Communism in China brought mixed reactions for a young Harry Wu.
When he visited poorer regions of the country, Wu could see some benefits for the poor. But Wu's father was a banker, among the capitalist class who were being persecuted in Mao's China. He considered leaving — maybe going to the then-British controlled Hong Kong — but he decided to stay in China and study.
His family's past wealth caused him harassment until, in 1960, he was shipped off to a labor camp. And in labor camps he'd stay for the next 19 years.
He'd been labeled a "counter-revolutionary rightist," someone at odds to Mao Zedong's Communist revolution in China.
"We didn't have enough food," Wu said in an interview with WFPL. "The police always said, 'Good labor, good food. Less labor, less food.
"If you refused to labor, they put you in solitary confinement. So nobody is thinking about fighting against Communism or trying for revenge, whatever. Everybody is looking for food — trying to find frogs, trying to find snakes, trying to find rats. It's just searching for food for us, to survive."
Torture was common, he added.
Wu will speak at 7 tonight in the Brown & Williamson Room at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. The talk is open to the public and free, but attendees are asked to register.
After Mao died in 1976, Wu was released and a few years later came to the United States. He founded the Laogai Research Foundation, which is dedicated to raising awareness of China's forced-labor camps.
He's also written several book, including Troublemaker: One Man’s Crusade against China’s Cruelty and Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China’s Gulag.
Wu's talk on Wednesday, sponsored by the University of Louisville's Center for Asian Democracy, is titled, “In the Mouth of the Dragon: U.S. and China Relations in the 21st Century."
Wu said his imprisonment also stemmed from his being a Roman Catholic. China still sternly represses its people's religious practices, speech and ability to have more than one child, Wu said. And he takes issues that the United States' once-firm stance against such repression has eased.
"Today, they say, 'Well, we want engaged economy — investment, technology — with the Chinese Communist Party," Wu told WFPL. "Today, even some company like a Cisco, like a Microsoft, like a Yahoo, working together with Chinese security. So what is this?
"They say, 'Well, we're exporting our capitalism to China."
Wu argues that this sort of engagement has helped enrich party members, and it also means that the political landscape in China will not change.
An uprising of the Chinese people may be all that can create change, he said.
Young people — who don't remember the Chinese revolution — are looking for greater freedoms, he adds.
Until then, Americans should be more aware of conditions in China, Wu argues.
That would require the U.S. government talking more about what conditions are truly like for people living in China, he said.
"Just tell the truth. America is a wonderful nation. They very much care about nations — talking about human rights," he said of the American people.
"Unfortunately, they don't have the information."