Monday, November 17, 2008

Laogai Museum Opens

Harry Wu Opens New
Laogai Museum in DC

Harry Wu of the Laogai Research Foundation (L) and John Kusumi of the
China Support Network (R) attended the opening of the Laogai Museum
on November 12, 2008 in Washington DC.

November 16, 2008 (CSN) -- A new vocabulary term exists: "The Laogai Museum." And yes, it is an actual museum, newly opened in Washington, DC. To explain it well, we should review the vocabulary term "Laogai" itself. Some Americans and Westerners are still not familiar with the word.

Laogai background

According to the Random House dictionary, Laogai means "the system of forced-labor camps, prisons, etc., in China."

According to the U.S. Congress, Laogai is "the system of forced labor prison camps in the People's Republic of China, as a tool for suppression maintained by the Chinese Government."

According to the China Support Network, Laogai is "a system of deadly prison camps in China, where prisoners are forced to perform slave labor after being sentenced there arbitrarily, through administrative fiat, without due process of law, and with no rights to recourse such as appeals."

At the Laogai Research Foundation, they introduce the term at length:

The Laogai is the vast labor reform system in the People's Republic of China. The Laogai was created by the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong, yet it still serves the one-party dictatorship as the primary instrument for detaining political dissidents and penal criminals. The two major aims of the Laogai are to use all prisoners as a source of cheap labor for the communist regime and to "reform criminals" through hard labor and compulsory political indoctrination. According to the official definition of the Laogai system, there are six main components.

The precise population and the number of camps in the Laogai are considered state secrets, so it is impossible to know with certainty how many inmates are imprisoned in the Laogai or how many camps exist. Additionally, camps often close or change their location depending on economic benefits, making it more difficult to track the number of camps inside China. The Laogai Research Foundation has documented over 1,000 Laogai camps in China. The exact numbers of prisoners in any particular camp is constantly changing according to varying shifts in the political climate.

Counting those imprisoned in five of the six categories listed above (the LRF does not count those in detention centers, as that number the most variable and difficult to ascertain), the Laogai Research Foundation estimates that the Laogai population is between 4 to 6 million prisoners.

The LRF estimates that since the inception of the Laogai, between 40 to 50 million people have been imprisoned. Almost everyone in China is related to someone or has known someone who has been forced to serve a lengthy sentence in the confines of the Laogai.

The Laogai system continues to operate in China today, with millions that are estimated to be there now, and 27 million as the estimated death toll since the beginning of the system under Mao.

It is a human rights abuse and a crime against humanity, still in progress today.

Harry Wu background

Leading Chinese dissident Harry Wu, who has devoted his life in exile to exposing the Laogai, its abuses, and its cruelty, wants "Laogai" to be remembered in the same set of words as "Holocaust" and "Gulag." He endured 19 years in the Laogai, then came to America and launched the Laogai Research Foundation.

In addition to lobbying the U.S. Congress and the parliaments of other nations, Wu also lobbied the publishers of dictionaries. As a result, in 2003, the Oxford English Dictionary added the word Laogai -- and since then, other dictionaries have followed suit. China itself has been playing games for public relations purposes, discontinuing the word Laogai and claiming that a 1997 law ended it. But, PR aside, the practices continue and the human rights community can produce former prisoners as examples who were incarcerated and forced to manufacture more recently than 1997.

A new museum opening

On Wednesday, November 12, Harry Wu presided at the opening of the new Laogai Museum in Washington, DC. In addition to photographs, documents, and explanations, the museum includes actual prisoner uniforms and actual products manufactured in the Laogai. On display were such things as Christmas lights, artificial flowers, a chain hoist, and boxes of tea.

Atonement from Yahoo?

According to the AFP newswire,

The Laogai museum in Washington was set up with the support of a human rights fund established by Internet giant Yahoo.... [Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang] set up the fund after his company came under fire from rights groups for allegedly helping Chinese police to nab and jail cyber dissidents, including a Chinese journalist, Shi Tao, who is still behind bars.

Ahead of the museum's opening, rights group Amnesty International accused Yang of not giving priority to pushing the Chinese authorities to release the journalist.

Shi Tao was convicted in 2005 of divulging state secrets after he posted a Chinese government order forbidding media groups from marking the anniversary of the bloody Tiananmen Square massacre on the Internet.

Police identified him using information provided by Yahoo. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail.

"That Shi Tao and others remain in prison after using Yahoo services, as your company remains silent in China, hollows your human rights fund and scholarship into seeming public relations attempts," said Amnesty's USA Executive Director Larry Cox in a letter to Yang.

"Your company's response to the imprisonment of journalists and dissidents who have relied on your services must include a clear focus on their releases," Cox said.

Yahoo had defended its action on the grounds that it had to comply with China's laws in order to operate there.

It had reached a settlement with the families of Shi Tao and another cyber dissident Wang Xiaoning to stop a lawsuit, which charged that Yahoo provided information that enabled Chinese police to identify the duo.

The wife of Wang Xiaoning, Yu Ling, attended the opening of the Laogai Museum and spoke at the reception. The AP newswire has also noted the Yahoo controversy. A recent report by Anick Jesdanun said,

Yahoo and its Taiwan-born chief executive, Jerry Yang, have faced the biggest backlash for handing over e-mails that led to the imprisonment of two Chinese journalists. Besides Sklar's lawsuit, the outcry spurred a congressional hearing during which the late Rep. Tom Lantos likened Yang to a moral "pygmy" for cooperating with the Chinese government.

Yang has since been more proactive about speaking out for human rights. Leading up to the Olympics in Beijing, Yang urged the Bush administration to use its diplomatic influence to obtain the release of jailed political dissidents.
In the Chinese democracy movement, it is hard to forget the open letter written and published by Liu Xiaobo, a famous dissident, to Yahoo's Jerry Yang due to the imprisonment of Shi Tao. In that long, lengthy, and erudite tract -- rhetorically speaking -- Liu skewered Yang and slow roasted him over an open fire (and then worked him over with a tire iron; and then backed over him with a truck; to review that letter, see

At any rate, the new Laogai Museum came about due to partnership of the new Yahoo! human rights fund and Harry Wu's Laogai Research Foundation.

Remarks of Harry Wu

Harry Wu himself gave the keynote speech at the reception. In part, he said,

On July 29 I met President Bush, and he said, "Hey Harry! What do you think? What is the problem in China?" I said, "human rights." I right away showed him a bill passed by the American Congress in 2005, in December, a condemnation of the Chinese Laogai. [H. Con. Res 294]

He looked at it carefully, and I said, "Can you make a public announcement, condemning the Chinese government?" And he said, "Well, I will help. I will do it."

And at this time, we have a museum opening [and I said] "we would like to invite you to come." Unfortunately he said well -- he's quite busy and can't come.


The Laogai is a suppression machine.

Forget about my story. My story was 51 years ago, in 1957. I'm very close to the graveyard. Maybe today I'm standing here; maybe in a couple of days I've disappeared. But do remember some people to follow up.

These young women: The first one is Yu Ling. Her husband was sentenced [to] ten years in the prison camp. And still in the camp. The second one, Qi Jia Zhen, her husband was sentenced eight years. Her husband is still in the jail.

So the Gulag, Chinese Gulag - Laogai - is still running. The Communist system cannot survive without it.

So when we go to visit China, when we go to do business with China, should we care or not care?

Today I'm here, I spent time, I spent energy to work on the Laogai Museum. In the last 18 years we collected so many products. So many classified documents. So many testimonies. And so many materials, including prison uniforms that were there.

Even today, if China becomes a democratic country, it's a fundamental human rights issue. We cannot forget. We still have to talk about it.

Just like, in Washington DC there's a Holocaust museum. It was built in 1993. There's no Holocaust today in Germany. Should we forget it? Should we not talk about it?

Wu continued and mentioned the issue of human organ harvesting, as occurs when prisoners are executed -- another ongoing crime against humanity perpetrated by the Chinese Communist Party.

He also expressed "confusion" about U.S. China policy, which was a talking point to highlight hypocrisy and double standards in U.S. China policy. For example, Fidel Castro is not given a 21-gun-salute at the White House -- but Chinese leaders are!

He concluded by saying,

Anyway, I'm happy today to have this museum. And this is a permanent museum. We bought a house. We have to appreciate one important thing: We got money from Yahoo. Yahoo gave the big money. And this museum will stay here, to tell the people the truth. Thank you. [applause]

- In Washington DC, the Laogai Museum is at 1109 M Street, NW -

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