Unknown numbers of people have been held as slave laborers in China’s “Laogai” (labor reform camps). Created by the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong, the Laogoi system was intended to “reeducate criminals” and has long used prisoners as a source of cheap labor. Labor and pro-democracy activists have been targeted for Laogai imprisonment: Fu Shengqi was held repeatedly between 1981 and 1995 on charges of counter-revolutionary propaganda, and was granted political asylum in the US in 1996.
From January 1983, I was a prisoner at the Shanghai Municipal Prison because of my political statements. The government had devised a system of work points to control the prisoners. Prisoners were forced to labor. Work points were deducted for failure to fulfill quotas. Once or twice a week, a prisoner could watch TV. Once a month they could watch a movie, buy foodstuffs, or meet with their family. These benefits were deprived for failure to fulfill quotas or for bad performance in reform. Hence, many prisoners were forced to labor overtime to maintain the work points. Those who were slower could have only three or four hours of sleep a day. I witnessed how the prison established a radio assembly shop. As I learned from the other prisoners and policemen, the prison also ran a regular print shop and other shops.
From July 1993 to April 1994, I was incarcerated at the 2nd Company, 3rd Battalion, Shanghai Re-education-Through-Labor Farm located at Dafeng County, Jiangsu Province. Again, my political activities were my crime. In cooperation with Shanghai No. 18 Knitting Mill, the battalion made interlock jerseys. Re-education-through-labor or Laojiao inmates were forced to labor and reform their thinking. In the busiest time, they had to labor nearly 20 hours a day. Inmates, while working at sewing machines, often fell asleep. In slack season, several hours a day inmates sat on benches studying, writing a report of what they learned from the studies. The 1st Company, 3rd Battalion, established a shop for making the teaching slides.
In April 1994, I was transferred to the 5th Battalion. In 1994 and in 1995, I witnessed how from June to October the battalion’s 2nd Company assembled multi-colored Christmas lights for export for Haiman Lamps Factory and a lamps factory of the Jiangsu Province. Each box consisted of 36, 50, 100 or 200 lights on a string. The lights I have at hand are similar with those processed at the 2nd Company. The task was hard. Every inmate had to labor overtime, many laboring until one or two at night. Those who failed to fulfill quotas were punished. Inmates at the woolen sweater mill also often labored overtime. Inmates in farming had to labor overtime even more. For instance, inmates who transplanted rice seedlings often labored from seven in the morning until eight at night.
On Laojiao farms, inmates were often beaten and cursed. The government cadres cuffed and kicked them at will. Those Laojiao inmates trusted to supervise other inmates beat and cursed them even more. I was also beaten by them. In China, reform-through-labor or Laogai and Laojiao facilities are not common prisons, but are the Communist party’s tool for consolidating its one-party rule. Not only do the facilities force prisoners to labor for profit, they also force inmates to accept brainwashing. The thought reform made them surrender to the Communist party.
Narrative as told to the US House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights of the Committee on International Relations, May 22, 1997, in Washington DC, USA.