The Story of Harry Wu

Harry Wu was a political prisoner in China for nineteen years after being labeled as a counter-revolutionary by the government. Originally from Shanghai, he was part of the so-called bourgeoisie class and was a university student in Wuhan before he was unjustly imprisoned, without even a trial. He spent much of his time working in extremely treacherous conditions in a prison mine.

His family fell apart while he was in prison, and he had no freedom during the prime years of his life because of Mao’s regime. When he was released from prison, he went to the United States to become a visiting professor at the University of California, Berkeley. Even though he was teaching at a world-famous institution, he had to work night shifts at a doughnut shop to get by.

Through it all, he never gave up hope. His harrowing tale is testament to the millions of others who were imprisoned by this brutal communist government and those who were killed simply because the government had the power to do so.

“How can I survive? I just lived as a beast. Any life, including humans, they want to live. Evan dogs, even small ants. Everyone wants to live. I just wanted to live.” 
 

Interview with Mr. Harry Wu

 

CHILDHOOD

My childhood was wonderful
 

Q: I would like to ask you to start off, if you can share with me some memories of your childhood. Anything you say, it is up to you. I want to hear anything you believe, you saw, or experienced. I really want to hear how you remember your own life story. This is why I started with the topic of childhood. We usually start with the childhood, then education, occupation and your supposed “criminal” activities and the reason you ended up in the working camps.

Harry: My childhood was wonderful, I had eight brothers and sisters and because of my father we had a kind of wealthy family and we had a pretty good life compared to other Chinese people. We had a piano, a refrigerator, we had telephone, carpet; everything was fine. That was only until I was 12 years old when the Communists came to power. It was in 1949. But as a kid I don’t know what it was. But it was quite obvious that in the city of Shanghai, the people welcomed the Communists and their so-called Revolutionary Success. My father didn’t tell us about these things and from that point on our whole family life went downhill. Another reason was that my mother was a landlord “enemy” and there was a so-called class program. Communists divided people in different classes. If you belong to the capitalist bourgeoisie class or belong to the landlord class, these are enemy classes. With members of these two classes, either they killed or tortured and destroyed them. So after 1949, a couple of years later, my father lost his job working in a bank as a manager and the bank became the property of the government. Until today there is no private property in Shanghai. So in the last couple of years, 5-6 years, I quite remember Mommy selling all her personal belongings to support all the kids going to school until 1957, when I was arrested and sent to the labor camps. My wonderful healthy and wealthy childhood was finished.

Harry, second from the left in the standing row, with his college baseball team

 

Q: Can you talk about the situation when you were born?

Harry: You know when the Communists took power of the whole country was run by so-called political campaigns. 1949-1951 was the land reform campaign. They took all the land and killed most of these landlords. The next year was the so-called “suppression of counter-revolutionaries.” I don’t know how many people were killed, but the government says that probably very close to one million people were killed, executed. And then in 1952-53 they confiscated all these properties including houses, factories, and hospitals, and they all became government property. In 1955 some people were executed as counter-revolutionaries again. In 1957, (until this moment we do not know the exact number) the government information says at least 550,000, probably the actual number should be more than one million, one million people were labeled as counter-revolutionary rightists. I was only 20 years old and I did not know about these things. Not only me, but also my father was labeled the same as me, a “counter-revolutionary rightist”. So later, two-and-a-half years later, in the 1960s, the government arrested me and sent me into the camp. No court, no judgment, no judge. The communist party made a decision. It was only on the first night in the camp that the warden looked at my file and said I had been sentenced to life. That is my personal story.

Q: I understand. If I can turn back to the very beginning of your life now: where in China and in what year were you born?

Harry: I was born February 8th, 1937. This was the year the Japanese invasion happened and China publicly announced it was going to fight against the Japanese. In 1945 Japan surrendered. I was born in Shanghai, the big city in China.

 

FAMILY

Only then did I learn that my mother had committed suicide when she received my letter, because she was so disappointed.
 

Q: Was your family informed about what was happening?

Harry: First of all, I could not talk to them because we did not have a telephone system. We did have a telephone, but it was very expensive. But before they arrested me I told my mom and called my dad, and told them that I would probably get a job. My mother was unhappy because she was in a very bad situation—the economic situation of my family was very bad and our finances had almost run out. For example, the last month of food for me in the school, we had to pay for the food. My mom sold her wedding ring in order to make my last payment for food. So whatever job I would get would be good for my family I wouldn’t need to have any financial support from my family. She was expecting that maybe I could get a job. But later she did not get an answer; I was arrested and I was not allowed contact with anyone outside the prison. The iron gate was locked.

After two weeks, I was in the so-called confession and self-criticism study class with other prisoners and finally they arranged for me to join the labor team. The first thing I did was talk to the so-called “captain” of the police. I asked, “Can I write a letter to my family?” He said, “Yes, you can since you are a new prisoner, but only one page, and then give it back to me.” So the next day I wrote a letter to my mom. I said I was sorry that I was put in the labor camp and sentenced to life. But I did not know what was going on, because I never got a response from my family. Fifteen years later I asked my sister where my mother was. And she said she passed away fifteen years before, and would I come back to return her urn of ashes? I got a special permit to go back to my family to get my mom’s ashes.

Q: What happened with your father?

Harry: My father was tortured and later he died in 1980. He retired as an English teacher from the university, but he was pulled out from the residential community and every day swept the street, he had to clean the street. During the revolution he had a terrible life until he finally died in 1980.

Harry, second from the right wearing glasses, with his family.

 

My brothers are another story. My youngest brother was only seven or eight years old when I left home. He did not know about these things. In 1968 he was 18 years old and I had been in the labor camp for eight years and had no connection with him. Only in 1980, twenty years later, I returned to my home and my sister told me that my youngest brother had a problem. I asked what was the problem. In 1968, my youngest brother went to a far-away remote area in a small village. He didn’t want to stay in Shanghai, he just wanted to go to the countryside and receive reeducation from the poor peasants. He said he wanted to follow Chairman Mao, become a Red Guard, and wanted to separate from his counter-revolutionary family and become a new reborn revolutionary. What could we do? My father said, “Okay, I am a counter-revolutionary. You can go wherever you want and find your future.” My brother was in the village, but he also wanted to become a Red Guard, become a revolutionary. So he was pretty active in the village doing propaganda and printing work. The Red Guards treated him differently. Although he was not a Red Guard, it seemed that he was good for the revolution, so he felt pretty happy. At that time everybody in the whole country was respecting Chairman Mao, and everywhere they had Chairman Mao portraits and quotation books. So every morning when they had to get up and whenever lunch happened, they had to swear and say, “Long live Chairman Mao! Long live Chairman Mao!” and the whole country did it.

So when my brother returned to his dormitory he saw that the dormitory’s portrait of Mao was dirty. He did not know how it became dirty, so right away he reported it to Red Guard headquarters, saying that maybe someone did something wrong. At that moment in China, many people had no way to fight against the Communist Party. They could only scratch a Mao portrait or damage a Mao statue to express their opinion, that’s it—only quietly or secretly, nobody dared to do it. Even in 1971, the Chinese government executed more than 100,000 people because they damaged Mao portraits and said bad things against Mao. This was a very serious counter-revolutionary crime. So, my brother found out that some people were doing something wrong and he reported it to the Red Guards and they came back to investigate it. Nobody knew what happened. In the small villages and small counties, this was a very serious crime; it was the biggest crime in this small county!  A week later, my brother found another Mao portrait in the dormitory bathroom that was broken, but maybe the wind had blown it in. Of course I don’t know if this is true, but my brother reported it again. They investigated it and said that he probably did it, that my brother did it. He said, “No, I only reported it! I hate that! I want to protect Mao and I am loyal to Chairman Mao and loyal to the revolution, I would not do this.” They said, “No, you have been hiding deep within our village. You are probably a counter-revolutionary because your brother is a counter-revolutionary in the labor camps, your father is a counter-revolutionary, and you come from the bourgeoisie class. That’s why you basically hate the Communist Party. That’s why you damaged the Mao portrait and reported, because actually you did it!”

They taught him a hard lesson. Many times they made him go to struggle meetings and beat him. Finally, my brother lost consciousness and became mentally disabled. But we didn’t even know if he was really mentally disabled, maybe he was just pretending. We were not sure. My youngest brother was caught eating some people’s shit. He did not know what happened, but after two months he came back and returned to Shanghai, but he had become completely mentally disabled. In 1980 when I was in China, I saw him, but there was nothing I could do. One day, in 1981, he walked out of the house and was killed by someone in the Beijing police. Finished, dead.

I have a couple of sisters. Well, one sister was in America. She came here around 1949 or 1950. First she went to Hong Kong and then she came here. She totally separated from the family and I don’t know what happened to her. You know, when you become a counter-revolutionary rightist, everyone has to cut off relations with you and treat you as the enemy; otherwise they will get in big trouble. So my sister, you could say we are sisters [sic], but actually we have no connection, even until today. The other two sisters have died, passed away. I am totally alone, my father has passed away, my mother committed suicide, and my brothers and sisters completely separated from me. The environment did not allow you to have contact with any other person.

 

BECOMING A COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY RIGHTIST

But the Communist Party found out right away that I intended to escape to a foreign country—this is very serious counter-revolutionary crime—then they arrested me and sentenced me to the prison camp.
 

Q: Since I am calling you from Prague and I am of Czech origin: we have a similar thing in history. The Czech regime changed in 1948 and started sending mostly innocent people to jail. You said you were not sent to jail based on any court. How did this happen? How did they arrest you?

Harry: First of all, in 1957, at the beginning, the Communist Party was launching a campaign called the “Hundred Followers Bloom” campaign. The Communist Party said that everyone living in the country was free and they can say and do whatever they want. This was eight years after the Communist Party took control. Some people were very scared and did not want to talk about it, but they were pushed by the Communist Party to speak out. For example, I was in my second year of college. My major was geology, not politics or social science; I was not interested in politics. I was the captain of the baseball team. All the time when I was not in school we played ball, played sports. But the Communist Party followed me and asked me to come to their meeting and give the Communist Party some suggestions. I said I’m sorry I don’t have any ideas.

After a few times they told me that I had to come. So I went to the conference and I had nothing to talk about, I didn’t know about this, I was only 20 years old. I made some comments. The first one was about the previous year, October 1956; the Soviet Red Army suppressed the Budapest uprising. It was really a big event and shocked the people. I wasn’t very interested in it, but I heard about it. I said maybe the Soviets have to care about the international communism campaign and support the Hungarian government to suppress the counter-revolutionaries. But I think that the Soviet Union arranging the Red Army and going into Budapest—another country—to suppress the people, maybe this is a violation of international law.

The second idea, I said, if the Communist Party is going to say that all the people in socialist China is a comrade, it will be fine. We don’t call everyone Mister or Misses, Professor or Doctor, we call everyone comrades. So I said, okay, I think this is a good idea. But in our university, the Communist Party would always say, we have a meeting with comrades and students. If you are not a member of the Party they only call you a student, not a comrade. So I said this is my suggestion. I never wrote it, I never went to any speech engagement, but they recorded it. A couple of weeks later, they held a meeting to criticize me and said my opinion was a counter-revolutionary opinion—an opposing opinion and I had to confess why I would say that. And I said, “but you said I have to offer my opinion and that’s my opinion, so that’s it.” So this is wrong. They said, “well, this is a capitalist idea, you’re against the communists.” I said no I’m not; it’s just a criticism. Finally I said okay, I admit that this is my mistake, I want to recognize that I am wrong. Because the communist secretary said you come from a bourgeoisie class, the enemy class, you hate the Communist regime. I said I didn’t. So I turned around and I confessed. I wanted to criticize myself, criticize my family. I said yes, I was a counter-revolutionary rightist and I heard my father was a counter-revolutionary rightist. I said, “What’s going on?”

Later, they said: well, we have an announcement, you have to listen—you are a counter-revolutionary rightist. We will give you a punishment. You are under surveillance and are not free. They arranged two other students who were members of the Communist Youth League to follow me and keep me under surveillance. They followed me from the dormitory to the cafeteria to the library, and to the classroom. I had to report to them what I was doing and what was my behavior. Even if I went out shopping I had to report to them. I was not free; I lost my freedom. And every month I had to write a confession. I was singled out. In my class there were two students, including me, labeled as counter-revolutionary rightists and singled out. Later in 1958, as geology students, we went to the field for geology practice. I walked out of school and went to the village where I was very close to the poor peasants. For a boy from the city, this was my first opportunity to meet poor peasants. I learned that so many students had a life different from the peasants, and the peasants were so poor. I thought maybe the Communist Party talking about the revolution and wanting to liberate peasants and support them was okay, I thought that maybe my life is too much. But then I thought, what is my life? I have no future. I was an enemy of the Communist Party. Maybe the communism revolution is good for the nation, it is good for the population, but it is not good for me. So I was thinking of how to escape from China, but I was not ready for that. But the Communist Party found out right away that I intended to escape to a foreign country—this is very serious counter-revolutionary crime-then they arrested me and sentenced me to the prison camp.

Harry in Tuanhe Farm reeducation through labor (laojiao) prison near Beijing in 1965

 
Q: Were you a university student at the time when you were imprisoned?

Harry: Yes, I was a student, but I was near graduation. I was waiting for a job arrangement. Other students got offers, but my offer was to go to the labor camps.

Q: Are you an engineer in geology?

Harry: I don’t know. Because at that time, the police came to the school and into the classroom, and there was more than 100 students there together. The police made an announcement, saying, “Harry Wu come up.” I went over and then the officer said, I will take you to the labor camps for your labor. I said, “Can I make a choice? I want to go home.” And he said, “I’m sorry, you can’t. You have to follow me and go. Sign the paper here.” And then he pulled out a paper, but one of his hands covered up the top part and he pointed to the bottom and said, “Sign the paper here.” I said, “Can you remove your hand and let me see what is my sentence, what is written on the paper?” And he said, “No, it’s not necessary, you just sign here.” I said, “If you want to execute me I also have to sign a paper…” And then he took away the paper and said, “Whatever, if you want to sign or don’t want to sign, it’s the same. You have been arrested, so let’s go away.” So finally I said, “Okay, I’ll sign it,” and I just signed it. To this day I don’t know what the paper said about my crime. I went straight to the police department and then to the labor camp. The iron door was locked behind me. The guards came up and kicked me on my back and made me fall down, facing the brick wall. They took away all of my things including my belt, everything. I was put in solitary. At midnight the warden came in and took me to a small room with only one table and a chair. Only the policeman and the warden were there. There was only one light that they turned and focused on me. I could not see him very clearly. He interrogated me, and asked, “What is your crime?” I said, “I don’t know. Because they did not show me the paper!” He said, “Oh that’s ok, let me look.” He opened my file and said, “You are a counter-revolutionary rightist and you are sentenced to life.” That’s it. You have to know that this happened to more than 1 million intellectuals, including doctors, engineers, authors, professors, and university students. Probably at least 20% of the intellectuals in China became so-called “counter-revolutionary rightists.”

 

LABOR CAMPS

I was 23 when I was imprisoned and when I left I was 42.
 

Q: Can you explain what was the trajectory of the places you have travelled to as a prisoner? Where did they send you for the first camp and what went next and next?

Harry: I have been in 12 different camps. The longest time, I was in Shanxi Province in a coalmine for probably more than nine years. The other nine years I was in different locations: a chemical factory, a brick factory, a steel factory, a farm, and different situations. But mostly I was in Shanxi province as a coal miner.

Q: What did they force you to do in the coalmine?

Harry: In the coalmine the first three to four years I was pulling the cart and digging the coal. In the coal mine there were two 12-12 shifts a day. The rest of the years I was working as safety worker, but I still had to go down to the camp. I had to go test the gas and test the mines. The other years when I was on a farm we were digging a canal, growing rice, corn, wheat, sometimes picking grapes and strawberries. We had to pack it and put it in the truck for export to Japan and Hong Kong.

Q: Can you define the purpose of sending so many people to the labor camp?

Harry: It’s very simple. The Chinese government said this is a one-party ruling system. Even today, there is only one party in the communist country. From top to bottom, everywhere they have Communist members. Today, China has more than 70 million members of the Party. The Communist Party members are everywhere: they are government officials, workers, and clerks for the whole country. Everyone had to agree that the communist revolution is good. No religion and no other jobs. It was very different in the first 30 to 40 years—everybody lived like a slave. All the jobs were arranged by the government, and all the land (even today) is owned by the government. If you disagree with them, if you have some opinion, of course, if you don’t like it, how will they handle it? Of course they will execute you, because you are a counter-revolutionary. Of course they would not execute all of them. Many of them, just like me, were put in the labor camp, put in the prison. Prison camps in China are very simple, very clear. You have to reform and you have to be forced to labor. Go through the forced labor and reform yourself. The Communist leaders want to see two products out of the prison camp: one product is made by the prisoners—the corn, wheat, strawberries, whatever. If the product, the merchandise can be sold and exported, imported by the international market, then they do it. The other product is the man; he has to reform and agree with socialism and the Communist revolution, and then he is qualified to live in the society. Otherwise, you cannot get out. The captain simply told everybody, “Are you done [reforming]? If you are not done, you stay here.” Even if you are sentenced to five years, if after five years, he says your thought has not been reformed, your thought is still like it was in the old time, and you will still stay in the jail—because nobody wants you. The society and the community will not have a job for you because nobody likes you, because you disagree with communism. You have to stay in the labor camps. It’s quite simple.

Q: What year were you released?

Harry: I was released in February 1979…because in 1979 the Chinese Communist leader Mao Zedong died. Then there was a very serious problem because Mao Zedong’s ideas, Mao Zedong’s policy really made the country into a disaster. The economy was very bad, production never worked, and everybody was fighting each other. So we [in prison] did not know. That kind of fighting and executions not only happened to people like me, but also in the Party system. So everybody hated it. But there was a two-year power struggle at the top levels, meaning that Mao Zedong’s wife and Mao Zedong’s colleagues fought against each other. Finally in 1978, Deng Xiaoping came to power. Deng Xiaoping had a new policy, saying we want to move on to a new situation—meaning open the society and allow the capitalists to come back and make investments, and we need their technology. So the Westerners and the Taiwanese and Hongkongese went back to China to set up small factories, which then became big factories. The production is going well; even today China has economic development.

They had to combine this together with politics. They said, well we need some new improvements, to show the people in the West that we are improving. So they made some changes, but fundamentally they are still under the Mao Zedong system, the Chinese Communist Party is still there to control the whole country.

In 1979, they made some adjustments. They had to release most of the people. So all of us got released, but actually I want to say that maybe 70% of the people (700,000 people) had died. Only a few people were left. Today I am 73 years old. I am the youngest so-called counter-revolutionary. Most of these people who were labeled as counter-revolutionary rightists in 1957 are around 80 years old today. Maybe only less than 10,000 people were left out of 1 million! Only less than 10,000 survived.

So I got released in 1979. They arranged a job for me in the university. I was 42 or 43 years old. I quite realized that while I was not going to complain or whatever, I was not going to say, “Long live Chairman Mao. Long live the Communist Party” either. I was very quiet. I just focused on my studies and tried to recover my professional knowledge. I wanted to become a teacher in the university. I realized I left a small cage, but I still remained in a big cage, because the whole country was still controlled by the communists. Even if I was released from the labor camps, I was not free. Fortunately, in 1985, I was invited by University of California, Berkeley, so I went to the United States as a visiting professor in California, in my major, geology. I was very very lucky. I am free.

Harry captured footage on his various trips back to China.

 

Q: That’s how you got to the US and you stayed there?

Harry: At the beginning in America it was very hard. I could not find a place to live because I didn’t have enough money for rent. I could not drive a car, I did not have any family, I did not know who could help. In the daytime I was in the library and classroom as a professor doing things. In the evening I was in the office, but later I had to walk out, and because I didn’t have a place to sleep I went out on the street. They next morning I would return to the office and have a nap. Later I found a job—illegally. I could not work because I did not have the permit to work in America, but used someone else’s social security number to get a job. So I started working making doughnuts every night from 9pm to 6am the next morning. I had a roof over my head, so I didn’t worry about the police arresting me. I could save money even though they only paid me $2.25 an hour. It was good! I believed that in this free country, if I were honest, if I worked hard, if I never gave up, sooner or later I would have a good life.

One thing I reminded myself was to turn over a new page, meaning I would not tell people what happened to me: what was my nightmare, what was my life in the labor camp, why I tried to commit suicide in the camps, about my starvation, my parents’ life, my brothers’ life. I wanted to turn over and close the old chapter. I was fighting for a new life. I wanted to have enough money to rent a house or an apartment and buy a car. I thought maybe I would marry someone and have a family. I did not know.

So I never talked to people about this, until 1990 when the American Congress and Senate invited me to testify in the Congress. They asked, “How many camps have you been in? How many people do you know? How many years? Tell us your life.” I told the people honestly, and everyone went quiet; they were shocked that I spent 19 years there. Later they asked, “How many camps? How many people were there?” I told them, “I do not know.” Even you do not know; today nobody knows. The Chinese government never says how many camps, how many people. How many people they kill every year is top secret.

So I went back to China. I wanted to see what it was like. I went back a couple of times, but then the Chinese found out and put me on the wanted list and I could not go back. They said, “This is your new counter-revolutionary crime. You are stealing our top secrets.” I said, what secrets? I just wanted to see the labor camps in the country. How many people? We estimate 40 or maybe 50 million people had been there in the past 40 to 60 years. But in 1994 I became an American citizen. I had a new passport. I changed my name. I obtained a Chinese visa and went back to China. I also invited a BBC correspondent to go with me and I was very very happy. When we came back BBC and I, we made the report and the Chinese government really hated it. The next year, 1995, at the Chinese border, the Chinese government rearrested me again, even though I had a valid American passport and Chinese visa. They rearrested me and the Americans got mad. My neighbor put a yellow ribbon on the mailbox. And the American Congress passed a resolution saying if they did not release me they would impose economic sanctions. And President Clinton was talking about it and Hilary Clinton was involved. Everybody was mad about it. And then China finally released me. They only put me in jail for 66 days and they sentenced me to 15 years, but they deported me.

Today I am in America as a free man, but according to China, I am still a criminal. I don’t know why they charged me for stealing state secrets. It is not related to foreign affairs, the military, or politics, only the labor camps. How many camps? What are the conditions? What about torture? How many people? This is top secret. Even though today economic development is good (I am not talking about sanctions or rejecting doing business there), do you remember that many people are in the camps because they are political criminals? Can you say something about human rights inside China?

Religion is not free there. Roman Catholicism is still illegal in China. Every family is controlled by the so-called “population policy”. The government says that every family is only allowed to have one child. Before you marry you cannot get pregnant. After you marry you have to wait for a permit and then you can have your first child. After your first child, you cannot be pregnant again. Forced abortion and forced sterilization are the major ways to control the population. Even giving birth is not a basic right? Every year they execute thousands of people and we do not know. After the execution they remove the organs for organ transplant. This is “government policy.”

Q: This will sound very naïve, but if we go back to the time in the camp did you suffer any injuries or disease?

Harry: Oh yes, there are a lot of diseases in the coalmines. A lot of people died and accidents happened all the time. I almost died. I was in a collapse. They reported to the police that I was killed because the coalmine came down. They dug me out and realized I was still alive. They picked me up, that was it.

Q: What were the conditions like? What did you eat?

Harry: The food is a major method for the police to control you. They always say, “Good labor, good food; bad labor, bad food. If you refuse to labor, there’s no food.” Even in America today after 27 years, I can freely eat all kinds of beef, pork, or whatever. In the labor camp 19 or 20 years I didn’t have beef, pork, or even cooking oil. Sometimes I was starving.

In the coalmine I worked 12pm-12am, two shifts a day. On the farm, when the sunrises you get up, gather, and the police escort you out to the field. When the sun sets you come back. We never talk about the hours; it depends on the sun. If it was raining, we didn’t go. Seven days a week, thirty days a month.

Q: How many people were in the camp? Hundreds, thousands?

Harry: Each camp was different. Some of the camps were large. One of the camps, Qinghe Farm, had maybe 30,000 or 40,000 people there. Some of the camps, like for the coalmines, we had 2,000 maybe 2,300. Some of the farms had maybe 1,000. Some big, some small.

Q: Was there a lot of violence caused by the guards?

Harry: Oh yea. In my experience in Beijing, the captain would not really be violent, but he would put his hand on your back say to the others, “you have to help this guy,” and the other prisoners would come over and beat you, to show that they were loyal to the police. So it was not necessary for them to do it themselves. But recently, all the police have been involved in torture; it’s horrible.

Q: What was the reason for torturing people?

Harry: Loyalty is just one of the problems. But if you violate the discipline or commit a crime, they just do it. For example, they broke my finger because when I was on the farm because I picked up some extra branches and leaves and used my bucket to cook it. It was very normal.

Q: What helped you to survive all of those years?

Harry: I was baptized as a Catholic in 1949. In 1951 or 1952, Catholic activities were banned in China. I was pretty young, 14 years old, and I did not really act as a Catholic. No one else in my family was a Catholic. Some people ask if maybe Catholicism gave me support. I don’t know. In 1960 or 1961 I suffered horrible starvation and there was no way for anyone to help me. My other inmates were dying, everyday—one, two, three, four—they died and moved out, and others would move in. I was just waiting to pray to G-d for help. Nobody could help. Everyone quietly laid in bed, waiting to move on—to the graveyard. But it seemed that G-d didn’t help. I yelled to G-d, saying, “Forget it. You’re not helpful.” Since then, I have never sought for any help from G-d.

Did I have any ideas about fighting against communism or fighting for freedom? I didn’t. I didn’t have any strong idealism or any love to support myself. How could I survive? I want to tell you, I just lived as a beast. Any life, any animal, including humans, they want to live. Even dogs, even small ants. Everyone wants to live. I just wanted to live. I was looking for food, looking out for my own life. I didn’t care—I robbed for food, because some people robbed me of my food. I could find frogs in the fields; I could eat rats. As a beast, as an animal, I survived.

 

Q: Do you have any friends who were there with you and survived with you?

Harry: Yes, some. Today they are still in China.

Q: Mr. Wu is there something that you could say to the young generation everywhere in the world, is there something you would like to share with them?

Harry: I understand that young people, particularly in Europe, they don’t quite understand this situation. Even the Holocaust and Hitler’s concentration camps, for example, they can’t connect this with their life. They go to the museums and the Dachau camp, Auschwitz camp, and they say, “This is horrible. Don’t let this happen. Stop it. Fight for human rights,” that’s it. But what else? I would also suggest young people read some memories of these people, these survivors’ books. They can describe to you what is the reality. Don’t let it happen again. Particularly, today China is still run by the communists. What is this about? People didn’t want to engage with the Soviet Union communists because they feel this is awful. They said, “We cannot deal with evil. We cannot share our technology with them.” But why today do they share with the Chinese communists? They are still running the Laogai system and still put people in jail because they disagree with the communists. Should I remind people of this? I think so. This is the way we ought to rebuild our society. In thinking about human rights.

 

LAOGAI RESEARCH FOUNDATION

The Laogai is the Chinese gulag, Chinese labor camps and Chinese Communist Party violations.
 

Q: Can you maybe say, just to conclude, something about your foundation?

Harry: Our foundation is called Laogai Research Foundation. Many people still don’t know about it, but actually “laogai” has become a word in every dictionary, just like the Soviet gulag. “Gulag” is a new word created by Alexander Solzhenitsyn and it means Soviet labor camps and Stalinist political crime. The Laogai is the Chinese gulag, Chinese labor camps, and Chinese Communist Party violations. Well, we try to tell people how many camps are inside China and are still running. What is the torture? Who are the people? Even today, if China becomes a free country, a democratic country, we will still have to remember the past—how many camps, how many people were there—we have to expose the truth. Otherwise the history will be covered up and we will repeat history again.

Q: I am afraid I could talk to you for hours. I would like to very much thank you for the time you designated to our interview. I will send your colleagues this record of our conversation and later on I will find some English-speaking volunteers to help with the transcription. If you still have patience with us, we would love to come back to talk to you. We would like to do what you are doing in your foundation; we would like to make stories like yours heard because it is crucial to remember our past. I want to wish you all the best from Prague and I hope we will have the chance to talk again.

Harry: Thank you. Good-bye.

 

Interviewer: Tomás Bouška

 

This interview’s English transcription has been gratefully edited by Ms. Victoria Lee Norris volunteering for Political Prisoners.edu, and the Laogai Research Foundation.