Life is fleeting. We know our time is limited on this earth. Time is particularly valuable. As a Buddhist I believe in reincarnation, but life in our present being, our present spirit is ephemeral. While I lost many years to the laogai, some of that time was precious because of the people I met; for eight years, I was privileged to have known Harry Wu.
In Chinese, there is a proverb that says, the tree doesn’t fall, but the apes scatter. In 1962, I, among many others, was classified as the "anti-Party, anti-socialist, anti-people bourgeois rightists.” We were concentrated in southern Beijing at Tuanhe labor camp. About seven years later, in 1968 the team was transferred to the Chadian Qinghe penal farm. The following year in October 1969 the team was split up: I was escorted back to the Ya’an tea plantation to continue my reeducation, while Wu was exiled to Shanxi to work in the coalmines.
Every month prisoners were awarded living expenses. The minimum wage was 27 yuan. It could be increased to 32 yuan, 36 yuan up to 41.6 yuan, the maximum. The pay scale would fluctuate based on factors such as ability, efficiency, or seniority. The payment was calculated to the nearest tenth of a cent. Until today, I am baffled at how meticulous the government was in calculating these payments. What was so special about it?
The prisoners spent up to 24 hours a day together - their relationships grew close on par of family. There were several working divisions in the labor camps. The smallest division is called the group, multiple groups are called squads, and squads were combined to be called teams. Wu was skillful in instrumentation and had a deft ability to labor. The authorities elected him to captain his own group. I was lucky enough to be under his leadership. He was in command of the “infirm” members.
As one of Harry’s infirm members I received 5 yuan less than the minimum wage because most tasks were too physically challenging. To Harry’s credit, he showed kindness and compassion to assign people like me to tasks like corn husking or feeding the livestock.
My cellmate Harry, using the best judgment of humanity and morality one can observe in a place of such circumstance was a tactile leader. He had to balance the guard’s directives as well as issues from his fellow campmates. Once, a reeducation prisoner tried to escape. The plan was made known to Harry in advance. What was Harry to do? Harry is only a laogai prisoner. Should he unveil the plot to the guards in order to spare the rest of the group punishment?
This was no small ordeal. For Harry, it was neither his responsibility nor could he allow the burden be placed on someone else. He was a resourceful and quick-witted man. He let the prisoner slip away. When he estimated enough time elapsed for the absconder to make a successful get away the guards were notified.
I learned Harry was from Shanghai. His father was a senior manager of the National Bank. He was raised with an affluent life. I also discussed my family with him. My father was a military commander for the National Government stationed in western-Sichuan Province. Before the CCP came to power, he vigorously monitored the activities of the underground Communist Party and before that the Sino-Japanese War. My father had met with Deng Xiaoping and Liu Bocheng. In my father’s opinion, the two parties (the Chinese Nationalists and Chinese Communists) should not have fought a civil war. My father was originally participating in the Sichuan uprising; however, during the CCP’s suppression of counter revolutionary movement the uprising was repressed in 1951.
When Harry heard my story he responded indignantly, “How could a powerful ruling party disregard its promises? The Party is not trustworthy. When we proposed suggestions and truth, the Party put us in prison.” From his facial expression, I could see that righteousness and morality were important values in his ideology.
Today, unfortunately Harry has died unexpectedly! I mourn his death.
His career achievements include the establishment of the Laogai Research Foundation. His values of social justice, freedom, and philanthropy drove him to accomplish such extraordinary work in a short time. He could have spent his whole life working as a professor in a college. But he did not. He could have protested against totalitarian regimes overseas. But he did not. Instead, he went back deep into China at great risk to gather first-hand evidence. As a result of his work, the US government knew of his importance that they aided in his repatriation during his final mission.
He was such a great man. He left an indelible mark on history. As a result of his great work, he was praised and celebrated by the U.S. Congress. He traversed a difficult path from being a laogai prisoner subjugated by the CCP to eventually informing the western world to the atrocities of the laogai. He earned respect from people all over the world.
I would like to take this opportunity to address the slanderers. Those, who because of ignorance or out of misguided interest, you people, are insignificant. There have been those who received aid from Harry and still thrash his name. There are those who sell their souls for money and those who are part of the Fifty Cent Party dedicated to censorship and defamation. How much have you earned by selling your conscious? There are those aptly named, The Self-Interest Party, who write with vicious hatred for nothing at all. They are figurative prisoners themselves, abused by the CCP suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.
I hereby write this article as a memorial to my old friend whom I suffered with. I wish you rest in peace brother.
Translated from the original Chinese author: Li Lun