Executed Hostage Had Big Dreams of Success in Advertising

Chinese Hostage Worked as an Ad Freelancer and Fantasized About Winning at Cannes

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Fan Jinghui was a self-described free spirit who tried a few careers. He worked as a high school teacher, then as a freelancer in advertising, enjoying the freedom that brought him. He traveled to the Middle East, and in circumstances still unclear he was captured by the Islamic State. The group said this week that it executed Mr. Fan, as well as a hostage from Norway, Ole Johan Grimsgaard-Ofstad. China confirmed the death of 50-year-old Mr. Fan, the first Chinese hostage to be executed by ISIS, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it would bring those responsible to justice.

Few details have emerged about Mr. Fan's path to the Middle East. But an old radio interview that he once gave has resurfaced, giving some insights into his life and ideals.

After he graduated from college, he spent six years teaching high school, he told a China National Radio program. In the mid-90s he began freelancing for ad agencies, relishing the liberty that gave him. "Youth always pursues freedom … and when you can earn money in freedom, it's great," he said, according to the Sina news portal's transcript of the interview, which also touched on his admiration of Greek philosophers and Martin Luther King Jr. In the program, about people who chose unconventional paths, he said he was "deliberately pursuing this insecurity, because it's a pleasant feeling for me."

The interviewer asked him what he dreamed of, and he replied that he wanted to win a prize for China at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Asked how long it would take to reach that goal, he said he didn't know.

Mr. Fan was apparently not attached to any well-known agencies, and his advertising work never won the acclaim he hoped for. According to news reports, Mr. Fan registered his own advertising company in 2002. After the Islamic State captured him, it identified him as a freelance consultant. The group's online magazine, Dabiq, posted an ad seeking a ransom in September. It showed Mr. Fan wearing a yellow jumpsuit, one eye swollen shut, with a sign reading "Chinese prisoner for sale."

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