Guo Jiang spent 20 years in slave labor within the Chinese prison system. Officially abolished on 28th December 2013, Reeducation Through Labour Camps subjected dissidents to forced labour, torture and terrible living conditions. Some academics suggest that the replacement system, Custody and Education camps, are largely the same as these. Religious and political activists held in legal education facilities previously reported forced labor occurred in pretrial detention and outside of penal sentences.
I had lived for 30 years in mainland China. For 23 of those 30 years I was persecuted by the Chinese communist authorities, and 20 years were spent in slave labor in the prison system.
My parents and their six children were born in Indonesia. I was born in 1928 in Medan City, Sumatra. While at a Chinese-language school, influenced by a leftist-inclined teacher, I started reading Mao Zedong's books. While in Singapore, I joined the New Democratic Youth League, a youth organization of the Malayan Communist Party. As head of leftist students, I was dubbed as the “Mao Zedong of Medan.”
In early 1949, aged 21, I went to Hong Kong. In May of that year, recommended by the Chinese communist authorities, together with a group of South-East Asia leftist Chinese students, I arrived in Peking (Beijing since mid-1960s), where the department of united front, Chinese communist party's central committee, established a special “Overseas Chinese Youths Training Course,” its purpose being to train us into cadres responsible for exporting revolution in the future.
In 1952, shortly before I graduated from high school, I was admitted by the department of architecture, Tsinhua University. During the “movement to wipe out counterrevolutionaries” of 1955-56, I became a target. Twice, I was denounced and struggled against in my class and in the department. I was accused of “listening in to an enemy broadcasting station, the Voice of America,” of “blemishes in my past,” and so on, and so on.
In 1957, another political movement started, it was the “rectification movement.” We were encouraged to “voice our opinions to the Party.” Many times, at the “Free Tribune,” I condemned the communist party's despotic rule. For that I was labelled as a “rightist student.” In midnight, March 14, 1959, the communist party escorted me to reeducation through labor. Since then, for 20 long years, I was tormented in the mincing machine of the communist dictatorship.
The very first day I was escorted by policemen to Peking reeducation-through-labor detention facility, I started laboring—combing hemp, making cotton shoe soles. Comparatively, that was light labor. But the regimen was tight. We had to labor non-stop. Talking was prohibited. Those who violated the discipline were criticized and struggled against in the evenings. What we ate was cattle fodder. We slept like cram-packed sardines. It was the first time that I experienced communistic slavery.
Later, I was escorted to Qinghe Farm in Hebei Province. When we exited the train at Chadian Railroad Station, the farm's political commissar gave us an admonitory speech. He said that we were welcome to labor and to reform our thought. Actually, what was welcoming us were squad automatic weapons mounted on top of the station, their muzzles aimed at us. Earthwork and diversion canal construction were the heaviest labor on the farm. One of the guys fell sick. I saw he was at his last gasp, but the commander said he was pretending to be sick and ordered two fellow inmates to prop him up, forcing him to go on with earthwork. The second day that guy never woke up. We labored from the moment the moon went down to the moment the moon came up. During the “three years of natural disasters” we were only fed cakes and porridge cooked from barnyard millet. The amount was pitiable. Many inmates simply died one after another—from hunger and exhaustion.
There was no time limit to reeducation through labor, which meant it was tantamount to a life sentence.
On July 6, 1960, at midnight, risking my life, I successfully made my way through an electrified wire netting. I thought I had made a successful escape from hell. I decided to flee to Burma. I slept more than 20 days in the wildness. But, I was apprehended by the police and thrown into Peking's Caoluanzi detention facility, which doubled as prison. I was totally cut off from the outside world. They starved me, trying to extort confession from me. I and other inmates had to sit motionless in the same position, had to study prison regulations and discipline night and day. I was found to be one who did not confess crimes and did not plead guilty. I was handcuffed at the back and leg ironed, was denounced and struggled against, was incarcerated in solitary confinement. I was handed a copy of my verdict: life imprisonment as a counterrevolutionary.
When No. 1 Detention Facility was fully packed, in a ward about 15 sq. m., 42 inmates were incarcerated. The inmates had to sleep on their side, every one's nose was pressed between two fellow inmates' stinking feet. In spite of heavy labor in daytime, we were fed only corn buns and vegetable soup (you had to find traces of edible oil under a microscope!). When the situation was worst, instead of corn buns, we were given only two brim-full bowls of steamed sweet potato. One guy couldn't bear it and tried to kill himself through hunger strike. A few days later the commander ordered other inmates to tube down rice soup through his nostrils. As a matter of fact inmates had to control each other, and it was virtually impossible to kill yourself in a ward.
One year later I appealed to the supreme court, and my appeal was turned down. The nature of my “crime” remained counterrevolutionary, but my term was commuted to five years.
From No. 1 Detention Facility I was sent to Liangxiang Machinery Factory and Yanqing Brickyard. Both were labor-reform units under the public security bureau. About 300 male and female mentally-disabled inmates were incarcerated in Yanqing Prison, alias Yanqing Brickyard. While at Yanqing Prison, my term expired. I was forced to take a job within the same prison. Thus, my second term of labor reform began, and I became a forced-job-placement employee.
In 1966 I escaped to Dandong, successfully crossed the Yalu River, entered North Korea. I had planned to go to the free world via North Korea. But, the North Korean government expatriated me to China. In Liangxiang, in a solitary confinement cell, I was incarcerated four months, given only a 6.6 oz corn bun and a small piece of pickle, which was standard solitary confinement ration, enough only for the inmates to keep breathing. I was so hungry that I had to lie down all the time, although I could not fall asleep. So, I was tormented both physically and mentally. Then, I was “formally arrested,” escorted to No. 1 Detention Facility, where I was handcuffed at the back as a form of punishment. Later on, I was escorted to No. 1 Prison, which was only one wall apart. Attached to the prison was a factory for making nylon socks—Gold Horse brand for exportation, Twin Deer and Twin Ram brands for domestic consumption. Only many years later when I reached Hong Kong did I know that the Chinese communist authorities consistently denied exportation of labor-reform products.
At No. 1 Prison, I was I was handcuffed at the back, even hung up, only because I asked a fellow prisoner what certain words were in Japanese, and wrote those words down on a piece of toilet paper in order to memorize them. The handcuffs' teeth bit into my wrists, and the pain was excruciating.
During the Cultural Revolution, only Mao Zedong's works could be read. It was forbidden even to use a dictionary.
In March 1969, when China and the Soviet Union were at war in the Zhengbao Island, the authorities secretly transferred all prisoners from Beijing to detention facilities in Hebei Province's counties and cities. The detention facilities doubled as prisons. I was transferred to Raoyang County, where food was worst. Only once a year, during the Spring Festival, could we prisoners eat half a bowl of pork. Because of serious lack of protein, all inmates suffered from edema. In fall, when it turned chilly, insects crept into wards. Some inmates caught and ate them. A student by the name of Zou ate poisonous insects and died.
A local old peasant was sentenced to five-year imprisonment only because he wrote five words with a tree branch on the ground. Asked which words he wrote, he dared not say, for fear he might commit a fresh crime and his sentence could thus be aggravated. Actually, everybody knew what the five words were: Down With The Communist Party. It was then the period of “dealing blows at counterrevolutionary activities and struggling against three evils. The authorities needed to execute a group of prisoners. I, Zhang Lang-Lang and Zhou Qi-Yue were on the list to be executed. Asked whether I was “overseas Chinese,” I said yes. And Zhang and Zhou were sons of high-ranking officials. Only thus did the three of us escape being executed. But others, like Song Hui-Min, So Jia-Lin, Wang Tao, as well as others I did not know by names—they were all executed. Why then, did the communist authorities want to execute me in spite of the fact that I dared not cross the Amur River, knowing it was extremely dangerous to cross over to the Soviet Union? Very simple: they regarded me as “an unrepentant counterrevolutionary with unchanging granite brains,” because I never pleaded guilty, and they failed to find the words “I plead guilty” in my files. The authorities hate those prisoners who do not plead guilty, because that means the authorities wrongly convict good people. How can the great, glorious and correct communist party wrongly convict people?!
Ten years after my term expired, I was still not allowed to return to normal life. I was escorted to Hulu County Cement Plant (also a labor-reform facility), and finally to Tangjiazhuang Labor-Reform Farm for a “second term of labor reform.” Many prisoners who could endure all kinds of hardships during their terms, putting their hopes on a normal, post-labor-reform life, finally killed themselves in their “second terms,” being utterly despaired.
From March 14, 1959, when I was escorted from Tsinhua University to #583 Reeducation-Through-Labor Farm, to March 13, 1979, when I arrived in Hong Kong, I suffered 20 long years (15 years as a convicted labor-reform prisoner) in 17 different detention facilities, prisons and labor-reform detachments—the mincing machine of the dictatorship of the proletariat (rather: the communist party). The 20 years of my youth were squandered in forced labor, in creating wealth for the Chinese communist party, or, in their words, in “transforming the Great Northern Wilderness into a bread basket.”
Before I left the mainland, Beijing's Qinghua University rehabilitated me as a “rightist element,” gave me 1,000 RMB in the form of living subsidies. The court issued me a copy of “retrial sentence,” declaring me innocent. All this was supposed to be “the party's loving care for me.” And really, some of my friends did ask me to express my gratitude to the communist party. But, I could only express my gratitude to certain individuals. This has nothing to do with individual. Involved here is the evil communist totalitarian regime. Without exterminating this system thousands upon thousands of new wrong cases will be created.
Narrative as told to the Laogai Research Foundation, September 1999, Washington DC.