Repeal of “Reeducation through Labor” is Merely a “Reform” Tactic of the Chinese Communist Party
“Laojiao”—“reeducation through labor”—is a repressive regime of the Chinese Communist Party and an integral part of the laogai system.
In 1956, the Chinese Communist Party initiated the “Movement to Cleanse Counter-Revolutionary Elements” to further suppress counter-revolutionaries. The primary targets of this purge were the work personnel left over from the Nationalist government, in spite of the fact that the majority of the employees and supporters of the former government, particularly those of relative importance, had already been “suppressed” through the “Movement to Suppress the Counter-Revolution” in 1951. Still, in 1956, “a further cleansing” was carried out. Many of those who had been subjected to “cleansing” had not engaged in counter-revolutionary activities or thought other than holding a job at the former government “prior to the liberation.”
In 1956, late in the “Movement to Cleanse Counter-revolutionary Elements,”about 200,000 people who had no crimes to confess to the Chinese Communist Party, meaning they were not able to provide the Party with an excuse for further repression, were granted “leniency”and were no longer “called into account.” These people, however, were unable to return to their original jobs. Thus, “reeducation through labor” was created. They were paid petty wages, but were imprisoned in laogai camps. It is noteworthy that the Party’s official “Rules for the Reeducation Through Labor” were not published until October 1957.
The second group of people subject to “laojiao,”numbering several tens of thousands, was comprised of“extreme rightists” from the 1957 Anti-Rightist Movement. Immediately following the incarceration of these“extreme rightists,”the third group, numbering several million, was made up of peasants who moved from the countryside to the cities from 1959 to 1961. Because of hunger and a lack of food to eat, they had to flee to the cities for survival. The size of this group was increased by an influx of urban criminals who committed crimes as a result of hunger driving them to seek all kinds of food. This high tide of “laojiao” lasted until the “Cultural Revolution” in 1966.
Led by Mao Zedong, the primary purpose of“the Cultural Revolution”was to “take over power,” dismantle the majority of “dictatorial institutions,” and persecute leading communists, such as Liu Shaoqi, Lin Biao, Chen Yi, and Luo Ruiqing. “Laojiao” had virtually come to a standstill until 1979, when Deng Xiaoping once again assumed power and re-introduced the policy of “laojiao.” More than three decades later, the “laojiao” system has grown to consist of more than 300 camps and a population size of 200,000-300,000. But in recent years, many members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and representatives of People’s Congress proposed to “abolish” the laogai system on the grounds that this practice is not in line with the constitution of Communist China, and that the government may not deprive arbitrarily a person’s freedom for as long as three years. However, the communist government is reluctant to dispense with a disciplinary method to deal with minor criminals that has proved so effective. Therefore, the Chinese Communist Party has been putting off any action, only moving in the direction of reform this past year.
In April 1960, I was sent to “laojiao.” Back then there was no specific term for a “laojiao” sentence. Rather, as everyone was sentenced to “indefinite laojiao,” it is more appropriate to refer to such camps as“permanent laojiao.”In May 1961, new regulations came into force with a fixed term for everyone and a maximum term of three years. Disorder subsequently ensued within the “laojiao camps”while everyone was accorded a fixed term. I was given a three-year term, but more than one year that I had already served was not counted. As such, the three-year term started from May 1961. This was not bad for me because there was now a “beginning” and I would be “free” after the three-year ordeal. However, when my term expired in May 1964, my fellow inmates and I were notified that we must “wait for procedures, as there is no instruction from above.” This delay lasted for more than five years until “clearance of laojiao” was announced in December 1969. Thereafter, along with other inmates, I was escorted to “the No. 4 Independent Sub-branch for Reform through Labor in Shanxi Province” (that is, the state-owned Wangzhuang Coal Mine) for forced job placement. Nine years passed before I was officially proclaimed “released.”I was only able to leave the laogai camp because another policy had been implemented to deal with “rightists.”Many others were still left in the Laojiao camps for “forced job placement.”
In 1979, Deng Xiaoping announced the re-introduction of the “laojiao policy.” Nowadays, laojiao victims are mainly “petitioners.” If someone becomes a petitioner, the public security organs in the province (city) where that person resides will be held “accountable.” The so-called “accountability” is to “dissuade” the petitioner from going to Beijing. In addition to trying to block these people at the main transportation hubs within that particular province (city), the public security organs at each province (city) dispatch public security personnel to Beijing for the special purpose of seeking out petitioners. If “persuasion” does not work, these people will simply be sent to “laojiao.” This is the Chinese communist government’s official policy. Without “laojiao,” how would these people be dealt with? As such people are far too numerous, it is impossible to hand out a sentence to them. Moreover, their so-called crimes are not justiciable and there are not enough judges to deal with these cases.“Laojiao”is viewed as the solution to these problems.
In any event, the “laojiao” system that the Chinese Communist Party claimed to root out is just a minor component of the communist “laogai regime.” The eradication of the “laojiao” system will not lead to any change in the entire “laogai regime.” Although the Chinese Communist Party announced in 1994 that the term “laogai” would no longer be used, the basic principles of “forced labor” and “thought reform”remained in place. Ending the use of the term “laogai” merely meant abolishing the “laogai camps” of each province (city) and renaming them“prisons.” The “Administration Bureau for Reform Through Labor” (abbreviated as “Laogai Bureau”) under the department of justice of each province (city) was renamed as the “Administration Bureau for the Prison Work” (abbreviated as “prison administration bureau”). The Chinese Communist Party claimed that the purpose for doing so was to help meet the demands of the“international human rights struggle.”
In 1993, I proposed that the term “laogai” under the Chinese communist system should be accorded the same treatment as the Soviet “Gulag.” “Laogai” should be included in the dictionary as a specialized term and become a commonplace word known to the average person. The Soviet term “Gulag” was coined by Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn. Each letter in the word “Gulag” is the acronym for Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps and Colonies (Russian: Гла́вное управле́ние исправи́тельно-трудовы́х лагере́й и коло́ний, tr. Glavnoye upravleniye ispravityelno-trudovykh lagerey i koloniy) of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs. Today, it is widely known that “Gulag” refers to the Soviet labor camps, synonymous with Stalinist tyranny. Use of the word“laogai” has flourished in Mainland China for 4-5 decades. People often say that “my father spent twenty years in laogai” or that “his brother died in laogai.” They rarely use terms like “prison” or “detention house.” “Laogai” is just a common noun denoting the methods of rule of the Chinese Communist Party and Mao Zedong. “Laogai” stands for the system of labor camps consisting of a wide range of institutions, such as labor teams, prisons, detention houses, juvenile education houses and houses for reeducation through labor.
It is impossible for “laogai” to be eliminated in Mainland Communist China. It has to exist and die with the communist regime. The purpose of “laogai” is to suppress all the persons and ideas that are against the communist government. The Chinese Communist Party, however, did suddenly stop using the term “laogai,” instead replacing it with the word“prison.” Nevertheless, the purpose of the Chinese communist prisons is clear-cut: to maintain the repressive system of the “people’s democratic dictatorship.” Nowadays, Chinese “prisons” not only have the Nobel peace laureate Dr. Liu Xiaobo, who was convicted of the crime of “inciting to subvert the regime,” but also such political prisoners as Shi Tao, who was also convicted of the crime of “inciting to subvert the regime.” Every inmate, including criminals such as thieves and hooligans, is subject to “forced labor” and “thought reform,” which means that they must embrace the Communist Party (so-called “patriotism”) and must not convert to any religion at their own will. This is where the Chinese communist prison system (i.e. the laogai system) differs fundamentally from prison systems in every other country. In the US, France, or India, although criminals must serve prison terms, the government may not force them to perform labor or subject them to “thought reform” to turn them into“the new man of socialism.” Additionally, in these countries, regardless of the outcome of presidential elections, political changes do not drastically impact the conditions of prisons or the treatment of prisoners. The situation in China is entirely different.
In recent years, the situation in China has changed dramatically. As I recall, in the 1950s, the materials of the Chinese Communist Party claimed that most of the prisoners were “anti-revolutionaries,” accounting for 80% of the prison population. At that time, the two classes of landlords and capitalists and the former employees of the Nationalist government were the prime targets. However trivial the misconduct--for example, a hungry child of a landlord stealing the grain of the people’s commune for food--such offenses would be viewed as a serious political crime of “trying to launch a vengeful counterattack and destroying the people’s commune.” The children of capitalists were often labeled with the crime of “being anti-revolutionary due to the serious degeneration of bourgeois thought.” Now, probably 90% of these two classes of people have been “wiped out,” meaning they no longer exist. Presently, members of the new “capitalist class” are all “communist cadres.” As a result, class crimes no longer exist and there are far fewer political prisoners in the labor camps.
As many people still remember, Stalin died in 1953, and in 1955, Khrushchev turned against Stalin and Gulag, releasing a lot of prisoners. For example, in Magandan in Far East, about one million prisoners were released, and the city buildings, roads and uranium mines that those people were used to build all closed down. “Gulag” seemed to have disappeared. But Westerners were not convinced. It was in 1974, 21 years after the death of Stalin, that Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn coined the term “Gulag.” Not until 1991, however, when the soviet empire disintegrated and the Soviet Communist Party was dissolved, did people begin to formally agree that “Gulag” had elapsed into history.
Today, Xi Jinping complains that no “real men” stood up to Gorbachev as he presided over the dismantling of Soviet Communism. These remarks by Xi Jinping shocked me! Unexpectedly, he reflected upon an historical event that took place in the Soviet Union 22 years ago. Was he perhaps telling people that today’s China is at a similar crossroads and in need of a“real man” to stand up and prevent change?
What a pity! Who is the “real man?” Is it Xi Jinping? Can he stand? The situation faced by the Chinese communist party is very similar to that of the Soviet Union 22 years ago. This is not something that one or two Xi Jinpings can stand up against and prevent. Rather, it represents an historical change.
Today, the Chinese Communist Party has finally decided to reform “laojiao” (it is worth repeating that this is not to reform “laogai”). This is merely a tactical decision. The purpose behind making this concession is to hold on to power. This is a kind of “reform,” but unfortunately, the various kinds of “reform” by the Communist Party are all carried out within the system of the Communist Party, and the communist system will never be “reformed.” Ultimately, the march of history will challenge the supremacy of the communist system. Will the Chinese Communist Party reform? Will one or two “real men,” such as Xi Jinping, win out? Or will history continue to make progress regardless of the obstacles? Everybody knows the final answer.