Potential Step Forward on Forced Labor in China
In November 2011 I visited the Laogai Museum here in DC and spoke with its founder Harry Wu. You may remember from that interview that the Laogai system is a form of “re-education through labor” used in China against dissidents for the last 50 years.
In that interview Wu said, “No one should be able set up systems forcing people to labor, forcing people to be brainwashed, and forcing the people to care about one philosophy, one “ism,” one religion – this should not be happening again.”
Perhaps the day is coming soon when Wu’s dream will be realized. Today China’s official Xinhua news agency reported a coming overhaul to the country’s re-education system.
The vague announcement has been met with some skepticism. After all, 350 different prison camps make up the Laogai system, with 160,000 or so people toiling every day to create charcoal, rubber, and even food products. Children’s toys, cheap office supplies, car parts – many of the products we use every day come from forced labor at these camps. It’s hard enough to get the US Post Office to hold your mail correctly (more on that some other time…). How could an even bigger bureaucracy close up such an enormous and intricately connected international system? And doesn’t the word “reform” prove they have no intention of shutting it down completely?
Regardless of what real change comes in the next few weeks, the news still reflects better international awareness of the Laogai camps; it reflects a more vocal and digitally connected China; and it reflects a government increasingly sensitive to how its actions are perceived in the rest of the world.