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The Outlook for China, Human Rights and the Laogai Gulag
Independent Policy Forum Luncheon Honoring Harry Wu
Wednesday, March 27, 1996

Hongda Harry Wu

HARRY WU (Wu Hongda), the internationally renowned human rights activist, is Executive Director of the Laogai Research Foundation and Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution. He has been the subject of documentaries on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, BBC and on TV networks in Japan, Canada, Brazil and around the world.

A graduate of Beijing College, he is the author of the books, Laogai: The Chinese Gulag and his autobiography Bitter Winds: A Memoir of My Years in China’s Gulag. Formerly Visiting Professor of Geology at the University of California, Berkeley, he has repeatedly addressed the United Nations Human Rights Commission, and has testified before hearings of numerous Senate and House Committees and the legislatures of Australia and England.

Mr. Wu is the recipient of the Catherine A. Dunfey Award, China Democracy Honor Award, Geuzen Medal of Honor, Human Right Guard Award, Hungarian Freedom Fighters Award, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights Award, Martin Ennals Human Rights Award, Peace Abbey Award, and many other awards as well as honorary doctoral degrees from Syracuse University and St. Louis University.

On June 19, 1995, human-rights activist Harry Wu was arrested on charges of espionage by Chinese government officials. Triggering worldwide protests, his plight became a cause célèbre and the critical link in Chinese-American relations, attracting bipartisan support for his release. Sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, he was finally released only when world opinion became intolerable for Chinese officials, who then also desired to host a United Nations conference on women.

The history of China in this century is largely one of human suffering on an unprecedented scale. Even former Chinese Communist Party Secretary Zhao Ziyang calculated that about 50 million have been killed since 1949, 30 million of whom perished during Mao’s Great Leap Forward and another 5-10 million during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. However, although the world largely understands the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet Gulag, almost no information has been available on the world’s largest, existing, forced-labor camp system, the Chinese Laogai, now incarcerating 16-20 million including over a half million political prisoners.

In April 1960, Chinese authorities had arrested the then 24-year old Harry Wu for speaking out against the Soviet invasion of Hungary. Though never formally charged, during the next 19 years, he was imprisoned in a hellish netherworld of crushing labor, starvation, and torture. Harry Wu survived by realizing he must live on to work for the demise of the Laogai’s network of 5,000 slave-labor reform camps that, despite recent economic liberalization, remains China’s most doggedly-guarded secret, and perhaps its greatest shame.

Based on his bestselling books, Laogai and Bitter Winds, Harry Wu will reveal the truths behind China’s slave-labor camp system and its linkage to the political system it serves, a system stripped of individual rights and the Rule of Law. Harry Wu’s experience is the epic and deeply moving story of personal triumph over dehumanization and systematic brutality. His imprisonment, extraordinary acts of courage, and survival bear indelible witness to the power of the human spirit.

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