As the new spring semester gets underway after it’s slow start due to poor weather, the Laogai Museum was fortunate conditions improved. Two separate student groups from American University stopped by the museum receiving a personal address and tour by Executive Director Harry Wu.
Professor of Sociology, Susan McDonic and her class arrived on Wednesday January 27. Professor McDonic engages interest in Asia, Buddhism and the Tibetan struggle. Her students are in pursuit of some truly stimulating and remarkable research projects within these subject matters as are some conducting interviews with former prisoners of conscience.
Later in the day, American Politics Professor Richard Semiatin visited the museum with a group of his students. Professor Semiatin and Mr. Wu have supported one another for many years.
Many students, and the public in general, know of China’s censorship. They know China is growing more powerful able to conceal whatever they deem a threat to the Communist Party or detriment to China itself. Few know about the details.
Throughout their time at the Laogai Museum, the students asked many questions on various topics involving China and its former named “laogai” (劳改) prison system.
Will the laws in China become less strict on child policy in the future?
Human rights do not matter in China. It’s a matter of labor force, population control, reeducation through labor (劳教).
Has any leader in China since Deng Xiaoping (邓小平) tried to improve human rights or change the Communist Party?
I don’t expect any Party leader to change the Party line. Deng was an associate to Mao (毛泽东). He often criticized Mao, but never publically. The current Chinese President Xi Jinping (习近平) doesn’t condemn Mao, but embraces his legacy, for the CCP was set up by Mao. The Communist Party has members in every part of China. In America, the military is not involved in politics, but in China, they are never separate.
In reference to a published document LRF commissioned on cannibalism and organ harvesting, one student asked:How do you find out about cannibalism and involuntary organ donors?
In 1984, a Chinese document was uncovered describing how organs were removed and handled. Hospitals commissioned vans to follow executions, so that organs could be removed immediately. The vans are usually unmarked. The execution grounds always change. Many people are involved: government officials, nurses, doctors, even taxi drivers.
Afterwards the students took a tour of the museum personally guided by Mr. Wu.
One visitor in particular responded to the museum’s content, “I’ve never heard of this, which is terrifying.”
This is Mr. Wu’s mission, to inform those who do not know so that they may find a desire to make a change.
Mr. Wu’s ultimate goal is to expand his Laogai Museum to China. The United States and Washington D.C. in particular is fortunate to have a unique museum such as Laogai, but doesn’t it seem real change would come about if China’s own citizens knew about their past?
A few students from China studying here in the United States visit having either no clue or heard whispers from their elders about China’s less desired past. Most people who lived through the Great Leap Forward (大跃进, 1958-1961), Cultural Revolution (无产阶级文化大革命, 1966-1976) and Tiananmen Square (天安门广场, 1989) incidents prefer to leave the past behind. It’s not important for them now; today is today; therefore, students with limited access to the truth about these events have limited knowledge.
The Laogai Museum serves as a memorial for all those who perished as a result of Chairman Mao’s failed policies and implementation of the laogai prison system. It’s also a place of enlightenment. Both purposes Mr. Wu has for China, but for now this dream will have to wait.
For how long before the dream becomes a reality? Let’s hope American’s own past is not a measuring tool.
An article from The Washington Post found that the U.S. has more than 35,000 museums, beyond the number of Starbucks and McDonalds combined. Yet, until only a year ago one of those museums was dedicated entirely to American slavery. That is overwhelming.
How long will it take before China publically documents and memorializes the horrendous treatment of its citizens after sixty-seven years with a museum if the United States has taken 161 years since the Thirteenth Amendment when slavery was abolished?
The answer may lie in the people and the community. As more people gain knowledge of mistreatment of peoples abroad, forced labor, prisoner-made products made available to citizens in the United States those concerns can be made to legislators. In a democracy, the people have a voice. Make your voice heard to people like Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) or Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) who speak out frequently against China’s egregious policies. Support organizations like Wei Jingsheng Foundation fighting for democracy in China.