By Yang Fan, A Report of the Journal of Chine Perspectives
During the recent week, a Laogai Archive Database has been published on the website of the Laogai Research Foundation, which is the world first archive database about Laogai.
The link of its English version is:
The link of its Chinese version is:
The current collection in this database includes about 500 items including over 1000 original documents. Nearlya half comes from the collection of the former Laogai Research Foundation, and the other half from the documents collected under the leadership of the new board of directors. By “original documents”, they mean primary historical documents, excludingsecondary materials like interviews and memoirs. These documents are classified in four parts as follows.
Part A: Official Chinese Communist Party (CCP) documents relevant to Laogai.
This part includes the major documents issued by the CCP concerning political movements since the launch of Land Reform and the Campaign to Eliminate Counterrevolutionaries in the early 1950. Although the Laogei system had the Soviet Gulag concentration camps as its model, China’s own political movements are nevertheless its internal cause and major driving force. Since the CCP, at lease in its Mao era,ran the country with political movements, these documents as essential historical materialsform an overall political background for Laogai.
Part B: CCP leaders’ speeches, directives, and articles relevant to Laogai.
CCP policies are embodied not only in the documents the Party issues internally or publically; they are often interpreted in concrete and vivid terms in Party leaders’ remarks in written or oral form, which are therefore important for our understanding of CCP-launched political movements in general and of its policies regarding Laogai in particular.
Part C: Laws and regulations concerningLaogai.
Although lacking originality in economic development, the CCP is quite creative when it comes to establishing lawsfor a modern slave labor system. These laws, such as “Regulations of the People’s Republic of China concerning Reform through Labor” and “Work Rules of Reform through Labor Management Teams,” cover virtually everything concerning Laogai. There are also countless unofficial, homespun rules developed by local Laogai facilities in various parts of the country. Documents in this part of the database introduce readers to Laogai in terms that are more concrete.
Part D: Special collections concerning Laogai.
Contents of these collections are mostly photographs or scanned copies of original Laogai-related historical documents or artifacts, such as search warrants, wanted notices, and arrest orders issued by security apparatuses for prisoners, political or otherwise; “criminal” verdicts issued by courts, or by military control commissions during unusual times, or by security groups of revolutionary committees during the Cultural Revolution; internal—that is, secret—listings of people regarded as potential “class enemies” to be controlled and reformed; internally published reports and teaching materials concerning Laogai. Because these photos are historical artifacts captured in their original colors, readers can catch a glimpse of historical experience and witness how the bloodthirsty “dictatorship of the proletariat” works.
Mr. Harry Wu Hongda, the founder of the former Laogai Research Foundation, was not only a victim of Laogai, but also a tireless researcher. Because of the continuous demands from all over the world for information on Laogai, he always wanted to build an online database with the original archives of Laogai that the foundation had collected for years, which would benefit both scholars and common readers.
Professor Yongyi Song (California State University, Los Angeles) is the Editor of this Database. In 2012, upon invitation by the Laogai Research Foundation, he went to Washington, D.C. to take part in a conference on the Great Leap Forward and Great Famine. There Mr. Wusuggested that he helps the foundation to build a Laogai archives database after the completion of hisCultural Revolution, Anti-Rightist Campaign, and Great Leap/Great Famine databases. However, Professor Song was still occupied at that time with the compiling and editing of our Land Reform database, the last, though chronologically the first, database of his four-part History of Contemporary Chinese Political Movements database series. Therefore, he could only promise to help him with his project after we finish ours. Unfortunately, before he had a chance to work together on his project, Mr. Wu passed away in 2014.
In the summer of 2018, as Professor Song joined the board of directors of the new Laogai Research Foundation upon invitation, he was expected, among other things, tolead the projects of buildinga virtual Laogai museum and an online database of Laogai archives. This was how the database of Laogai archives was initiated. As Professor Song pointed out that hewould like to thank the membersof the new LaogaiResearch Foundation board of directors, who, immediately after the formation of the new board, commissioned professionals to collate and catalogue the existing archival materials. Their workhas made it possible for the materialization of the database in slightly more than a year.
The about 500 items in the current edition of this database are searchable by author, title, time, and subject in both Chinese and English. Because many documents in this collection are internal publications some hundreds of thousands of words each, the total number of words is approximately four to five million.Of course, the current database is only the beginning of a large project. It will be updated, enriched, and more fully developed.
Among historical studies of political movements of contemporary China,Laogaimight not be a hot topic. Perhaps this is because Laogai is more than a subject of history; it is also a pressing issue of human rights and ongoing politics that needs to be tracked at all times. Of course, it is not a cold spot either, because anyone who studies contemporary Chinese politics will naturally touch on Laogai since itresults from all political movements and is a tragic end for many victims of these movements.