The Gulag Chinapelago

The NY Times today offers a none-too-uplifting article on China’s labor camps for political prisoners and Falun Gong practitioners.

For a Chinese government that regularly promises its citizens a society governed by the rule of law, the case of a neatly dressed man named Li is a reminder of what still remains outside the law.

Here in a bleak stretch of eastern China, Mr. Li, 40, spent two years in a prison called Shandong No. 2 Labor Re-education Camp. Mr. Li, who spoke on condition that only his surname be used, and other followers of the banned spiritual group Falun Gong have been jailed here despite never having a lawyer or a trial – rights granted under China’s criminal law.

That is because Shandong No. 2 is part of a vast penal system in China that is separate from the judicial system. Falun Gong members are hardly the only inmates. Locked inside more than 300 special prisons are an estimated 300,000 prostitutes, drug users, petty criminals and other political prisoners who have been stripped of any legal rights.

In a nondemocratic country like China, such abuse of legal rights might not seem surprising. But this system, a relic of the Mao era, is presenting a dilemma for a modern Communist Party that faces pressure at home and abroad to change the system yet remains obsessed with security and political control.

The government this year is expected to begin privately considering whether, and how, to change the system.

This puts China in a bind, according to the article, because the country has for many years used the “labor re-education camps” to hold onto power.

The crackdown on Falun Gong followers like Mr. Li is a case in point. The government had paid sporadic attention to Falun Gong until April 1999, when 10,000 followers held an unannounced protest and surrounded the leadership compound in Beijing. The government quickly ordered a crackdown on the group.

The existence of labor re-education meant the police could sweep up masses of people without the time and complications of court trials. “If they wanted to imprison these tens of thousands of followers through normal judicial processes, it would have been impossible because what these people were doing was not a crime,” Mr. Gao said. [Gao Zhisheng, an attorney advocating refom.]In fact the government did not approve an anticult law aimed at the group until months after the crackdown began.

Read the article to see how the CCP has used this “tool” to make sweeping arrests under the guise of helping the offenders see the light and realize the magnanimous intentions of the loving leaders. Needless to say, it’s a cheap trick, a way to silence dissent and to justify the arrest of petitioners and anyone else who dares raise his voice.

The Discussion: 17 Comments

Yes, it is awful in China if you are on the wrong side of the power even if you are just doing something a normal sane person would think lawful. The control attribute of Chinese society essentially verges on the paranoia. Having worked for a Chinese company on the mainland as the only foreigner I think I can say that from experiencing the battles to retain an American sense of individuality.

But then what is better in America these days with christianity being forced on the public inspite of the Consitution. Are atheist a target now in America? Is there some christian conspiracy to take atheists out of the public discourse, to marginalize them like rabid dogs because of jackasses like Robertson, dork Dobson, even Frist and others think Satan resides in the body of any person that rejects Christ or maybe any god?

The questions I have about all of this religious fervor going on in the US are multitudinous. But one will do for discussion. Who can deny self appointed people such as Joseph Smith, Moses, Luther, Jim Jones, the religious fanatics in Salem, Dobson, Mohammed, Billy Graham, who declared themselves leaders from god, are nothing but delusional (albeit, some with good motivations and purposes)? Why is it that white christians and maybe black or other racial christians think they have the rightiousness to demand people, who want in the US a different religion or none at all, disappear from public life and activity?

May 9, 2005 @ 3:35 am | Comment

As I recall, somebody charged with a minor sexual offence in China can be imprisioned for up to two years without trial or legal due procces for “custody and reeducation”, what is worse, under Chinese law they do not even have to be charged with committing the offence. This makes it a perfect tool to be abbused.

In 2004 a journalist named Liu Shui was arrested in Shenzhen and was accussed of soliciting a prostitues soon after he interviewed familiy members of four jailed disidents. He was sentenced to two years without a trial under these laws.

(Full story on my site under human rights and personal freedoms)

May 9, 2005 @ 3:52 am | Comment

“But then what is better in America these days with christianity being forced on the public inspite of the Consitution.”

Apples and oranges. And an overreaction. 1) Nobody throws people in jail without due process for not being Christian in the U.S. (Your point is misplaced.)

2)Coming from a not so religious family, neither I nor my family members, nor anyone I know in fact has ever felt their rights violated in the sense of religion. Yes, it happens to some people…in almost all societies. Yes, a large portion of the US is fervently religious (and always has been…people just haven’t made a big deal about it until recently), but a discriminatory tide of Christianity resembling a state-sponsored system where rights are denied for the sake of the few at the top to keep power…that’s ridiculous. If you want, compare prison camps to Guantanamo…it would be a closer comparison although false for its own set of reasons. But it would be closer nonetheless.

May 9, 2005 @ 7:49 am | Comment

I’m afraid I have to agree with Thomas on this one. While there are forces in America who would like to outlaw such liberal sins as abortion, homosexuality, Spong Bob Square Pants, etc., there is no danger of being tossed into a gulag for such things, and probably no such danger on the horizon. That said, it’s our duty to speak out against their efforts, such as the attempt in Kansas to “balance” science classes with the teaching of “Intelligent Design,” the most obscene canard of our time (well, it’s right up there, anyway). But we have to stay realistic — if we compare the US as it is today with China, we lose credibility because it’s not a reasoned comparison. The mentality of the orthodoxy on both sides might be similar or the same, but in America we do have a system that will keep us free from mass arrests and years in the gulag. At least we do for now.

May 9, 2005 @ 8:06 am | Comment

“Free Trade”

Bush stated recently (referring to GM specifically) that American companies need to learn how to compete to survive in the global economy. How does he expect American workers to compete with a country that uses Labor Re-Education camps?Today’s NY Times

May 9, 2005 @ 4:01 pm | Comment

Labour camps

Richard at Peking Duck had a posting on Jim Yardley’s story about labour camps in China yesterday (see the full NYT piece here). The picture at the NYT link is of the Shandong No. 2 Labor Re-education Camp in Zibo, which is “also a carbonized thermal…

May 9, 2005 @ 9:23 pm | Comment

Thomas and Richard
Thanks for your observations. I am not sure an apples and oranges reference has any meaning here. Actually I am wondering what says I am or need to make a logical comparison.

What does work is my concern for our country. Logic is certainly not the only criteria to evaluate what is happening in the States.

Quite awhile ago, a woman named Madaline Murray O’Hair (not sure of that spelling) declared her point of view publicly about being an atheist and took a significant public and I am sure private drubbing as a result.

I want to tell a little family story and hope it won’t bore you all. My father’s family had been in China since 1900 (from the US) until first the Japanese captured my grandmother in Canton and my father in Hong Kong. Thankfully, they were repatriated in 1942. Then after the 1945 surrender my grandmother returned to China, but was kicked out by the CCP in 1949.
This is some background for you. The point is my father’s brother wrote a letter to his mother (my grandmother) in the 1920’s, around 1927 I think, commenting the Shanghai distrubances caused by or at least involving the CCP of that time. His remark, trying to dispel my grandmother’s concerns, essential was that the communists were just young men and “boys will be boys.,” not to worry, they will grow out of it.
I still have that letter.

What does this have to do with the price of wheat in America. Perhaps nothing at all. However, my experienced view on human nature suggests that this GOP led religious thing in the States will not stop its demands of its own accord; it will take a defeat at the polls on the political arena or at the US Supreme Court on the law (a clear, resounding rebuke to Bush’s religious policies and/or the GOP legislation opening the door to officially intermingling state and religion or serious public reaction to the worst of the christian religious fanatics or a serious mis-step in the far-right’s religious machination, in the nature of Joseph McCarthy’s downfall.

Downplaying the nature and extent of religious groups in America’s politics and public policies is a disservice to Americans who consider
there are threats here to our constitutional freedoms. The example of my uncle’s remarks is a simple illustration of how movements can grow and gain force and strength. Just as Hitler’s Nazi Party took about 15 years to achieve power and the Japanese war clique had a histroy of some 40 or so history before it had Japan under its thumb and the Japanese people believing they were superior beings and devinely directed and capable of defeating the world at large.

The politics of BushCo are delusions as is much of religion, any religion. I saw on TV the other day something about Charles and that woman going to Westminster for their ceremony. The Arch-bishop, I believe, was deck-out with his impressive vestments doing his thing for C and C. I was thinking why such a religious ceremony with such costumes of slendor. God as proposed in many places around the world, I suppose doesn’t have or wear clothes and I think Jesus only wore simple and practical attire.

It beats me why the god our good christian representatives and spokesperson claim, lets them be so hypocritical.

May 10, 2005 @ 4:35 am | Comment

Interesting remarks there.
Just a gloss here on what you said about the Archbishop dressing grandly at the wedding, in contrast to the humility of Jesus:
Jesus DID enjoy weddings and parties and a bit of material luxury, in moderation of course. Shortly before he died, Judas objected to a woman using expensive oil on Jesus, and he basically told Judas to lighten up, because we’ll always have suffering and poverty in the world, but sometimes it’s ok to enjoy some material luxuries.
Which seems, to me, to mean that the Archbishop’s clothes are neither here nor there as far as Jesus is concerned. And he DID like a good wedding! (Although I don’t think Jesus would have much fun at Charles and Camilla’s wedding… ๐Ÿ™‚

May 10, 2005 @ 7:01 am | Comment

“However, my experienced view on human nature suggests that this GOP led religious thing in the States will not stop its demands of its own accord; it will take a defeat at the polls on the political arena or at the US Supreme Court on the law (a clear, resounding rebuke to Bush’s religious policies”

Why did you even bother responding. You have just said yourself why the US religious climate and the CPP’s hold on power are not alike. In the US, it is the voters who make the decisions in the end. If the US had a one-party system, and that party was the GOP, your fears might be somewhat justifiable. Politics in the US is and always has been a conservative-liberal pendulum. The pendulum swings one way and you get more and more conservative approaches. It swings the other way and liberal approaches dominate. You are hung up on the conservative swing.

Reread your US history. You will see that the country has been faaaaar more conservative in the past than ever it was now. Plus, if you truly read up on the popularity of religion in the US, you will see that a fervently religious population has always been a fact.

You act like GOP is an unstoppable juggernaut. Don’t be so gloom and doom.

May 10, 2005 @ 8:53 am | Comment

On the other hand, Thomas….

This GOP is unique in that through gerrymandering and a variety of strong-arm tactics (including the threat of the “nuclear option” and Delay’s bending the rules to ensure passage of GOP initiatives) they truly are striving to make the US aone-party system and Rove has practically said as much in so many words — their goal is to keep the GOP in power permanently. Now, in a sense that is the goal of every political party, but there are reasons to be truly concerned, even alarmed, about the unusually aggressive tactics of today’s GOP musclemen, notable Delay and Dick Cheney and Frist.Of course we can vote them out of power. But they are right now in the process of making this as difficult to do as possible.

About the populaity of religion in the US, true enough. But in my lifetime we have never seen such a groundswell of support for kooky, half-baked evangelical ideas, like the danger of contraceptives, fantastical warnings about the dangers of sex, challenges to science…. As a long-time watcher of what’s going on in America, I believe it’s safe to say what we are seeing now is unprecedented in modern US politics.

May 10, 2005 @ 9:26 am | Comment


I know that peopel don’t get thrown i jail for being Christians in America but …..

Do you remember the Communist witch hunts.

America has done it once with politics, it can do it again with religion, though probably islam.

May 10, 2005 @ 11:03 pm | Comment


I would like to know something pertinent about you. Are you a Red? Where are you coming from?

You would rather me not raise fundamental questions about the nature of religion and its good and bad effects on societies? Just because there have always been fervent christian believers in America, to say nothing of Muslims, Jews and other religious believers, doesn’t mean anything in this discussion as in the recent past they have not posed a serious challenge to the Constitutional provisions on freedom of religion.

Perhaps Thomas you have little in the way of general experience, so you have not the breadth and depth of experiences to see and evaluate the purposes and efforts of Bush, the GOP and the relgious right to gain control of the body politic to “lead” or force it away from “the US version of Sodom and Gomorrah” to a path more in the direction of their own beliefs in god no matter how hypocritical they talk or act in reference to those beliefs.

Quite right Thomas about America’s religious conservatism; when you look at the Salem witch hunts (colonial times), some of the 1930-40s radio preachers like Father Coughlin, the outraged religious reaction to rock and roll in the 1950s you can tell America has been progressing away from such irrationality for all of its history and pre-history.

I am not against people having their religious beliefs and practices, in their homes, with there children and in their houses of worship, but dragging them out into the political arena for promotion to the public by political power and coersion needs to be considered from a Constitutional perspective. When the line is crossed as unconstitutional activity it should be stopped.

As Richard says, what is happening under Bush and the GOP auspices regarding church and state is unprecedented in modern times. I, for one, do not like this direction in American political life.

May 11, 2005 @ 4:02 am | Comment

Pete, well said.

Anonymous, that is exactly why we all need to be outspoken and alert. It really can happen again, and right now more than at anytime since the internment of the Japanese in 1942.

May 11, 2005 @ 6:09 am | Comment


Anonymous is me, I some how managed not to put my name at the top.

I think the phrase that we’re all looking for is akin to

Then the came for the …. and I said nothing because I wasn’t ……

Freedom’s are seldom lost all at once, they are surrendered gradularly by people who are told that it is for their own protection, and who don’t realize what is going on until one day they wake up and see me in dark suits hauling away their next door neighbors for something that was perfectly OK a few years ago.

I do however have to disagree with some people on the issue of religion The US, from where I am standing, has the worst of both worlds. It has a government that is forcing a particular brand of Christianity at people by calling it morality rather than faith based morality, and a judisiary that is taking a clause in the constitution that was indended to stop state preference of one faith over another, and are using it to try and remove all overt elements of faith from the country.

This gives us the ridiculious situation where schools can teach adstinance only sex education because of faith based reasons, but can’t put issue a ‘prayer’ asking for the return of a sick student even if it expresses the hope of their recovery rather than asking for intevention on their behalf.

May 14, 2005 @ 6:06 am | Comment


“and are using it to try and remove all overt elements of faith from the country.”

This is such an overstatement of the situation as to be hyperbolic. Have you seen any government attempt to destroy or remove houses of worship, except perhaps those that are illegal under local zoning laws?

Perhaps you could have said “…overt elements of faith from government property around the country,” to be more accurate in your arguments. If that is your argument, some study of the Constitution and the case law on the issue might clarify for you the meaning of the freedom of religion provisions and put in perspective some of the nonsense coming from the Right/religious about the U.S. being founded as a “Christian” country.

May 14, 2005 @ 6:09 pm | Comment

We have to be careful not to get sucked into the hype — a lot of the hype about the religious right is valid, but as far as I know, ACB, they have not succeeded in forcing schools to teach abstinence-only sex education. Not yet, anyway. And on the other side, Pete is quite right — they myth that our over-zealous judiciary is crusading to wipe out any reference to god or religion in public life was created by Bill O’Reilly and other right-wingers to create fear and anxiety in the hopes it will generate support for Republicans. We all have to be really careful, becuase we’re being bombarded with information by people who don’t always care much about whether it’s true or not.

May 14, 2005 @ 6:49 pm | Comment

For anyone interested in the idea that America was founded as a Christian country and a lot of other ideas about freedom of religion in America go to Political Animal Archives, May 13, 2005 Religious Tolerance. It is a wildly interesting and healthy kind of debate.

May 14, 2005 @ 8:01 pm | Comment

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