Friday, June 24, 2005

LAOGAI: China's Bamboo Curtain

Date: Friday 24 June 2005
Subj: China's Bamboo Curtain
To: World Evangelical Alliance Religious Liberty News & Analysis
From: WEA RLC Principal Researcher and Writer, Elizabeth Kendal.


On 26 May, Chinese Diplomat Mr Chen Yonglin (37) abandoned his post at the Chinese Consulate in Sydney, Australia, and requested political asylum from the Australian government. On 4 June, at a rally in Sydney commemorating the 16th anniversary of the "1989 Tiananmen Democratic Movement", he unexpectedly, announced publicly his resignation from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Mr Chen, who claims that one of his jobs was to monitor Falun Gong in Australia, accuses the Chinese government of political and religious repression and persecution, and says that his conscience will not permit him to serve the CCP any longer. Along with his wife and young daughter, Chen is seeking asylum in Australia on the grounds that his liberty and even his life are now at risk because of the way the CCP punishes dissenters. (Link 1)

Mr Chen's defection sent seismic shock-waves through Australia's political, Chinese, and human rights advocacy communities. China's ambassador to Australia, Madame Fu Ying publicly denied Chen's remarks saying, 'China has moved on a long way from what it was like in the 1970s. China is not a country behind the bamboo curtain any more.' (Link 2)

Madame Fu's statement deserves scrutiny. While China has moved a long way from what it was like it the 1970s, it has only done so with one foot – the economic foot. China's city skylines are striped with skyscrapers and industrial cranes. China's sparkling, modern shopping arcades, bastions of the new Chinese materialism and capitalism, are are bustling with consumers, many of them foreign workers. CCP leaders now shake hands and seek photo opportunities and trade deals with Western leaders. In this regard, yes, China has moved a long way from what it was like in the 1970s.

However, the other foot – the human rights foot – remains firmly planted in the Mao era. Today the very same instruments of repression that Mao himself established and used from the early 1950s, are still being employed by the ruling CCP to crush dissent. As long as this is the case, China cannot boast that the bamboo curtain has come down.

There is however, an element of truth in Madame Fu's remark that "China is not a country behind the bamboo curtain any more". Through the 1950s, 60s and 70s the CCP firmly believed the threat to its power lay in external forces, so, with foreigners expelled, it erected a "bamboo curtain" around the nation for protection. Then, through the 1980s, the CCP watched internal forces bring down Communism in Poland. On 4 June 1989, the CCP resorted to violence to crush destabilising internal forces gathered in Tienanmen Square.

Today the CCP knows that China's economic growth and power enable it to deflect external pressures. The CCP also now knows that the main threat to its totalitarian rule is internal. So, as a self-preservation measure, the CCP wraps its bamboo curtain around its internal social problems and uncontrollable elements; i.e. prostitutes, drug addicts, and "counter-revolutionaries" such as political and religious dissidents. So while China might not be "behind" the bamboo curtain any more, the bamboo curtain has not come down, it has simply been brought inside.


China's bamboo curtain is integral to, indeed inseparable from, the Mao-instituted lao-gai – a vast network of concentration camps and slave labour prisons that has functioned for some 50 years as a tool of CCP repression.

Chairman Mao established the lao-gai in the early 1950s, primarily as a source of slave labour. He was executing "counter-revolutionaries" but quickly came to the conclusion that he was wasting a precious resource. He decided it would be more beneficial to incarcerate a percentage of these "counter-revolutionaries" for the purpose of exploitation. So he employed Soviet advisors and established the lao-gai following the model of the Soviet Gulag. In their new book "Mao – the unknown story", Jung Chang and Jon Halliday estimate that some 27 million Chinese died in labour camps during Mao's rule.

The lao-gai are completely separate from China's official justice system, and as such, operate totally outside the law. Those incarcerated are done so without criminal charge or trial. The lao-gai enable the CCP, through its various instruments (such as the Religious Affairs Department or the Public Security Bureau) to quickly and quietly lock away, behind the bamboo curtain, any internal force that threatens the unity of the masses or the totalitarian power, image or propaganda of the CCP. (Link 3)

The fact that the Chinese economy is, to a large extent, dependent upon this system of forced slave labour introduces a whole new ethical dilemma to the "Made in China" label.

Harry Wu, executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation, wrote in a 1999 essay published by CNN, "The Laogai is not simply a prison system; it is a political tool for maintaining the Communist Party's totalitarian rule. A fundamental policy of the Laogai states that 'forced labor is a means toward the goal of thought reform'."

Wu, who says the CCP runs at least 1,100 prison labour camps, says that in the lao-gai physical submission is achieved through violence, but "psychological and spiritual submissiveness, known as 'thought reform', is considered the optimal goal." He says, "We cannot condemn the evil actions of the Nazi concentration camps and the Soviet Gulag while we ignore the continuing brutality of the Laogai." (Link 4)


While Chinese authorities are vociferously defending China's human rights in the wake of Chen's defection and allegations, Chinese police on the mainland are violently cracking down on house-church Christians, who refuse to submit to CCP control.

Catholics in Hebei Province, surrounding Beijing, are crying out that a campaign of violence has been unleashed upon them by the country's Religious Affairs Department which, they say, has declared an all-out war against the Church. Eight of Hebei's Catholic bishops and 13 of Hebei's Catholic priests are either imprisoned or "disappeared", behind the "bamboo curtain". (Link 5)

On Sunday 22 May, police and Public Security Bureau officers raided 60 house-churches simultaneously in Changchun, the capital city of Jilin province (north-eastern China, bordering North Korea). Another 40 churches in the area were raided over the following days. More than 600 house-church Christians were taken into custody. Whilst most of those arrested were released after 24 to 48 hours' interrogation, some 100 influential Christians – house church leaders, university students and professors, academics – remain in various detention centres, behind the "bamboo curtain". (Link 6)


1) Chinese spies asking for asylum spark a crisis in Peking-Canberra relations. 20 June, 2005 CHINA – AUSTRALIA
Chinese defector breaks down, fears return to China
22 June 2005

2) Diplomat 'has nothing to fear': China
PM - Monday, 6 June 2005
Reporter: Alexandra Kirk

3) Issue in China: Labor Camps That Operate outside the Courts
By Jim Yardley, The New York Times, 9 May 2005

4) Labor camps reinforce China's totalitarian rule
CNN Special. By Harry Wu. 1999

5) Persecution in Hebei, a liability for Hu Jintao’s plans
by Wang Hui, 8 June 2005, CHINA – VATICAN

6) Massive, coordinated crackdown on Chinese Christians
9 June 2005, The Voice of the Martyrs
ALSO: China Aid Association