Cao was born in Beijing, but during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1971) she was forcibly deported along with her family to their ancestral home in Zhaoyuan, Shandong Province as a result of her grandfather being a member of the "enemy classes" according to Communist Party of China doctrine of the time. After attending Beijing College of Political Science and a period of post-graduate study she was assigned to work at the research centre of the Ministry of Labor and Human being Resources.
During the 2002 housing reforms, Cao reported corruption amongst her supervisors and lost her job. Thereafter she became a human rights activist and subsequently served at least two terms in prison camps as a result of her activities.
Arrest and death
Following a two-month sit-in at the Foreign Affairs Ministry as part of a group demanding a national human rights review, in September 2013 Cao planned to attend a training session on human rights held by the United Nations in Geneva. However, she was arrested at Beijing Airport, and disappeared for several weeks. In October 2013 she was charged with illegal assembly and picking quarrels and provoking trouble.
Cao was diagnosed with pneumonia in November 2013, and fell into a coma in February 2014, at which point she was transferred to a military hospital in Beijing. Cao died in hospital on 14 March 2014, with her body showing "signs of her mistreatment during approximately five and half months in detention".
- "Cao Shunli". Human rights in China. 18 March 2014. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
- Richardson, Sophie (14 March 2014). "Dispatches: The Death of a Defender in China". Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 16 March 2019.
- Cao, Yaxue (18 March 2014). "The Life and Death of Cao Shunli (1961 — 2014)". Retrieved 19 March 2014.
- "US 'disturbed' by death of Chinese activist Cao Shunli". BBC News. 15 March 2014. Retrieved 19 March 2014.
- Kaiman, Jonathan (14 March 2014). "Chinese activist Cao Shunli dies after being denied medical help, says website". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
- "Cao Shunli's death a huge blow to human rights movement in China". Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy. 17 March 2014. Archived from the original on 19 March 2014. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
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