The Reopening of the Laogai Museum and the Formation of a New Board of Directors
Reporter of China in Perspective
December 24, 2018
On the website for the Laogai Research Foundation one will find that, following Professor Song Yongyi, two more prominent scholars have joined the Foundation’s new Board of Directors. They are Professor Xia Ming of the Graduate Center of CUNY and Dr. Chen Kuide of the Princeton China Initiative. Dr. Yang Fenshi, a musician from Chicago, has been elected Chaiperson of the Board. Besides, Dr. Lee Edwards, Chairman of the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation and the incoming Communism Victims Museum, has also joined the Board of the Laogai Human Rights Foundation with administrative oversight over the Laogai Research Foundation. Two other members of the Laogai Human Rights Foundation are prominent union leader Jeff Fiedler and Dr. Gordon G. Chang, a China specialist.
I. Revising and improving rules and regulations to form a leadership team exclusively composed of volunteers
Following the passing of Wu Hongda, the new Board of Directors immediately engaged in major revisions of the rules and regulations of the Laogai Research Foundation. One of the resulting changes is the stipulation that all board members must be completely unpaid volunteers. Just this change alone has resulted in the savings of over $200,000 annually that used to be paid to two former board members who also served as Executive Directors. This change has further discouraged the desire of anyone who attempts to gain high incomes by becoming a member of the Board.
The newly established regulations also stipulate that any paid staff members of the Laogai Foundation, including its Executive Director, cannot be a member of the Board with its decision-making prerogatives. The Chairperson of the Board of Directors must be democratically elected and may not serve more than two terms, which will eliminate conflicts of interest and the possibility of any individual rising above the collective leadership of the Board. In response to some people who have expressed deep interest in the remaining financial resources of the Laogai Research Foundation, a new board member commented with a laugh: “I don’t get a single penny of salary. I have joined the Board out of my ideals. I just want to contribute to the Board and have zero interest in money. There are people who are not board members but who have demonstrated far more interest than me as a board member.
II.Reopening the Laogai Museum; Establishing a Virtual Museum, and Eliminating Waste
The once-closed Laogai Museum (Exhibit) was reopened in October, 2018 and has been open to the public five days/times a week since November. However, based on usage statistics, there were only a few hundred visitors to the Museum annually. In order to allow the public, especially young people, to understand the truth about human rights conditions in China, the new Board of Directors has decided to start a virtual museum and an archival database. The former will allow people from all over the world to visit the museum online and the latter will provide archival sources on Laogai and human rights issues in China to researchers from around the world.
The closing of the Laogai Museum two years ago was primarily for the purpose of auditing, reorganization, and dealing with lawsuits concerning Mr. Wu Hongda. Besides, the sabotage of office equipment and websites by individual former members of the Laogai Foundation before they left the organization has caused the new Board to expend large amounts of energy and resources to fix the problems and restart the website. Even though no embezzlement was discovered through the auditing of the past two years’ records, a great deal of waste was identified in the process, such as overstaffing and people with high incomes but very low productivity. For another example, the Foundation once rented a warehouse to store tens of thousands of books that the Foundation published but did not sell or distribute. Not only does each book have hundreds of copies, but these books are also very outdated. Yet, tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on the storage fees for them. According to the weeding practices of the American library and museum communities, the Foundation has now adopted the following measures to address this problem: 1) keep at least 100 copies of each past publication; 2) strive to digitize all these publications (partially completed already); 3) welcome any interested organizations or individuals to come to the Laogai Museum to request free copies of these publications. The Foundation will not be able to provide expensive shipping and postage costs.
The mailing and email addresses of the Laigai Research Foundation are:
1901 18th St., NW
Washington, DC 20009
III. The upcoming announcement of the recipients of the Humanitarian Program Grant and the Research Fellowship Grant
In August 2018, the newly formed Board of Directors of the Laogai Research Foundation established two major grant programs: 1) The Humanitarian Program Grant, and 2) The Research Fellowship Grant. The goals of these two grants are to, “support and help individuals who have contributed to and suffered as a result of promoting democracy, freedom and human rights inside China” and to, “promote and support individual’s research focusing on human rights abuse in the following areas:”
- Examining the Laogai system and its origin, background, expansion, and aftermath;
- Exposing the historical facts and consequences of China’s political campaigns between 1950s and 1960s, which served as the breeding ground for the Laogai regulation;
- Revealing new, detailed information about Laogai camp expansion in Tibet and Xinjiang;
- Revealing and analyzing any other form of repression of political or thought-crime dissenters by the Chinese Communist Party and the government of the People’s Republic of China.
Since the release of the information about these grants on the internet, the Laogai Research Foundation has received several applications from enthusiastic applicants from all over the world. After review by experts and members of the Board, the final results will be announced either by the end of this year or early next year.