Chinese Re-Education Reform: Is it Enough?
China’s communist government has long been seen as one of the harshest, most oppressive in the world. The use of “re-education” camps is commonplace for a variety of criminals, especially as a way of silencing those who oppose the Chinese authorities. Journalists, activists, and anyone who disagrees with the police or courts, including a woman who was seeking justice against a group of men who kidnapped and gang-raped her seven-year old daughter, are sentenced to long bouts of time in these prisons. Rarely do outsiders get an intimate look into the world that so many are sentenced to, either because the prisoners are too afraid to talk about their experiences, or because they don’t escape the “re-education” centers alive. In Oregon, a letter found in a package of Halloween decorations gives us a rare look into the realities of these prisoners’ lives.
CNN reports on the story of “Mr. Zhang,” a name used to keep the real man’s identity a secret. After being sentenced to time in Masanjia Labor Camp for following Falun Gong, a spiritual system that the Chinese government considers a cult, and enduring the torture, starvation, and sleep deprivation that is commonplace in these institutions, Mr. Zhang took a chance that ended up making international headlines. He began collecting the materials needed to write letters, pleading for someone to hear his voice and spread the word about the true atrocities that were taking place. Four years after he hid 20 letters in Halloween decorations that were manufactured at Masanjia, one was found by Julie Keith, who posted the letter on Facebook, garnering international attention. By the time the letter was found, Mr. Zhang had been freed. He was one of the fortunate ones who made it out alive and was able to tell his story.
Mr Zhang’s mistreatment in Masanjia is not an isolated event, nor is it the only establishment that uses these practices. Liu Xiuzhi had a similarly frightening experience. After winning a legal battle with a powerful neighbor, she was beaten by a group of men he sent to even the score. Her reports to the police were met with anger, and after creating petitions to have her rights returned to her, she was charged with “hooliganism, prostitution, theft and fraud,” and sent to the Xi An Re-education Through Labor Jail in southern Beijing. Xiuzhi says of the camp, “A day in that place felt like a year. Ordinary people wouldn’t be able to understand.” Business Insider details some of the torture tactics that are commonly used. Being cuffed to wooden boards in painful positions and being force fed with the use of a cervical speculum are just two examples of the atrocities used against the prisoners in these camps.
In place since the 1950s, China’s re-education system has created many stories like Mr. Zhang’s and Liu Xiuzhi’s. This oppressive structure is finally seeing reform. Xinhuanet, a Chinese news source, reports that the use of labor camps will be abolished to help protect human rights. While this is a huge step in the right direction, Amnesty International says in a press release that “Without a fundamental change in policies that drive the punishment and targeting of individuals such as petitioners, human rights activists and Falun Gong members, there is the very real risk that the Chinese authorities will abolish one system of arbitrary detention only to expand the use of others.” Re-education centers being just one branch in a network of corruption and torture, this concern is dreadfully real. But through their ongoing human rights campaigns, organizations like Amnesty International intend to end these policies once and for all. To see the work that they are currently doing in China, click here. To donate to the ongoing battle against the corruption of the Chinese government, click here.