A Product of the Revolution: Qincheng Prison and its Prisoners

The Laogai Research Foundation is currently editing and hoping to publish a manuscript in the coming months that highlights China's most infamous prison, Qincheng Prison. The working title of the manuscript is A Product of the Revolution: Qincheng Prison and its Prisoners. The following is a sample of the manuscript, written by the manuscript's editor.

Editor's Note

At its core, A Product of the Revolution is a testimony to the enduring and collective spirit of the Chinese political dissident. In compiling and publishing the stories of those who have been imprisoned at Qincheng, Harry Wu has eternalized their memory and given meaning to their misery.

For the historian, A Product of the Revolution offers an institutional history with national dimensions. The story of Qincheng Prison is exceptional; it is unlike any other Chinese prison. Despite its exceptionality, though, Qincheng has uniquely reflected China’s tenuous political and social history. Take, for example, Qincheng’s social climate during the Cultural Revolution. Prisoners of different classes were forced to struggle against one another in fulfillment of their duty to the Party and the nation. In this case, the prison, a state institution that is often literally sheltered from the political atmosphere in which it exists, functioned as a testament to the omnipresence of the Cultural Revolution’s zealousness.

Perhaps more than anything, however, Qincheng’s history highlights the fluidity of Chinese power since the establishment of the PRC. Nowhere else in the world, I am certain, have so many formerly powerful people lived in a state of such powerlessness. Take, for example, the ironic story of Luo Ruiqing. A rising star within the Party, as Public Security Minister during the 1950s Luo oversaw the construction of Qincheng. By 1966, however, Luo was incarcerated in the very prison he oversaw the construction of.

Scholars of contemporary China will find the following pages intellectually exciting as well. The latter chapters of A Product of the Revolution focus exclusively on contemporary Qincheng and thus contemporary China. Recently, Qincheng has projected a veneer of modernity; it tortures less and trials more. Still, however, its prisoners are predominately of the political variety. In this sense, Qincheng still reinforces Chinese power fluidity.

Over the last few decades China has attempted to project political stability to the international community. The continued existence of Qincheng, however, indicates that stability is a farce. Qincheng exists because paranoia and political jockeying is rampant. For these reasons, in the Xi Jinping era, Chinese dissidents have reason to be hopeful. Perhaps someday soon China will realize political freedom. Until then, Qincheng’s continued existence will serve as an indicator of nationwide repression and relative fragility within the Party.

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Laogai , the abbreviation for Láodòng Gǎizào (勞動改造/劳动改造), which means "reform through labor," is a slogan of the Chinese criminal justice system and has been used to refer to the use of prison labor and prison farms in the People's Republic of China (PRC). It is estimated that in the last fifty...