In 2016 Chinese lawyers, supported by the Chinese mental health NGO Equity and Justice Initative (EJI), finally succceeded in their civil lawsuit to secure the release of longterm psychiatric patient Xu Wei. We were thrilled that, with EU funding, our support for EJI had helped them raise public and scholarly awareness of the injustices in this case and to put the case at the centre of their advocacy for reforms to the Mental Health Law.

The first National Mental Health Law (MHL) in China came into effect in 2013 promising better respect for persons diagnosed with mental illnesses. The case of Xu Wei posed the first major challenge to the law. 

In 2001, Xu Wei began exhibiting symptoms of mental illness. His father took him for psychiatric evaluation, where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Xu underwent treatment and was released. In 2003, after a quarrel during which Xu struck his father, he was admitted to the Qingchun Psychiatric Rehabilitation Hospital (Shanghai). Xu’s father assumed guardianship, but when he died in 2008 guardianship was transferred to Xu’s brother.

Since 2008, Xu consistently expressed his desire to be discharged and return to live at the family home. Despite repeated requests Xu’s brother refused to sign the discharge papers, fearing Xu’s release may cause economic and social hardship. Xu had been declared rehabilitated but remained detained against his will.

With the assistance of lawyer Yang Weihua, Xu filed a lawsuit against the hospital and his brother in 2013. This marked the first time a patient with mental illness acted as plaintiff in a legal case. The case was delayed by seven months, until the court eventually agreed to hear it. The process was held up by a further six months when the court requested that Xu provide evidence of his competence and mental capability in order to litigate.  The case was eventually rejected.

Lawyers continued to file appeals until eventually in 2017 he was declared to have "full civil capacity" and the court agreed to his release.

Xu’s case has led to calls by EJI and lawyers for greater clarity and amendments to the law with a focus on issues such as guardian-patient conflict resolution. Advocates hope that this successful challenge to involuntary institutionalisation will be the first step in creating meaningful changes to mental health care.

Previous page image by Anja Pietsh