China's New Human Rights White Paper - A Study In Misdirection and Falsehood

On June 8th the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) published a white paper analyzing China’s progress on human rights in 2014. The authorship would have made the paper’s reliability inherently dubious, even if the intent had been to genuinely analyze China’s 2014 human rights record. The actual report however, made no such efforts, and instead can only be read as a painfully transparent attempt to use rhetoric to obscure the CCP’s continued blatant violation of the human rights law codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and in its own Constitution. According to an article published in The Telegraph, William Nee, China researcher at Amnesty International in Hong Kong, noted that in many areas, especially those “related to freedom of expression, civil society, and the protection of the rights of ethnic minorities – the white paper seems to have been written in an alternative reality." Nee cited "increasing restriction on the freedom of movement of Uighurs – a largely Muslim ethnic group from the far western region of Xinjiang – and Tibetans,” as examples of the actual reality in which the article takes place.



The first section of the white paper covers economic and social progress, with a heavy emphasis on economic indicators. The implication seems to be that economic and social progress are somehow linked. In actuality they are separate, though sometimes interrelated issues. For proof of this assertion one need only examine China, where tremendous economic progress has far outstripped the meager improvements made on social issues such as equal rights for minorities, protections of basic freedom, and rule of law. An excerpt from the official English translation of the white paper from the section discussing economic and social progress reads as follows:

“[A]mong all the 29…measurable indicators for economic and social development set forth in the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015), 12 had been over-fulfilled, three had been nearly fulfilled and 11 had made smooth progress, accounting for 90 percent of the total.”

Given that this is ostensibly a white paper on human rights progress, one would assume that the vaguely worded “social development” refers to progress in human rights. However, where economic development goes, reforms safeguarding basic human rights need not follow. Thus, the linkage of these two concepts only serves to cloud the issue because it then becomes impossible to know which of the 29 indicators refer to economic development and which to social development. If each indicator jointly refers to social and economic development, it is still invalid, since the rate of progress in these two areas has been very different. If some indicators refer to economic milestones, and other to social milestones, it is likely that the indicators that were over-fulfilled and nearly fulfilled were economic rather than social, or that the baseline for social progress was redefined. However the analysis was done, the most likely conclusion is still that the report has massaged the numbers in a way that allows China to appear in a more favorable light. The so-called progress is overwhelmingly illusory.


The white paper further maintains that “basic cultural rights” have been “better protected.” As evidence of this it states that:

“China has speeded up the building of a public cultural services system that covers the entire society, and enhanced the rule of law in the culture market. At the same time the state has increased its input in cultural programs, carried…and built libraries, art galleries, cultural centers and similar projects that are open to the public for free.”

The mention of so-called rule of law in the culture market appears to be a reference to censorship, which is of course a blatant violation of the basic right to free speech and expression guaranteed in both the UDHR (Article 19) and the Chinese Constitution (Article 35). Indeed, it may be intended as an oblique attempt at a justification for the recent crackdown on free speech and increased censorship of media. They are trying to tout this violation of human rights as progress. By proclaiming with confidence that is has made progress, China hopes to brand itself, at least in the eyes of some, as a country that genuinely wishes to improve its human rights situation and is slowly but surely making progress. However, basic facts fly in the face of this argument.


The white paper then devotes a lengthy paragraph to listing the number and types of films produced per year and per month in great detail. This evidence, including the number of cartoons produced, is supposed to demonstrate that human rights, specifically freedom of speech and expression is alive and well in China. Although certainly an impressive achievement, this has little to do with human rights. Cartoons are nice, but freedom from torture, freedom of speech, and right to due process are much more important issues. While dissidents are still being jailed for criticizing the Communist Party, while Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo continues to carry out his sentence in a labor camp, while the laws set forth in China’s own Constitution are only for show, the CCP deserves no praise for its supposed progress in human rights. Since in reality the great progress that the report claims is largely nonexistent, it must resort to covering seemingly unrelated topics like cartoons to fill up space to compensate for the lack of real gains.

            Section II of the white paper deals with “Rights of the Person” and contains even more egregious lies and emissions than the previous section. According to the report:

“In 2014 China strengthened supervision over foodstuffs, improved laws and regulations on production safety, combated terrorism according to law, attached more importance to protecting the rights of the accused, detainees and criminals, and stepped up drug-control efforts to protect citizens' personal rights.”

Much of the rest of the section is devoted to a detailed discussion of the stricter regulations imposed to ensure food safety. Although food safety is an important issue, the UDHR only mentions food once, and then only in the context of affirming the universal right to have it – i.e. the right to freedom from starvation.


No one could argue that food safety is not important, however it is often a symptom of more fundamental human rights abuses. Many of the issues with food safety in China have stemmed from the rampant corruption among business leaders and high officials, including inspection officials. This corruption in turn spreads from the lack of accountability that these individuals have, given the fact that the people have no recourse for protection since they lack the basic rights of due process, rule of law, and democratic election of leaders. If these rights were in place, leaders would be held more accountable for their actions and would in turn be incentivized to hold wrongdoers in the private sector more accountable. The white paper once again tries to obfuscate and distract from China’s lack of progress towards rectifying its egregious human rights situation by focusing on minutiae instead of on the root cause of many of its problems – a severe lack of fundamental human rights. While this remains the case, all the supervision in the world can at the most only slightly mitigate the effects of corruption.


There follows a very interesting section on combating terrorism. It is important to understand that China used the global war on terror as an excuse to rebrand many political “criminals” as terrorists. For example, they often position their suppression of ethnic minorities, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang, as necessary action against so-called terrorists. The section in question maintains that another area of human rights progress was China’s actions to “combat terrorism in accordance with the law to ensure the safety of life and property of the people.” The section then goes on at great length about the titles of the various anti-terrorism laws enacted, perhaps trying to fill up space with the lengthy names.


The presence of this section once again demonstrates how little real progress China has made towards rectifying its grave human rights abuses. The CCP has such little real progress to show that it is trying to rebrand its human rights abuses as protections of human rights instead. For years the CCP has labeled many of its adversaries, including dissidents, protestors, and those outspoken in favor of ethnic minority rights as “terrorists.” The two examples the white paper gives are of actual, though fairly minor, terrorist incidents, but the bulk of the cases most likely involve protests for minority rights in locations such as Xinjiang and Tibet. The report devotes only a single paragraph to this vaguely worded yet supposedly serious terrorist threat, and then quickly moves on to other topics since it can give no more concrete examples without blatantly revealing the lies and abuses upon which it bases itself.


The white paper also attempts to assert that China has enacted significant protections for the rights of the accused. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Indeed, the paper can only point to very meager changes, despite the rampant issues with China’s justice system.  

 “The rights of the accused, detainees and criminals are protected. In 2014 the Ministry of Public Security formulated the Regulations on Making Audio-Video Recordings by the Public Security Organs When Interrogating Criminal Suspects and the Supreme People's Procuratorate amended the Provisions on Making Synchronous Audio-Video Recordings Throughout the Entire Process of Interrogation of Duty-Related Criminal Suspects, making sure audio-video recording is used in the entire process of interrogating criminal suspects, and giving detailed provisions on the principle, method and procedure of synchronous audio-video recordings, and management and use of such audio-video recordings.”

Wading through this morass of big words and long titles reveals little substantive change. These new laws are smalltime reform when it comes to China’s broken legal system where torture, lack of legitimate legal proceedings or due process, and detainment or imprisonment without trial is commonplace.


As the report progresses, its assertions become increasingly divergent from reality. For example, the white paper rather brazenly proclaims:

“In 2014 China officially designated December 4th as the national Constitution Day through legislation with a view to advancing the rule of law, enforcing the implementation of the Constitution, and promoting citizens' democratic rights to civic participation, democratic legislation, consultative democracy, community-level democracy, citizen supervision and freedom of speech.”

Despite what is written here, the CCP has failed to achieve any of these professed goals. They do not obey many of the provisions of their own Constitution and thus do not have rule of law. They only selectively enforce the implementation of the Constitution in situations where it enhances their own power, utterly ignoring the provisions that supposedly safeguard human rights. They have not implemented a genuine form of democracy that actually gives citizens substantial democratic rights. It is laughable to even consider the idea that China has improved or implemented freedom of speech at a time when the CCP is in the midst of the worst crackdown on free expression in over a decade.


Another section cites the fact that the “Standing Committee of the NPC deliberated 20 draft laws, revised 10 laws, enacted two laws, and provided eight legal interpretations,” as evidence of great progress. This has nothing to do with whether or not China is violating human rights. Lots of governments have both laws and human rights abuses. Legally enshrining a human rights violation does not make it any more acceptable or legitimate. However, dictatorships frequently enact legal norms enshrining their abuses, thus allowing them to carry out oppressive policies while claiming to uphold justice. Ultimately, the white paper is part of this process, an attempt to enshrine China’s abuses as actions taken to protect rather than restrict human rights. By publishing it the CCP hopes to conceal its systematic oppression of the Chinese populace under a layer of paperwork and rhetoric. However, the facts speak for themselves and mere printed words cannot alter reality.




Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet or other controlling body. It can be done by governments and private organizations or by individuals who engage in self-censorship.
A counter-revolutionary is anyone who opposes a revolution, particularly those who act after a revolution to try to overturn or reverse it, in full or in part. The adjective, "counter-revolutionary", pertains to movements that would restore the state of affairs, or the principles, that prevailed...
In addition to China’s vast system of government sanctioned jails and reform-through-labor camps, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also imprisons large numbers of people without trial in secret jails. These secretive detention facilities usually fall into two categories - black jails and the Ankang . The Ankang are a network of high security mental institutions where sane individuals are often incarcerated on the basis of phony diagnoses; black jails are secret prison facilities housed in regular buildings such as hotels or nursing homes.
Laogai Research Foundation
The Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) was established in 1992 by Laogai survivor, Harry Wu, to gather information on and raise public awareness of the Laogai—China's extensive system of forced-labor prison camps. LRF also works to document and publicize other systemic human rights violations in China, including executions and the harvesting of organs from executed prisoners, the coercive enforcement of China's "one-child" population control policy, and Internet censorship and surveillance. LRF serves as an authoritative source for journalists, researchers, politicians, and other human rights organizations on human rights in China generally and the Laogai and forced labor in China specifically.
Harry Wu, Founder
Laogai Museum Front Desk

Harry Wu knows firsthand the atrocious conditions of the Laogai. In 1960, Wu was imprisoned at the age of 23 for criticizing the Communist Party, and subsequently spent 19 years toiling in the factories, mines, and fields of the Laogai.

He was released in 1979 and came to the US in 1985 with just $40 in his pocket. Since then, he has traveled back to China multiple times to further invesitgate Laogai camps and continue his call for human rights in China.

Wu founded the Laogai Research Foundation in 1992 to gather information on and raise public awareness of the Chinese Laogai.

LRF's mission is to document and expose the Laogai, China's vast and brutal system of forced labor prison camps, and to promote education, advocacy, and dialogue about China's human rights issues.
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Laogai Museum Front Desk

The Laogai Museum is the first museum in the U.S. to directly address human rights in China. It is the hope of the Laogai Research Foundation that the Laogai Museum will preserve the memory of the Laogai's countless victims and serve to educate the public about the atrocities committed by China's Communist regime. First founded in 2008 with the support of the Yahoo! Human rights Fund, the museum reopened in its present location in 2011, becoming a place for human rights victims and advocates to reach out to a larger audience.

The Laogai Research Foundation
1734 20th Street, Northwest
Washington, DC 20009

We are two blocks north of Dupont Circle Metro's North Exit on the Red Line (corner of 20th and S Streets).

Free 2-hour and metered street parking is available throughout the neighborhood.

Hours of Operation

Monday – Friday 10:00 AM – 06:00 PM
Saturday 10:00 AM – 05:00 PM

(202) 730-9308


The Laogai Archives are in the offices of the Laogai Research Foundation in Washington, DC.

Due to the suppression of free speech within China, much of the material housed within the Laogai Archives is not available to researchers in mainland China. Thus, the Laogai Archives are in a unique position to support academics, journalists, students, and activists in freely conducting research on human rights in China.

  1. What is the Laogai?
    The Laogai is the People’s Republic of China’s prison system. The name of the system is derived from the Chinese expression, laodong gaizao (勞動改造) meaning “reform through labor”. Generally referred to as labor reform camps (勞改隊), the prison system’s structure was developed by the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong. Modeled on the Soviet Gulag, the prison forces prisoners to do hard labor and gives them “political reeducation” to reform their thoughts and behaviors. The PRC also uses the Laogai as a source of free labor for various work, from infrastructure construction and mining, to farming and manufacturing. Through a variety of prison enterprises, the Chinese government earns income off the backs of Laogai prisoners.
    The Chinese definition of the Laogai entails six components.
      “Reform through labor camps or brigades” house officially convicted and sentenced criminals.

      In 1994, the Chinese government stopped using the word of “laogai,” instead it restored the traditional name of jianyu (prison). But the nature of the laogai system as a tool of rerpression remains the same.

      “Reeducation through labor facilities” house prisoners under “administrative discipline,” meaning that they may be sentenced to up to three years of forced labor without ever having been charged or tried.

      Detention centers house prisoners who are awaiting trial or have gone through a trial but the sentenced prison term is less than one year. They too can be forced to labor.

      Juvenile offender facilities house adolescent convicts or reeducation through labor detainees. In 1983, a regulation was issued that decreased the age from 16 to 14 years old at which children can be sent to reeducation through labor camps.

      These facilities were for prisoners who had served out their sentences but were deemed “not completely reformed.” Such prisoners had to stay in the same prison facility, facing the same conditions, and performing the same work just as when they were formal prisoners. The CCP ceased the forced job placement system in the early 1980s.
  2. How is the Laogai different from other prison systems?

    Because of international attention to human rights violations in the Laogai in the early 1990s, the Chinese Communist Party has attempted to create the impression that the Laogai is only a prison system for detaining, punishing, and reforming criminals. It was for this reason that in 1994, the CCP ordered that Laogai, meaning “reform through labor,” no longer be used in government documents. Instead, the system’s institutions were to be called jianyu, “prison.” However, contrary to CCP propaganda, the Laogai is different from prison systems in other countries. Laogai inmates are forced to labor and forced to do brain wash. What is more, they are unprotected by law, including laws against torture and abuse, as can be seen in the following section “Difference in Conditions.” The Laogai system also strengthens the CCP’S control by suppressing dissent among the Chinese people. The Laogai is an integral part of China’s economy, providing an abundance of free labor for manufacturing goods sold in both domestic and international markets.
    The conditions that persist in the Laogai constitute an additional distinction between it and other prison systems, with the Laogai perpetuating many of China’s most serious human rights abuses.

  3. Who has suffered in the Laogai?
  4. What is the political function of the Laogai system?
    Besides punishing criminals, the Laogai serves as a tool of political repression. China sentences outspoken critics of CCP policy to imprisonment in the Laogai to quell dissent. Suspects punishable by means of laogai or prison terms include the previous “anti-revolutionaries” and present-day “endangering state security” according to the Criminal Law. Suspects punishable by means of Re-education Through Labor according to the CCP’S “Measures for Reeducation through Labor (1957)” include, “counterrevolutionary and anti-socialist reactionaries, whose crimes are minor and not subject to criminal prosecution, and who have been dismissed by government offices, organizations, and enterprises, educational institutions or other units and have no way to make a living.”
    Fear and submission to CCP rule are also perpetuated by recurring “strike hard” campaigns. During these campaigns Chinese authorities implement various penalties, public trials, and previously, public executions, to intimidate its citizens and clamp down on political “crimes”. Trials and sentencing occur rapidly, and those accused of a crime are deemed guilty even before trial. It is under these circumstances that the CCP has continually silenced dissidents.
  5. What is the economic significance of the Laogai?
    Besides being important to China’s communist regime as a tool of repression, the Laogai is also an integral part of China’s economy. Chinese authorities use the millions locked in the Laogai as free labor. Totaling an estimated three to five million, they make up the world’s largest forced labor population. The CCP seeks to use the Laogai for profit.
    Forced labor is seen as another input for economic output. The deliberate application of forced labor by the Chinese government is codified in the Ministry of Justice Criminal Reform Handbook: “Laogai facilities…organize criminals in labor and production, thus creating wealth for society. Our Laogai units are both facilities of dictatorship and special enterprise.” The CCP hopes that by being forced to labor in the Laogai, prisoners will be molded into “new socialist persons.”
  6. Are Laogai goods exported?
    While much of what is produced in the Laogai is consumed domestically, Laogai-made goods also filter into foreign markets by way of third-party trading companies. Recently, rather than attempting to do business directly with foreign companies, Laogai prisons will find a government-owned trading company to act as a middleman and conceal the forced-labor origins of products from importers. Many Laogai prisons also have a second enterprise name; for example, Jinzhou Prison, where Nobel Laureate and democracy activist Liu Xiaobo is believed to be held, also operates under the name “Jinzhou Xinsheng Switch, Co.”, which it uses to market its products to foreign companies over the internet. LRF has evidence that shows Laogai goods repeatedly find their way onto American shelves, despite laws forbidding their importation. Notwithstanding the Chinese government’s claims to the contrary, the CCP encourages exporting Laogai goods.
  7. What is existing U.S. law regarding the importation of Laogai goods?
    Importing forced-labor goods to the U.S. is illegal according to section 1307 of the Tariff Act of 1930. In 1992, the need to confront China about this problem led to the signing of the “Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China on Prohibiting Import and Export Trade in Prison Labor Products.” However, China still exports prison labor goods to the U.S. To promote compliance with MOU’s terms, in 1994, the U.S. and China negotiated another agreement: the “Statement of Cooperation on the 1992 MOU between the U.S. and the PRC on Prohibiting Import and Export Trade in Prison Labor Products” (SOC). The SOC defines a mechanism to ensure that China promptly cooperates with U.S. Customs on forced labor inquiries. However, China has done nothing to ensure compliance, and the U.S. never committed resources to enforce the agreement. According to the 1997 “State Department Country Reports on Human Rights,” U.S. Customs unsuccessfully pursued eight standing visitation requests, seven of which dated back to 1995. In all cases, visitation requests were refused or ignored, and allegations were denied without explanation. Cooperation was judged as “inadequate.” In State Department reports from 1999, authorities admit that the MOU has been “nearly impossible” to enforce because China has been “uncooperative.” Throughout the 1990s, only around 20 cases of forced-labor product importation were pursued under the U.S. customs ban. Since 2000, the U.S. government has not attempted to restrict the flow of Laogai goods into the country.
  8. How can I avoid buying products made in the laogai?
    Identifying goods that are made entirely or in part in the Laogai is increasingly difficult. Sub-contracting and complicated global supply chains make discerning the origins of a product daunting. For example, a U.S. clothing maker may contact a Chinese import-export company to find a Chinese plant to cheaply make its clothing. That company may then contract the account to a legitimate Chinese textile firm, which will further sub-contract a portion of the production process to a Laogai camp, where prisoners must fill quotas to earn their food rations, rather than money. Laogai prisoners, toiling in horrible conditions, may also have grown the cotton the clothes are made from. If a product is “made in China” then it is possible it could have been produced in a Laogai.
  9. Should consumers boycott goods made in China?
  10. Are organs harvested from executed prisoners in the Laogai?
  11. What is the "One Child Policy"?
  12. Why do so few know about the Laogai?
  13. What does international law say about the Laogai?
  14. Who is Harry Wu?
  15. What is the Laogai Research Foundation?