Laogai Museum founder Harry Wu spoke last night at a meeting of the Oxfam Club at the University of Maryland in Baltimore County. The group of undergraduate students are members of UMBC’s chapter of Oxfam America. According to its website, Oxfam America is “an international relief and development organization that creates lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and injustice. Together with individuals and local groups in more than 90 countries, Oxfam saves lives, helps people overcome poverty, and fights for social justice.”
The issue of social justice is exactly why Oxfam UMBC invited Harry Wu to speak to them, even during their midterm season. Imprisoned and forced to labor for 19 years for merely voicing his political opinions as a college student, Harry has an acute sense of what is just and what is not. He focused his talk on several injustices currently perpetrated by the People’s Republic of China, including the one-child policy (the majority of these students are women), internet censorship, lack of religious freedom, arrest and execution of political dissidents, organ harvesting of criminals, and illegal exportation of forced-labor goods.
One student, born in mainland China, asked Harry where she could find a list of imported goods. He notified her of our Laogai Handbook, last published in 2008, containing the names of many labor prisons and the goods they produce: Christmas lights, car brakes, you name it. Unfortunately, the origins of most of the Chinese forced-labor products smuggled into the U.S. are unknown, while all forced-labor goods in the U.S. market are sold as legitimate factory products. Harry advised the attendees to buy products made outside China and to raise awareness of the Laogai system with people they know. They were amazed that the U.S. government has been relatively lax in exposing and prosecuting American corporations that knowingly sell Laogai products.
The last student to raise her hand asked Harry why he decided to establish the Laogai Research Foundation and Laogai Museum after his escape, instead of returning to a quiet life. Impassioned, he told the group that he tried to live normally, but at his first hearing on Capitol Hill, a senator asked him, “How many Laogai camps are there? And how many people are in them?” Harry could only reply, “I do not know.” The senator then asked him, “Will you help us find out?”
Harry has spent the last 20 years courageously ”finding out” as much as he can about the Laogai system and China’s other crimes. He told the students that no matter our social background or age, we are all heading in one direction: the graveyard. Freed after 19 years of incarceration and abuse, the only way he can use his freedom and leave the world a better place before arriving at the graveyard is to try to end and prevent the incarceration of other free-thinkers and human rights activists in the Laogai.
Harry’s story was an inspiration to the UMBC Oxfam Club in their weekly sacrifice of time and energy in the fight to save lives, help people overcome poverty, and fight for social justice. You can read a blog post about the event by one of the attendees here!
If you would like Harry Wu to share his incredible story with your student group, non-profit, religious or charitable organization, please contact the Laogai Research Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-408-8300.