she's gone."
Jiang's story caught attention on Reddit overnight after the Fountain Hills Times wrote about her situation on November 21. Her experience seems to mirror that of several other Americans who have been harassed or detained in China in recent months, including a Koch industries executive in June and a FedEx pilot in September.
The detentions come as tensions between the United States and China over trade and other issues have been mounting. The State Department has had a travel advisory for China since January warning Americans that exit bans and "arbitrary enforcement of local laws" might keep them from leaving the country if they visit. Dual U.S.-Chinese nationals like Jiang are particularly at risk, the advisory says, because China doesn't recognize dual nationality.
Jiang's supporters say they've wondered whether there are political motives behind Jiang's arrest, since they're puzzled by the crime authorities claim she committed. Translations of Chinese law indicate a "crime of provocation" could refer to using social media to distribute false information or to criticize others.
"Her and I, we provoke each other," Galassini said of Jiang. "It’s common to provoke each other because we’re friends. She’s a pain in the ass and I’m a pain in the ass. But she’s not a criminal."
When Galassini contacted the U.S. consulate in Shanghai for help in October, a representative told her they checked on Jiang to ensure she was in good health and would conduct monthly checks as Jiang awaits trial. He also said they gave Jiang a list of local lawyers.
Friends of Jiang have briefed Republican Representatives David Schweikert and Andy Biggs about the situation. According to Galassini, Schweikert's team said they couldn't help Jiang because of the nature of her alleged crime.
Neither Schweikert nor Biggs answered requests for comment for this story.
In the meantime, Jiang seems to have lost hope that she'll be released soon. According to Galassini, in her most recent letter to her son, she said she thinks she'll be detained for a long time.
"We’re just waiting," Galassini said. "It’s a waiting game."