[House Hearing, 113 Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Publishing Office]
THE END OF REEDUCATION THROUGH LABOR? RECENT DEVELOPMENTS AND PROSPECTS
CONGRESSIONAL-EXECUTIVE COMMISSION ON CHINA
ONE HUNDRED THIRTEENTH CONGRESS
MAY 9, 2013
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CONGRESSIONAL-EXECUTIVE COMMISSION ON CHINA
LEGISLATIVE BRANCH COMMISSIONERS
SHERROD BROWN, Ohio, Chairman CHRIS SMITH, New Jersey,
MAX BAUCUS, Montana Cochairman
CARL LEVIN, Michigan FRANK WOLF, Virginia
DIANNE FEINSTEIN, California MARK MEADOWS, North Carolina
JEFF MERKLEY, Oregon ROBERT PITTENGER, North Carolina
TIM WALZ, Minnesota
EXECUTIVE BRANCH COMMISSIONERS
To Be Appointed
Lawrence T. Liu, Staff Director
Paul B. Protic, Deputy Staff Director
C O N T E N T S
Brown, Hon. Sherrod, a U.S. Senator from Ohio; Chairman,
Congressional-Executive Commission on China.................... 1
Belkin, Ira, Executive Director, U.S.-Asia Law Institute, New
York University School of Law.................................. 2
Lewis, Margaret K., Associate Professor of Law, Seton Hall Law
Li, Xiaorong, Independent Scholar................................ 8
Wu, Harry, Founder and Executive Director, Laogai Research
Belkin, Ira...................................................... 26
Lewis, Margaret K................................................ 31
Li, Xiaorong..................................................... 35
Wu, Harry........................................................ 41
Smith, Hon. Christopher.......................................... 43
THE END OF REEDUCATION THROUGH LABOR? RECENT DEVELOPMENTS AND PROSPECTS
THURSDAY, MAY 9, 2013
Commission on China,
The roundtable was convened, pursuant to notice, at 11:03
a.m., in room 562, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Senator
Sherrod Brown, Chairman, presiding.
Also present: Lawrence Liu, Staff Director; Paul Protic,
Deputy Staff Director; Anna Brettell, Senior Advisor; and Jesse
Heatley, Senior Research Associate.
OPENING STATEMENT OF HON. SHERROD BROWN, A U.S. SENATOR FROM
OHIO; CHAIRMAN, CONGRESSIONAL-EXECUTIVE COMMISSION ON CHINA
Chairman Brown. The Commission will come to order. Thank
you for joining us, those in the audience and the panelists. I
appreciate Ms. Lewis being back with us. She was in our first
panel. I appreciate your being here. You were on our first
panel that day, too. Thank you, Ira for joining us. Mr. Wu,
thank you for your 30 years of engagement with us and beyond
and the courage you have shown as we have moved forward.
I particularly want to thank the excellent staff of the
Commission, starting with Lawrence Liu and the good work he's
done, and Jesse Heatley, David Petrick, Jen Salen, Abbey Story,
Judy Wright, Dee Jackson, and Sarah Mellors. Thank you for the
work that you do. As you all know, in this place, that's where
most of the work is so often done, it is very good staff work.
I have been involved in this Commission and other Chinese-
American relations and labor issues and human rights issues for
a decade and a half or so now, and you can see, I think, on
this issue we are discussing today, on reeducation through
labor camps, the work that others have done as there is
evidence--there is beginning to be some evidence that China may
be looking seriously to change their policies, and maybe it is
partly an economic issue to them, it is partly a human rights
issue, it is partly an issue of, they are on the world stage
more and more prominently and the People's Republic of China,
the government, understands that being on the world stage and
the light that this Commission and others have shown on them
really does matter in changing behavior.
So when a number of people sitting on both sides of me,
they do not seem the type to be discouraged, but I know that we
all have moments of being discouraged when things seem so
sometimes black and white, or certainly when issues of justice
come up, that we really are, this Commission and the four
people, or five people really, that flank me and the staff
behind me really has had a significant impact on behavior there
and I am so appreciative of that.
I want to introduce the four panel members. I can only be
here for about 20 more minutes, and I apologize for that. None
of us put quite the time that those of us elected--Chris Smith
does a terrific job on this. None of us put quite the time we'd
like to in this. But I will introduce the four panelists and
stay for a while, listen to their opening statements, and then
Mr. Liu will go from there.
Ira Belkin is executive director of the U.S.-Asia Law
Institute at the NYU School of Law. He is an accomplished
public servant and advocate for the rule of law in China. He
was a Federal prosecutor for 16 years and served two tours at
our Embassy in Beijing. He is a program officer at the Ford
Foundation in Beijing, where his grantmaking supported the
kinds of institutions that are so important in the rule of law,
working to build their legal system and strengthen the rights
of especially vulnerable groups.
To my immediate right is Margaret Lewis, Associate
Professor of Law at Seton Hall, also in New York State. She is
a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and Affiliated
Scholar at NYU's law schools, the U.S.-Asia Law Institute and
Public Intellectuals Program Fellow with the National
Commission on U.S.-China Relations. She has written numerous
articles that have appeared in top journals. Professor Lewis
served as a panelist, as I earlier said, in our roundtable, I
guess, two years ago, something like 2011.
To my left is Xiaorong Li. Ms. Li is a longstanding human
rights advocate and has published numerous articles on diverse
subjects ranging from ethics to democracy. She is recently a
Research Faculty Member near here at the University of
Maryland, College Park. She shared her expertise before the
Commission on a number of occasions.
To my far left is one of my heroes, Harry Wu. Not that you
three, the rest of you, aren't, too. But the Founder and
Executive Director of the Laogai Research Foundation based in
Washington, a victim of China's prison labor system. He has
devoted his life to advocating for human rights in China. His
groundbreaking research helped expose the cruelties, perhaps
more than any single individual, of the legal system. Thanks to
the four of you.
We will start with Mr. Belkin.
STATEMENT OF IRA BELKIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, U.S.-ASIA LAW
INSTITUTE, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW
Mr. Belkin. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much.
Distinguished members of the Commission and staff, ladies and
gentlemen, I appreciate the opportunity to participate in
today's roundtable. I also want to take the opportunity to
acknowledge the importance of the Commission's work, especially
your annual reports and periodic roundtables. They have made a
great contribution to our understanding of China, as well as to
improving human rights and rule of law in China.
Of course, the opinions I express today are my own, but I
also represent the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at the New York
University School of Law. I am proud to have Professor Margaret
Lewis as an alumnae and a non-resident scholar. We do research,
we do constructive engagement with China. Our institute was
founded by Professor Jerome Cohen, who is a mentor to almost
everyone in this field and a consistent advocate for both human
rights, rule of law, and engagement with China.
I have been asked to talk about the overview of reeducation
through labor, its history, its current use, the debate within
China about reform, and recommendations for the U.S.
Government. That is a lot to cover in five to seven minutes,
but I'll do the best I can. I have prepared written remarks,
but for time's sake I will just try to highlight some of those
The crux of reeducation through labor is that it's been a
system of administrative detention with no judicial review,
where the police have the authority to send someone to a
reeducation through labor camp, to incarceration, for up to
four years based on a very vague set of standards and, again,
with no judicial process.
So although China has made tremendous progress since 1979
in improving its criminal law and criminal procedure law,
administrative punishments like reeducation through labor
provide a way out of the formal legal system for citizens to be
punished for extensive periods of time without much process.
Historically, the system started in the 1950s during the
early years of Chairman Mao's rule, and while it could be
criticized at that time, at least within the context of the
1950s, the flexibility that it provided made some sense within
At the time, as Chairman Mao famously had said, there are
contradictions among the people and contradictions with
enemies, and reeducation through labor was a way to deal with
people who were enemies of the state and enemies of the Party.
The rules that surround reeducation through labor, even to
this day, reflect that 1950s sense. When we think about China
in 2013, this seems like a system that is very much out of
The system of reeducation through labor has never had a
legislative basis, it's never been supported by legislation
from the National People's Congress. It has a basis in orders
from the State Council and regulations from the Ministry of
Public Security. These go back to 1957.
The State Council rules were amended in 1979 and again in
1982, and then the Ministry of Public Security has issued
regulations again in 2002 and 2005. I won't go through the
details of those; they are in the remarks, and certainly the
regulations are public.
In the 1950s, it seemed that reeducation through labor was
used primarily as a political tool to identify counter-
revolutionaries, people who were enemies of the Party, and was
a way to incapacitate them, incarcerate them, or reform them
Over time, the way that reeducation through labor has been
used and supported has changed and now it is considered to be,
by its supporters, a way to maintain social stability. It
certainly continues to have the flexibility--or one might say
arbitrariness--to cover a whole range of conduct, basically
anything that the police would consider to be troublemaking,
but it's been used, from the reports that we've seen, for drug
addicts, for people involved with prostitution, for people
involved in minor offenses that do not rise to the level of a
criminal offense, but also can be used, as I said, to suppress
political dissent. It has been used against followers of Falun
Gong as well.
Over the years there have been many efforts by reformers in
China to either abolish the system or reform the system and in
prior years it has come very close to reform, but the reforms
have never been completely successful.
Earlier this year in January we heard from Mr. Meng
Jianzhu, the chair of the Political Legal Committee of the
Communist Party, which oversees the legal system in China, that
reeducation through labor should not be used this year.
There had been rumors circulating that reeducation through
labor reform was on the agenda of the new leadership and that
was the first public statement from a high-level leader that we
heard that, indeed, the system seemed to be being prepared for
reform. I think that the new leadership deserves credit for
taking this on and taking it on publicly.
A few months later, at the press conference after the
National People's Congress Premier Li Keqiang, in response to
reporters' questions, said that the relevant institutions in
China were preparing plans for reform within the year. So it
seems like this is a moment when reform might happen. Within
China there is a diversity of opinions about how the reforms
should take place.
In my written remarks I just highlighted Chinese legal
scholars who are, I guess, at different ends of the spectrum.
One, Liu Renwen from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences,
advocates for the abolition of reeducation through labor and he
makes a lot of the arguments that those in favor of abolition
have made. First, that reeducation through labor is really an
unlawful system under Chinese law.
Under the Chinese legislation law which was passed in 2000,
any law that limits the freedom or liberty of citizens must be
passed by the entire National People's Congress. As I said, the
reeducation through labor system was never supported by the
full legislation of the National People's Congress. He also
Chairman Brown. May I interrupt for one second?
Mr. Belkin. Sure.
Chairman Brown. Was it spoken about in any kind of
defending of in any way by prominent leaders of the 1950s,
1960s, 1970s, by Mao and others, or Lin Biao, or anyone
defending it or speaking about it or was it just ignored? I
understand the People's Congress didn't sanction it, if you
will, or make it ``legal.''
Mr. Belkin. Right.
Chairman Brown. Was there any of that?
Mr. Belkin. Well, it certainly is part of the system and
it's an officially sanctioned system. Many people have defended
it, including many legal scholars. But in 2000, China, as part
of its efforts to establish the rule of law and to use
legislation, kind of limited itself and said if we're going to
limit people's liberty we're going to have to do it through
legislation. My own view is that they probably had in mind that
reeducation through labor would be abolished soon, but in fact
it wasn't. This was in 2000. But it wasn't abolished.
There are those who argue, including the Ministry of Public
Security, that it is lawful under Chinese law. I think those
who say it is not have the better argument. Certainly the
government--there is no mechanism under Chinese law for
citizens to challenge the legality of the system under Chinese
law, which is part of the problem.
So it's not an illegitimate system, it's not a rogue
system. There are other forms of detention, like ``black
jails,'' or soft detention, that don't seem to have any
regulatory basis at all but are allowed to exist. But
reeducation through labor, you can find information about it on
the Ministry of Justice Web site. It is a recognized system.
I think Chinese leaders would say that China is a country
in transition, with a legal system in transition. I hope that
answers your question. I can't cite specific quotes of the
leadership, but clearly it's a system that has been allowed to
continue to today.
So part of the debate in China is the legality of the
system. Also, under the Chinese Constitution, there are
provisions that say no one can be deprived of their liberty
without a decision by a court. China's Constitution is not
self-executing, but scholars are pointing to the Constitution
as a basis for arguing that the system is illegal.
They also make the argument that China's criminal law is
now well developed. There is also a public safety
administrative punishments law. Between the two, there are a
whole host of remedies, from probationary sentences, fines, 15
days in jail up to a life sentence, and capital punishment.
There is no need or space for another administrative system
that gives the police a maximum level of flexibility. So, those
are the arguments for abolition.
Others say, well, the system could be changed, legislation
could be passed to give it a legislative basis. Maybe it could
be limited to two years and there could be a judicial review or
a quasi-judicial review.
So even those who will support the system, I think, there's
a consensus that there's a serious problem with the legal basis
for it, the process, but there is no judicial review, and the
vagueness of the standards.
Those who would say it shouldn't be abolished are proposing
a new kind of law, what's called an Illegal Behavior
Corrections Act. They say that there is still a need for some
system to punish habitual offenders. So that is the current
debate in China, which is quite lively. It's been going on for
some time. That is a summary of it.
I will just wrap up with the last point. I was asked to
talk about recommendations for U.S. Government policymakers.
Here, I will just make a couple of quick points. There is a
limit to what those outside of China can do. China is a
sovereign nation and will make its own decisions and pass its
own laws. But I think China, as part of the world community,
other countries have a right and obligation to hold China to
its own standards of establishing the rule of law and human
I would just say, in using the tools that the U.S.
Government has at its disposal, diplomacy, supporting
exchanges, I would just say that, number one, we should expand
our view. Reeducation through labor gets a lot of attention,
but as I mentioned there are other forms of detention,
administrative and otherwise, that should be part of the
Second, I think we need to be more persistent and more
consistent in using all of our tools. We tend to focus on
short-term goals, understandably. This is the nature of the
work in the government, that every time we spend effort and
spend money, we want to be held accountable for that. But this
kind of legal reform takes more time and we need to be more
persistent and more consistent in our approach.
I am sure I have used up my time so I will just conclude my
remarks. Again, thank you for the opportunity to comment.
Chairman Brown. We appreciate that.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Belkin appears in the
STATEMENT OF MARGARET K. LEWIS, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF LAW,
SETON HALL LAW SCHOOL
Ms. Lewis. Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting me to
participate in this panel. I would like to thank the staff as
well for all of their hard work. In fact, I was grading papers
on the way down here and my students in my China law class
regularly cite the work of the Commission, so we are very
grateful for what you do.
But with respect to today's topic I am going to be focusing
on the reform aspects. In particular, I've been asked to talk
about how Taiwan's experience might be relevant to this
discussion about reeducation through labor, or RTL, in the
mainland. I have also provided the Commission with a more
detailed written statement.
Much of my discussion of Taiwan grows out of work that I've
done with Jerry Cohen as part of NYU Law School's U.S.-Asia Law
Institute's project looking at legal reforms that have happened
in Taiwan over the last 25 years. Today I get to be the
optimist--as we said, we are optimists up here--and deliver a
hopeful story for reform based on Taiwan's experience.
Taiwan's form of ``reformatory training,'' as it was
called, was for people deemed ``hooligans,'' or ``liumang'' in
Chinese. It's not easy to translate and capture it fully, but
it was a system that was gradually reformed in order to
restrict police power and offer greater procedural protections.
It was ultimately abolished in 2009.
It was formerly a non-criminal sanction or, as I like to
think of it, a quasi-criminal sanction like RTL, and it allowed
police in Taiwan to lock up these vaguely described hooligans
originally for an indefinite period of time, and then that was
changed to three years after the martial law period.
Chairman Brown. It was begun under Chang Kai-shek or begun
during martial law?
Ms. Lewis. It was begun under martial law and then it was
subsequently altered after martial law ended. So what happened
was, in the waning years of martial law, you started to see
judicial involvement in these decisions that were formerly
totally in the hands of the police; that finally got momentum
going to get rid of the law in its entirety.
So what happened was that you had the constitutional court
drawing attention to the law, drilling holes in the law. Then
when Ma Ying-jeou came into office, the executive finally said,
``Well, we recommend that this law should be gotten rid of
entirely,'' and the legislature did so in 2009 in an unexpected
step. We thought that first they would just reform the law but
instead they decided to abolish it entirely.
Chairman Brown. This was done under KMT rule?
Ms. Lewis. This was done under the KMT. This was under
President Ma. Exactly. Although there were reforms going on
during the time of Chen Shui-Bian as well. But what had
happened is that criminal justice reforms had progressed in
Taiwan, and you increasingly saw the government in Taiwan
realizing there was this untenable gap between the procedures
applied to criminal cases and those applied to hooligan cases.
Similarly, I think now that we've got the revised criminal
procedure law in the PRC that just took effect in January,
increasingly we're seeing there, too, this gap between the
procedures that at least on paper are offered for people in the
criminal system and those for people who are undergoing RTL.
That gap is becoming more apparent.
But with Taiwan's experience, how is it relevant? First of
all, I think it underscores that just having a court involved
in the determination is not enough to guarantee that the person
facing an RTL determination has a fighting chance. We don't
just need more process, we need meaningful process.
I am certainly not expecting anything resembling the
judicial independence we have in the United States to blossom
overnight in China, but nonetheless even some modest judicial
review can encourage the police and prosecutors to be more
cautious in how they use their powers.
In highlighting how Taiwan's path might be helpful in
charting the mainland's future, I recognize that there are huge
differences between Taiwan and mainland China at this point.
Their histories, despite the cultural ties and long historical
ties, have diverged greatly over the last 60 years. Most
glaringly, of course, Taiwan is now a vibrant, multi-party
Moreover, the PRC does not have a constitutional court akin
to that in Taiwan, something I think which is a severe
impediment to reforms. As Ira mentioned, it's very hard for
people in the mainland to find a court where they can even air
these grievances because of the limitations on how the
Constitution can be used by citizens.
But that said, even though there are differences, I do
think that Taiwan's experience is relevant, first in looking at
how, even during the martial law era in Taiwan, you started to
see these sort of embryonic organizations being set up like the
court to hear these liumang cases. Then, later on as other
reforms progressed, those institutions were already in place
and were able to take on a much more important role in the
So maybe immediately you might not see these institutions
making a huge difference, but they can put into place something
that, when there is an opportunity years down the road, can
Moreover, in Taiwan's experience, one thing they did with
liumang was separate them into two categories of hooligans. You
had the less serious ones who were only subject to a probation-
like sanction, and then the more serious ones actually would be
subject to incarceration.
One of the ideas kicking around with RTL reforms is does it
have to be full incarceration? Is there some way to have some
kind of less severe sanction, maybe more akin to a probation-
like system that wouldn't involve at least the same direct
restriction of liberty.
In light of this background, what steps should U.S.
policymakers take? I think really that's the goal here today. I
agree with Ira that what we can do as the United States is
limited. I mean, reform is only going to happen when the
government in the PRC, and particularly the Ministry of Public
Security, is willing to allow reforms to happen. But that said,
the United States can still serve a coordinating role in
introducing both our experience and Taiwan's experience to
people on the mainland.
Currently, the cross-strait relations are as good as they
have ever been. It used to be unthinkable that you could have
direct contact, particularly amongst government officials,
across the strait. More and more you're seeing not just
scholars going across the strait, but also people in government
roles, and they are having conversations that are opening up
I have also been a part of conversations that involve not
just Taiwan and the mainland, but also Hong Kong, the United
States, and other jurisdictions. I, too, think that our
experience with our U.S. system--for example, how we have a
probation system, how we use bail--can assuage some concerns
that just because you let people out, you don't have them
locked up, they're going to go and create chaos.
So what this means is I really hope that the U.S.
Government will continue to support scholarly exchanges. I
think that's an important step just to get the information out
there and to make sure that there are no misconceptions about
how our systems are run. I also think that Taiwan is an
There are wonderful Taiwanese legal scholars, judges, and
prosecutors. There are several right now at NYU who have a
wealth of experience and they speak the same language. There's
some different terminology across the strait, but you can put
people in the same room from Taiwan and the mainland and I
think they can have a really helpful discussion. So, thank you.
Chairman Brown. Ms. Li, I apologize. Larry will conduct the
roundtable. But Ms. Li, your comments. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Lewis appears in the
STATEMENT OF LI XIAORONG, INDEPENDENT SCHOLAR
Ms. Li. Thank you, Senator Brown. Thank you, CECC staff and
Staff Director Lawrence for this opportunity. I also want to
thank the two previous speakers for laying out the basics about
laojiao, reeducation through labor [RTL]. It is sobering to be
reminded of the Taiwan experiences. I think that will help us
in thinking through this problem. I am very honored to be on
the same panel with my friend Harry.
I was asked to talk about some key cases, how these recent
cases changed the public discourse on RTL. The push for
abolishing RTL has gained momentum, as everybody has recognized
in recent months. But I think largely the credit should go to
the Chinese citizens for their tireless and long-time push for
the abolishing of this system.
Right now, everybody is holding their breath, hoping that
this year, 2013, will mark a turning point in building the
momentum for finally abolishing RTL. There are several high-
profile individual cases that I will discuss, which marked a
turning point, because they raised so much public outrage.
There has since been unprecedented public discussion about RTL
problems, and also impressive efforts by Chinese citizens to
organize and push for the ending of RTL.
This, as we've heard, has prompted some officials to start
speaking out and finally to echo the longstanding criticisms in
civil society and among scholars about the system.
Of course, we have not said exactly how many people are
detained in RTL. The numbers actually are mind-boggling. But
the problem is that it is really difficult to know exactly how
many there are. However, in recent months, Chinese officials
have provided some numbers.
For example, according to official data, approximately
170,000 individuals were held in 320 RTL camps. That was a
number given as of February 2009 at the Universal Periodic
Review of China's human rights record by the UN Human Rights
However, Chinese authorities reportedly stated in 2012 that
more recently only 60,000 detainees were being held in RTL
camps. The changing numbers, of course, could be a sign that,
under domestic and international pressure, RTL detainees may
have been transferred to other detention facilities, including
some of the other administrative detention facilities that Ira
mentioned that should also be brought into this conversation,
for example, the notorious ``black jails.'' The ``black jails''
have completely no legal foundation and anybody can be locked
in them. They are some sort of make-shift, rented space or
The few RTL cases I am asked to speak about particularly
illustrate how arbitrary the decisions are and how much power
police have to deprive the liberty of individuals without any
judicial process. Also, another point I should emphasize is the
use of RTL to persecute political dissidents, as well as
practitioners of Falun Gong, and petitioners, who are ordinary
people who seek justice by going to government officials to
complain about grievances.
One particular case that caused so much public outrage is
the case of Tang Hui. Tang is the mother of a girl who was
raped at the age of 11 and then forced into prostitution. Tang
Hui wanted to have those who committed these criminal acts
In order to make this happen, she repeatedly filed lawsuits
and went through, since 2006, many processes. Some of the
criminals were convicted, but eventually she suspected that
some of the key criminals were not prosecuted so she staged
sit-ins in courtrooms, in front of judicial official buildings.
For that, she was sent to laojiao, RTL, for disrupting social
After she was sent to RTL, her lawyers filed requests for
administrative review. Her case got so much attention, even
officially controlled media reported on this case. It went
viral on the Internet and so many netizens posted comments. It
was really a great opportunity to expose the problems with RTL.
Another case many of you are probably aware of is the case
of Ren Jianyu. Ren Jianyu was a college student who graduated
from a university and went back to his village in rural China
in Chongqing. Then he was elected director of the village. Like
most young people, Ren, in his twenties and educated in
college, lived part of his life on the Internet. He liked to
post or repost comments by other people commenting on current
events. Some of his comments had to do with official
corruption. This was the time under Bo Xilai, then the CCP
Party Secretary of Chongqing, so Ren was detained and sent to
RTL for two years.
Then, of course, we know that Bo Xilai went out of favor.
Ren was released early. Both his arrest, detention in RTL, and
his early release, nine months early, reflected the
arbitrariness of RTL and also the use of RTL to suppress free
After much public discussion of Tang and Ren's cases and
heavy coverage in the official press, participated by lawyers,
scholars, and ordinary citizens, the pressure finally prompted
the talk of change in official discourse.
But then this is not the end of the story. There is the
recent disclosure of Masanjia. Masanjia is an RTL camp
especially used for incarcerating women. Women in Liaoning
province and other places have been sent there to serve
Last month, appalling abuses of female detainees inside
this Masanjia labor camp has triggered reports in the Chinese
media and heated online discussions again, forcing officials to
promise an investigation into the revelation.
The source of the information is a diary secretly taken out
of the camp by a petitioner released in February of this year.
The diary detailed police arbitrarily detaining and torturing
petitioners and Falun Gong practitioners at the camp and
committing a wide range of horrific abuses in the camp.
I should stress that RTL is not only an arbitrary detention
system, it is also the place where torture and cruel treatment
are rampantly committed. Interviews with the recently released
detainees from Masanjia are documented in a documentary film
called, ``The Women of Masanjia Labor Camp,'' made by the
director Du Bin. Part of the film which was released on May 1
is now available on YouTube.
At the same time, another documentary film called ``The
Juvenile Laborers Confined in Dabao Xiao Laojiao'' also came
out on May 1 and provided overviews with people who were put in
RTL when they were as young as 10 years old in the late 1950s.
The movie is also available on YouTube.
At this point, Lawrence kindly agreed we would show two or
three minutes of ``The Women of Masanjia Labor Camp.''
[Whereupon, an excerpt from a video was played.]
Ms. Li. The upside down image on the screen is intentional
because the laojiao camp was built on top of a tomb yard. The
point was, I am told, that the women lived in hell, worse than
the tombs where the ghosts lived. You can go search YouTube and
continue watching, since I am running out of time here.
I will jump directly to a few suggestions for U.S.
lawmakers. I understand that what the United States can do is
limited but this does not discourage us from asking what would
be good to do. I think the U.S. Congress should strongly urge
the Chinese Government to abolish RTL, to steer clear from
replacing RTL camps with any other extra-legal detention
facilities and to free all the detainees from RTL camps and
allow them access to justice in holding their abusers
accountable and seeking redress for damages.
Such concerns should be raised by the Obama administration
at its annual Human Rights Dialogue, Legal Expert Dialogue, and
Economic Strategic Dialogue with China. Congress should
consider imposing visa bans and asset freezes on Chinese
officials involved in serious human rights abuses, including
torture and arbitrary detention in RTL camps, similar to a
recent act passed by Congress in December 2012 which places
visa bans on and freezes assets of Russian officials who
committed abuses of human rights.
Finally, Congress should urge China to revive its rule of
law reforms. There can be no meaningful end to RTL or any other
forms of arbitrary detention in a country where there is little
respect for the rule of law. Thank you.
Mr. Liu. Thank you, Ms. Li.
Now we will go to Harry Wu. Thanks.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Li appears in the appendix.]
STATEMENT OF HARRY WU, FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LAOGAI
Mr. Wu. I was literally shocked at a hearing on the
reeducation through labor because everybody understands
atrocity. They need repressive systems. Hitler's Germany needed
concentration camp systems, the Soviets needed a gulag system.
I want to remind you, gulag is not a word, it was made by
Alexander Solzhenitsyn. After 21 years, Stalin died. Stalin
died in 1953 and the gulag in 1974 finally became a word in the
In 1985, I was in America and I said, what about the
laogai? You have to know the laogai is a very common word in
China. If the people are 30, 40, or 50 years old, everybody
understands what it is. The Chinese never use the words
``imprisonment'' or ``in jail.'' No, they say laogai. So, where
is your father? My father is in laogai. Where is my brother? My
brother died in the laogai. Twenty-two percent of the
population knew the word ``laogai.''
In 1993, I was interviewed by a Washington Post
correspondent who said, ``Harry, what do you want to do? '' I
said, ``Well, I hope one thing. I hope laogai becomes a word in
every dictionary, every language.'' The Chinese, right away,
changed the laogai system. Stopped using the laogai. They have
a Laogai Affairs Department. They have laogai detention
everywhere and all these laogai camps stopped using the word
``prison.'' There was only one reason.
They said it was because we have to have a good position in
the international society, human rights society, to fight. That
is the reason to stop using the laogai. Now they want to change
and stop using the laojiao. Did the government give any
explanation for it? No, we just want to stop it. That's it.
Laojiao is a very small part of the laogai system. Since
1949, Soviet experts in China assisted the Chinese judiciary
system and security system and set up the laogai camp systems.
The laogai camps only started in 1955, 1956, from then until
today. So-called laojiao camps are for those only charged with
light crimes, like counterrevolutionaries.
So for example, I was arrested in 1960. I don't have
papers, don't have a verdict, no court. Even the police came to
my classroom and said, ``Hey, you have to go with me.'' I said,
``Where? '' He said, ``Just go to labor camps.'' So I follow
him and I go to the labor camps.
At midnight, the police in the camp says, ``Do you know
about your sentence? '' I said, ``I do not know.'' He said,
``What do you mean? You're sentenced to life.'' That simple. I
was sentenced to life in reeducation through labor. Reeducation
through labor, until 1961, no term, forever.
Only in 1961 did they change the policies. Okay, everybody
have a term. The longest one is three years, maybe two years,
maybe one year, maybe one and a half years. So this is a new
procedure really set up the reeducation camp until 1961, more
than four and a half years.
The government issued and publicized the laojiao policy in
October 1957, but way before that in 1955, 1956, there was an
abolition of the counterrevolutionary movement. In 1950 and
1951, they had suppressed the counterrevolutionary movement and
the Chinese probably executed more than 1 million prisoners.
These people so-called were working for pulling down the
government. But after a couple, five years, we have to abolish
So in 1956, after the movement, many people were selected
and collected and then they were arrested. Some of them were
sentenced, but there are 200,000 people--actually, the
government cannot sentence these people in the camp, so they
created a new law, reeducation through labor.
Who are these people--of the--government or sweep the
floor, a cleaner of the government, whatever. There's no crime
at all, but the government doesn't trust you. You cannot have a
legal job, whatever, in society. So 200,000 prisoners is the
first group, the first wave of the reeducation through labor.
At that time, the government had not issued the law yet.
The second wave of so-called counterrevolutionary--should I
stop? Okay, I'll stop. The second group is the so-called
counterrevolutionary rightists, because 1.5 million people
collected by the Communist Government became a rightist. I was
20 years old. I was one of the counterrevolutionary rightists.
I did nothing.
I just said a few words about the Soviet Red Army
suppressed the counterrevolutionary uprising in Budapest. That
is my so-called crime. So when the police came to the class and
pulled out the paper and said you were sent to reeducation
through labor, sign it, I signed it. That's not a verdict. I
don't know what it said. So this was since 1960.
The third wave of the reeducation policy is peasants. In
1959 to the 1960s, many peasants wanted to escape from their
villages because of starvation. According to that policy,
reeducation through labor, the government cannot arrest these
The reeducation through labor camps only can set up in the
cities, not in the countryside. But the government has
additional papers and said, ``Okay, we have to handle the
situation because too many peasants right now are running away
from their villages and get into the camps and become
beggars.'' I can tell you how crowded it was in the reeducation
through labor camps. Twenty-four hours, divided three times,
for a turn to sleep. I don't want to say what is the current
Some people talk about the torture. It's very different
now. Before 1976, most of them died. Most of the torture in the
prison camps were not really handled by the police but handled
by inmates. For example, in 1965 they ordered all the prisoners
to submit--okay. I'll stop. Thank you.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Wu appears in the appendix.]
Mr. Liu. Thanks. We just want to make sure we have enough
time to get to all the questions.
Once again, thank you to all the panelists for the great
job and all of the expertise that you bring to the table in
sharing both personal first-hand experiences as well as some
great research. So, thank you very much.
I know staff maybe have one or two questions, then the way
our roundtables work is that we ask some questions and then you
in the audience have an opportunity to also ask questions. We
really want this to be interactive and sort of an opportunity
for folks to ask questions and get some information from our
So I have one question that I wanted to ask first to all of
the panelists. As, I think, Ira, you had talked about in terms
of reform has been discussed for some time now. This year it
looks like maybe there's an opportunity for some real change,
but that is unclear.
But I'm wondering whether or not there are economic
interests at play here that may be working against reform or
may be opposed to reform. I don't know if these RTL centers--
for example, are people profiting off of them? If so, is that
going to be an obstacle to reform? So I ask all of the
panelists that question. Thanks.
Mr. Belkin. Lawrence, it's a great question. As I think a
few people said, the system is not terribly transparent. It's
very hard to know. Certainly I think Chinese Government
officials say it's not used for profitmaking, it's used to
educate people in work skills. But we just don't know the
I do think that reducing the population to 60,000, it seems
like the government is taking steps to prepare for a big
change. You would have to think a system that has not long ago
housed 100,000 or 200,000 people, one of the issues is, what do
you do with the people who are running the camps? So in what
I've read I haven't seen a lot of discussion about the economic
incentives. Unfortunately I don't have any more details to give
you. I don't know if anyone else does.
Ms. Li. One thing in that documentary film I was struck
with yesterday when watching it, is that in the diary smuggled
out of RTL and in the interview with the woman who did it, she
talked extensively about the work they were forced to do in the
camp. The women were made to work at least 10 hours a day.
Initially they worked seven days a week and then they got one
day off each week. She mentioned that they made garments
exported to Italy and they made police uniforms and police
gadgets, stuff for the local police stations. Anyway, quite a
lot of the interviews on this film were about how long they
worked each day and how harsh the working conditions were. They
were given fixed numbers of tasks to finish in a day. If one
couldn't finish them, one got beaten up or had to stay up
working late into the night.
I agree, it's hard to tell whether the economy really
counts RTL labor or how important the RTL products were for the
economy. But certainly this is something to look into to see
what was produced in those labor camps and where they were
exported, if there was any kind of economic profit to be made
there or whether the campaign to abolish RTL should focus on
the exports and whether some kind of boycott might help.
Ms. Lewis. I would just add that I agree: There's so much
we don't know about what's happening. But the conversations I
am having with people from the mainland are really about the
convenient repressive aspect of RTL. I, too, don't hear much
about economic considerations.
For Taiwan, before they were abolished, I went to their
``institutes,'' as they called them, where people would undergo
reformatory training. There they would have various kinds of
auto shop and other classes but it was more put in the guise
that this was about reforming or reeducating. Though they did
sell a few items, it seemed more to say, ``Look, we're
reforming these people who are these hooligans'' than about
whether the products that they were making were actually worth
any major dollar amount of concern.
Mr. Liu. That is very helpful. I have one more question.
China is coming before the UN Human Rights Council, I believe,
later this year, the Universal Periodic Review. I am wondering
if that is--and I may be asking folks to read the tea leaves a
little--motivating Chinese officials to want to address this
issue before they go before the Universal Periodic Review, or
whether there may be other factors maybe because of the new
leadership and wanting to start on a new foot that are driving
the statements of officials right now.
Ms. Li. Yes. October 22 this year is the date that China
will be reviewed at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The
Universal Periodic Review on any country takes place once every
four years. It is such a good opportunity to generate momentum
for change, I agree.
Also, next year China will likely come under review by the
Committee Against Torture. It's been five years since the last
review, and China is late to submit its state report, which
means the committee cannot start the process. But perhaps next
year. It will be another opportunity to generate international
Of course, the Chinese Government is good at shifting
attention. For example, I made a point about ``transferring''
RTL detainees to some facility called ``Illegal Behavior
Correction Centers.'' So authorities could say RTL doesn't
exist anymore, but it goes under a different name and the
arbitrary detention system continues. So that's something to
pay attention to.
I'll give you another example; before the last Universal
Periodic Review, China adopted the National Human Rights Action
Plan, even though it was not really implemented. The government
simply claimed that the plan was implemented. There was very
little civil society participation at any point.
But again, it's useful to have such a plan because the
citizens can hold the government accountable for this action
plan and present evidence to show that the plan was not met.
Ms. Lewis. I agree that it's important to have
international pressure and it shines a spotlight, but it's not
going to be, alone, sufficient. One thing we see is in 1998
China signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights [ICCPR], but it is still not ratified. One of the
sticking points is RTL. In the covenant it says that people
charged with crimes be afforded a fair public hearing by a
competent, independent, and impartial tribunal established by
law. That is not happening for RTL.
Although the PRC Government might say, ``This is
administrative, it's not criminal,'' just the label that is put
on a sanction by the government is not sufficient. So I think
it is not just about the international community saying,
``China, here are some ideals that you should live up to
because we tell you that you should live up to them,'' but here
the Chinese Government itself said it wants to ratify the
ICCPR, and we are reminding the government that this is its own
Mr. Wu. Can I? I think the most important thing is maybe
the CECC can hold a hearing on the laogai systems. Laojiao
reeducation through labor is only a very small part of the
laogai system. But the whole issue of the laogai system right
now is under the sleeping, nobody really cares about it. I
think this is a basic human rights issue. Thank you.
Mr. Belkin. Again, a very good question. It's hard to know
exactly what has motivated the leadership to act at this time.
I agree with what Professor Li has said. The ICCPR has been
something that's been part of the human rights conversation in
China since China signed it, and every couple of years China's
leaders renew their commitment to ratify the ICCPR. I think
Premier Wen Jiabao, within the last couple of years, said China
would ratify the ICCPR very soon.
The Human Rights Plan is now--I mean, it would have been
unthinkable 20 years ago for China to have a human rights
action plan. So within the argument about reeducation through
labor, Chinese scholars are using international human rights
norms to support their arguments.
So I don't know that it's one particular thing, the date
coming up for human rights review, but I do think that
international human rights instruments, human rights advocacy
does matter. We have seen that in the previous administration.
In the first year they took serious steps to reform other
systems of arbitrary detention. It was very interesting and I
don't think anyone predicted it, that when this new leadership
took office very early, or maybe even right before they took
office, they put this on their agenda. So I think it's probably
the motivation is more domestic than international, but I do
think that international human rights norms matter.
Ms. Li. I mean, absolutely. I think even without ratifying
the ICCPR, there are other international norms that China has
already ratified, which also apply here. For example, the
Convention Against Torture, China has not only signed, but
ratified. Also, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
That's one of the special procedures. Countries don't need to
sign or ratify any treaties for the special procedures to apply
to them. As long as they are members of the United Nations,
they are subjected to the SPs' scrutiny and review. So the
Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had ruled that RTL was an
arbitrary detention system, and also the Committee Against
Torture, in its last review on China in 2008, in its
``concluding observations'' suggested to China to reform RTL.
Both of these UN interventions created a certain pressure
on China. These are advocacy tools not only for Chinese
citizens, but for the U.S. Congress and all other concerned
stakeholders to use to get China further involved in the
process and to generate pressure. Thank you.
Mr. Liu. Great. Thanks a lot.
I want to introduce at this time to my right the Deputy
Staff Director, Paul Protic, who represents our Cochairman,
Chris Smith. I think he has a question.
Mr. Protic. Thank you, Mr. Liu.
I want to first say thank you very much to the panelists
for coming and for your insightful remarks. I have a followup
question to Mr. Wu. Are you aware of any prison labor cases
where goods that are being made in the laogai ended up in U.S.
markets--that U.S. companies are importing in America? Can you
Mr. Wu. Yes, many of them right here. It goes through the
reeducation through labor right now in America.
Mr. Protic. What can the government do about that? Any
suggestions on what the government, our government, can do to
keep that from happening?
Mr. Wu. Right now they live in America. They can testify,
no problem. I just really hope that Americans are aware that
China is an atrocious country, they have a suppression machine,
the so-called laogai. It's not only about reeducation through
labor. But even the Chinese Government cares about reeducation
through labor. What is the reason they want to stop it?
They did not tell the truth, how come they set up the
reeducation camps, from when? Reeducation camps in 1970
entirely stopped and Deng Xiaoping reopened it, restarted it
because we had so many people who wanted to argue about the
issue that we cannot handle that. This is light crime, light
criminal. But the laogai system included Liu Xiaobo, the Nobel
Peace Prize winner, who was there. This is a big suppression
We shouldn't only care about the gulag and concentration
camps. It's a very good topic. But it's over. The Chinese
laogai camps are still running, they're still putting people in
there. I really hope the CECC can run with this issue. It's a
part of the politics issue in China. I don't expect that the
United Nations can do anything about it.
What is the United Nations? Did they condemn Chinese
publishing control? Did the United Nations condemn execution
for organ transplants in China? Did the United Nations care
about religious freedom in China? Do they care about censorship
of the Internet? No, they don't. They only care about these
small countries called Iraq, Afghanistan, whatever. But so many
violations of human rights happen in China, but I'm sorry, they
ignore it. That's just my feeling, my personal feeling. Thank
Mr. Liu. Thank you, Mr. Wu.
I'd like to introduce one of our staff members, Jesse
Heatley. He's going to ask a question. But I also wanted to
point out that Jesse authored a special report on the
reeducation through labor system and the prospects for reform,
and we have copies of that report. Our staff helped him out
also. It's meticulously sourced. We hope you'll take a copy
with you. It's a great resource. I'll turn it over to him to
ask his question.
Mr. Heatley. Thanks so much, Lawrence. Thank you to the
panelists today for sharing their insights on RTL reform.
I have a quick question. Lawrence had mentioned that there
has been talk of RTL reform for a number of years. Over the
last 30 years there has been multiple rounds of policy debate.
One thing that appears to have changed, though, is the
emergence of social media tools and micro-blogging over the
last few years and how that's affected this discussion. I was
wondering if the panelists can discuss the role of social media
tools in reform, and perhaps the role of social media and
online advocacy for future reforms.
Just as a note, after the Tang Hui case that was mentioned
earlier, there was something around, according to the China
Daily, 700,000 posts about the Tang Hui case. After the Ren
Jianyu case, there were over a million posts about that case
just in the days following.
After the Masanjia case, there was a swell of support in
postings on the People's Daily site and some other sites and
they were quickly taken down. The government has done a
tremendous job to try to control this discussion, but the
public outrage that we've seen and the response has been great
as well. So I would appreciate it if the panelists could
discuss the role of the Internet and social media tools in
driving this type of reform, and, perhaps, similar reforms.
Thanks so much.
Mr. Belkin. The phenomenon of social media and the role of
public opinion is a complicated subject. I think that the
growth of social media in China has coincided with government
policy to take public opinion into account much more greatly in
many different areas, sometimes in the advocacy of reforms but
sometimes in advocating for particular results in individual
Sometimes there have been cases where the public opinion
has advocated for the death penalty in individual cases where
the death penalty might not have been imposed but for strong
public opinion. So sometimes it's easy to see social media as
always a positive and public opinion as always a positive, but
I think the picture is more complex. That's the first point.
The second point, it is always a puzzle as to why certain
cases receive public attention. The two cases that were so well
described by Professor Li, Tang Hui and Ren Jianyu, why did
these two cases get attention and why did they get attention
now? Is it spontaneous? Certainly the response, the
overwhelming response, is spontaneous. But were people who were
thinking about reeducation through labor reform using public
opinion to support their position? We don't really know.
I would say in 2003 when the Sun Zhigang case happened,
which was an individual case that was a great engine for reform
of the custody and repatriation system, around the same time
there was a case of someone in a reeducation through labor camp
who also died in custody, was reported in a local paper, but
information about that case never made it to the mass media.
So I think social media, although complex, is an overall
positive thing for people to have the chance to express
opinion. I think the fact is that the Chinese Government very
much cares about public opinion.
I'll just cite another positive example. During the lead-up
to the Criminal Procedure Law reform in 2012, the government
published the draft online, solicited public comments. We were
told there were 80,000 public comments, although the comments
themselves were never made public.
But one of the more controversial provisions, Article 73,
that allowed for six months of detention at an undisclosed
location, there were public comments. As a result, the final
draft was modified to at least require family notice when
someone was placed in that kind of detention.
So it's something we are watching closely and trying to
understand, but I think we should try to resist the temptation
to say that it's all positive. It would be a very positive
thing if things were more open and if, when sensitive cases
were raised, there wasn't censorship so that the leadership
could actually hear public opinion on all these issues.
We recently read in the press that people who are
advocating that leaders disclose their financial assets have
been either put under house arrest or charged right in the
midst of an anti-corruption campaign. So it's a very
Ms. Lewis. I agree. It's not an unqualified ``good'' to
have Internet use, but overall I think it's a great thing.
Certainly with criminal justice reforms more generally we've
seen a very positive role for public opinion in some ways.
For example, there was an infamous case, Zhao Zuohai, where
a man was convicted of murdering a fellow villager after a
fight: The police had found a headless body. He confessed and
he was put in prison, and thankfully not executed. The death
sentence was reprieved.
Ten years later, suddenly, the alleged victim comes back,
head intact and everything and he was not dead. People said,
``Well, why did you confess? '' Well, because it was beaten out
of him. It was a coerced confession. That case drew a lot of
attention. We see subsequent reforms in the new Criminal
Procedure Law. There are other cases like that where individual
cases have generated attention in a positive way.
On the flip side you do have this court of public opinion
that can occur in a very negative way. There's a lot of false
information out there in these sort of human flesh search
engines where the Internet will say, ``Oh, this is a bad
To the extent that people involved in legal reforms in
China are trying to emphasize a process that is fair and just,
and based on evidence--that isn't just rumor--in some ways the
Internet can cut against that goal and make it so there's a lot
of rumors flying around and people who haven't had a chance to
be judged by a court using lawful procedures are finding their
lives adversely impacted.
Mr. Belkin. If I could just follow up for just a second. I
think that this situation actually creates an opening for the
U.S. Government. My own view is that part of the reason that
the Chinese Government is allowing public opinion to express
itself in the area of legal cases and legal reform is they want
more public support and public legitimacy.
But allowing public opinion to influence individual case
decisions is very problematic. I think we actually have a lot
of good experience that we can share. We have our own problems
and we certainly need to acknowledge them, but in terms of the
legitimacy of our judicial system and public confidence in the
system, I think this is where the rule of law can work to
enhance social stability. So I do think this does create an
opportunity for the U.S. Government and for more exchange with
Ms. Li. I agree with what has been said about the mixed
benefit in this cost-and-benefit analysis about social media. I
want to add that in a country where media and the press and
information on the Internet are tightly controlled by the
government and the cyberspace closely policed by authorities,
social media certainly is a good thing to level the playing
field and give every citizen basically a media to air their
views. So in that sense I think the net benefit of social media
comes out ahead of its limitations and problems.
I also want to add that, particularly in the RTL case, we
can see social media has certainly played a positive role. But
in all other fields of civil society, people are getting
organized to protect their own rights and social media has been
such a valuable and useful tool for them.
I have many stories I could share with you. When, for
example, a demolition team came to bulldoze a house illegally,
activists used social media to gather citizens to protect the
house, to alert media, and to report the incident to police.
There have been some success stories. In one case, the
activists managed to get the police to arrest the demolition
members for trespassing.
Social media has also offered a good venue for citizens to
exercise their right to free association, which is not possible
in China and is so tightly controlled. So people get together
on the Internet using social media to form groups, to organize
actions, and to try to generate synergy in order to be more
effective. I am an enthusiast for social media.
Mr. Liu. Okay. We have, now, about 15 minutes. I wanted to
open it up to questions from the audience. In the interest of
time, please only ask one question and try to be brief. There
are two microphones, one over here and one to my right, to your
left. If you would just raise your hand, we'll bring the mike
to you. Also, please note that this event is being webcast and
transcribed, so if you have a question, please raise your hand.
Tom, go ahead.
Mr. Lum. Hi. I'm Tom Lum with the Congressional Research
Service. In the past there used to be two systems, reform
through labor and reeducation through labor. I think one is
laojiao, one is laodung. I was just wondering what happened to
the other system? Are there two systems and what happened to
the other one? Thank you.
Mr. Wu. Well, China only has one system, the one system
so-called reform through labor. Reeducation through labor is a
part of the reform through labor and only handles these light
Mr. Belkin. I think if we're focusing on the language
that's used in Chinese law, laogai tends to be used to describe
a punishment under the criminal justice system, where as
laojiao, laodung jiao yong, reeducation through labor, is an
So I understand what Mr. Wu is saying in terms of a whole
system, but in terms of the way the language is used, they're
actually used to describe different aspects of the overall
administrative and criminal justice system.
Mr. Liu. Does that answer your question, Tom?
Mr. Lum. I think so.
Mr. Liu. Okay.
Mr. Lum. I had the impression that reeducation was a wider
form and there was some other--much harsher. But you're also
saying that would be taken care of by the criminal justice
system. Thank you.
Mr. Liu. Yes. Okay. Who else has a question? Okay. Over
Angela. My name is Angela. I'm a pharmacist and also a
Falun Gong practitioner. I just wanted to let you know there
are two Falun Gong practitioners that are the victims in the
forced labor camp. One is Emily Ma. She was a survivor, and
thank goodness she is here. She served more than four years in
China's forced labor camp. And Yu Zhengjie, she's also a
survivor, too. I think Masanjia, those words to us are only
words, but I think for those two who have served in the forced
labor camp, no words can describe and their lives were changed.
Also, I want to share with you that 18 Falun Gong
practitioners, females, their clothing was ripped off and they
were dumped into the male prisoner's camp and they were raped,
raped, raped. One even carried a baby from the rapist. So
together we hope we can do something to stop it.
Mr. Liu. Thank you.
Any other questions?
Ms. Brettell. Yes. My name is Anna Brettell and I work for
the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. I was curious
if there are public discussions about how to reform the system
or what the system might look like if reforms do occur.
Ms. Li. It's interesting. In fact, in Yunnan province,
where, just last month, one official said that Yunnan had
practically ended RTL and from this year on they would no
longer send people to RTL, but then he talked about what would
happen to the people normally detained in RTL. He gave a few
possibilities. He said the prostitutes will be sent to some
kind of women's correction centers but will be processed by the
judicial system, and then the drug users will be sent to drug
rehabilitation centers. This has been a long debate among not
only Chinese legal scholars, but legal scholars in the United
States. Some scholars have asked the rhetorical question, what
would you do with the detainees if you abolish RTL? Would you
rather put them in jails or go free? But the thinking behind
that rhetorical question begs the question: The RTL detainees
were never tried in court. One cannot assume they were
criminals. Other scholars have argued that for anybody who had
not been tried, they should never have been put in RTL so they
should be freed. If authorities suspect that anybody committed
any crime, then they should go through the normal judicial
criminal procedure to convict the person. But of course, there
is another concern about the problems with the criminal system
Anyway, this Yunnan official gave some ideas about what to
do. But the fundamental issue is whether people who were
detained in RTLs without ever going through any kind of
judicial system should be freed.
Ms. Lewis. I agree in principle that people that have been
subject to RTL should be freed because they were not put in
with judicial process, but I think in reality the chances of
that happening are extremely, extremely small.
More likely what would happen would be a phase-out.
Whereas, we're seeing that less people will be put in, and over
the course of several years the numbers would decrease.
Certainly in Taiwan, that's what happened with their system for
liumang, where gradually those cases started being channeled
through the formal criminal justice system instead of through
this separate track.
By the time that the law was actually abolished there
weren't that many people that were locked up as hooligans, so
there wasn't the same sort of panic that there was going to be
a deterioration in social order. But we are going to have to
see, I think, a several-year process, at a minimum.
Mr. Belkin. There is wide-ranging debate in China among
scholars about whether or not the system should just be
abolished. Some people say that with the Criminal Law and the
Public Safety Administrative Punishments Law, which has a
maximum sentence of 15 days, any criminal offense could be
covered, any violation of law could be covered. There is no
need to have a separate system that does not have a judicial
process, that does not have very clear standards. So that is
one point of view that is being expressed strongly.
Others say, ``Well, we can modify the system. We have to
change the name because it has such a bad reputation. We should
have some review and we should maybe limit the time period.''
But I want to reiterate the point that although reeducation
through labor has a terrible reputation, it's more well-known
than many other forms of detention.
When we talk about these issues, whether it's the U.S.
Government or other people who focus on it, I think we have to
look at the whole system. What we saw in 2003 when shourong
qiansong, custody and repatriation, was abolished, it appears
that the number of people detained in ``black jails''
So for police who are used to having the discretion to
punish people this way, it would be almost expected that if
they have other ways of detaining people, that they would use
those as well. So I think it's great that the Commission is
focusing on reeducation through labor, but I would say we have
to widen the scope of focus. The same principles would apply.
As Maggie said, there should be a judicial process. There
might be some social problems, drug addiction or prostitution,
that could be dealt with in other ways, but they shouldn't
involve detention. If they involve detention, then under
Chinese law there should be some judicial process.
Mr. Liu. Thanks. We'll take one more question.
Ms. Weld. [Inaudible.]--because after these cases are
unwound and undone there might be a lot of cases for
compensation, not huge compensation, but some kind of symbolic
compensation as happened after the Cultural Revolution. So
there is a precedent for that.
I think some of the feeling of injustice, the government is
almost as equally afraid of a large group of uncontrolled
people feeling everything unjust has happened to them. If you
could give them a feeling they have gotten some bit of justice,
maybe the government would be less afraid of this unwinding
process. What do you think?
Mr. Liu. Does anyone want to comment on that?
Ms. Lewis. There is more recent precedent than the Cultural
Revolution. In fact, after the Zhao Zuohai case, the case I
mentioned with the wrongful conviction, he was given monetary
compensation and that got a lot of press. There are news
reports about that.
I think it's important to recognize what terrible things
have happened to people and to give monetary compensation, but
at the same time recognize that sometimes that can act as an
impediment to reforms because you do not want government
officials to say, ``Oh, because we have to pay money we can't
admit that we were wrong.'' The goal is to try to figure out
how to allow for some sort of compensation while still not
making that end up being more of a hurdle than it is meant to
Ms. Weld. [Inaudible.]
Ms. Lewis. And there are a lot of other countries who have
had especially experiences with truth and reconciliation
commissions or other forms of restorative justice focused on
not just money but also on how to go about the healing process
and moving forward. There are international models that could
be very helpful.
Ms. Li. I think some channels are available in China today
for RTL victims to seek compensation, which is not necessarily
monetary, and it could be a piece of paper, issued by
authorities, saying it was wrong to put a person in RTL. Tang
Hui is currently seeking compensation for the RTL decision and
quite a few former RTL detainees are doing what she is doing.
There are two such channels. One is called xingzheng fuyi,
or administrative review of the decision to send a person to
RTL. Whether the person is still in RTL or released, she or he
can use this procedure to seek redress. The other one is suing
the police officers or government authorities who made the
laojiao decision. This kind of lawsuit goes through the
criminal system actually. Such lawsuits are often blocked by
Mr. Liu. Okay. Thanks for the great question.
I wanted to give our panelists a final opportunity to make
any closing remarks, if you have any.
Mr. Liu. You're good? Okay.
Thank you once again for your excellent input in helping us
in the United States and in our government and in Congress
understand this issue more.
I wanted to note for the record that Congressman Smith, our
Cochairman, has a statement that will be entered into the
I thank all of you for attending.
This roundtable is adjourned.
[The prepared statement of Representative Smith appears in
[Whereupon, at 12:35 p.m. the roundtable was adjourned.]
A P P E N D I X
Prepared Statement of Ira Belkin
may 9, 2013
Mr. Chairman and distinguished Members of the Commission, thank you
for the invitation to participate in this Roundtable. I would like to
acknowledge the importance of the Commission's efforts to enhance
American understanding of China and the contributions the Commission
has made to the improvement of the Rule of Law and human rights
situation in China.
The opinions I express here today are my own but I am also proud to
represent the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at New York University School of
Law. Our Institute was founded by Professor Jerome A. Cohen who has
been a strong, consistent voice for human rights and the Rule of Law
and an untiring advocate of engagement with China. Our mission is to
promote the Rule of Law in Asia and to promote mutual understanding
between the United States and Asian countries, especially China, on
legal issues. We do that through constructive engagement, research and
exchanges with legal experts. Our goal is to be educated observers of
Asian legal systems and, when appropriate, honest, fair and well-
informed critics as well. It is in that spirit that I provide these
With respect to our topic today, ``The End of Reeducation Through
Labor? Recent Developments and Prospects for Reform,'' I am going to
focus my remarks on the topics I have been asked to cover: to provide
an overview of the Reeducation Through Labor System (``RTL''),
including its history, the purpose behind RTL, how it is currently
used, and a summary of the current debate over RTL reform, as well as
recommendations for U.S. policymakers.
The institution of RTL has been around for 60 years. Its precise
use has shifted over time but it seems to be chiefly valued by the
government because its flexibility allows police to incarcerate
individuals and members of groups they consider troublesome without
having to go through formal judicial processes. It is currently used
mainly to detain drug addicts and members of the banned Falun Gong
sect, but it is also used to detain political dissidents. The new
leadership has recently said it is reexamining RTL with an eye to
reforming it. This is a very welcome development.
an overview of reeducation through labor
At the outset, allow me to emphasize the importance of today's
discussion. The issue of RTL reform is important because what happens
in China is important. It is important to China's 1.3 billion citizens,
one fifth of the world's population, and it is important to the world
because of China's growing influence in the world.
RTL allows the police, on their own, to confine someone for one to
three years, with the possible addition of a fourth year, for any
conduct that falls within one of six vaguely defined categories of
conduct. According to Article 10 of the ``Trial Methods for Reeducation
Through Labor,'' issued by the Ministry of Public Security (``MPS'')
and approved by the State Council on January 21, 1982, the following
persons may be sent to RTL:
1. Those counterrevolutionaries and elements who oppose the
Chinese Communist Party or Socialism, where their offenses are
minor, but do not merit criminal punishment;
2. Those who are members of gangs who commit crimes of
murder, robbery, rape and arson, but whose acts do not merit
3. Those who repeatedly commit minor offenses such as
hooliganism, prostitution, theft, or fraud and who do not mend
their ways despite repeated admonition but whose acts do not
merit criminal punishment;
4. Those who gather to fight, cause trouble, disturb social
order, and instigate turmoil but whose acts do not merit
5. Those who have a job but repeatedly refuse to work,
disrupt labor discipline, complain endlessly, disrupt
production order, work order, school and research institute
order and the people's normal life, but whose acts do not merit
6. Those who instigate others to commit crimes, but whose
acts do not merit criminal punishment.
A mere reading of these categories shows how vague and open to
abuse they can be. One could question the legitimacy of this type of
system during any era, but these ``trial'' RTL regulations from 1982
read like pages of history. RTL would seem to have no place in modern
Chinese society in the year 2013.
Perhaps in recognition of how dated the original rules read, in
2002, the MPS issued new regulations, changing the reference to
``counterrevolutionaries and elements who oppose the Chinese Communist
Party or Socialism'' to those who commit acts of ``endangering state
security.'' The 2002 regulations also modified the definition of the
other categories and expanded the list from six to ten categories but
did not cure their vagueness.\1\
\1\ The definition of these categories was modified in Article 9 of
the 2002 regulations issued by the Ministry of Public Security as
Persons aged 16 years or older who committed one of the following
acts shall be sent to RTL in accordance with the law:
1. Acts of endangering state security that are clearly minor in
nature, wherein criminal punishment is not yet warranted;
2. Membership in a criminal gang formed to murder, rob, rape,
commit arson, kidnap, set explosions, or traffic women and children,
wherein criminal punishment is not yet warranted;
3. Subsequent commission of one the [following] illegal criminal
acts, wherein criminal punishment is not yet warranted, either within
five years of completing a criminal penalty, sentenced in accordance
with the law, [for the one of following acts] or subsequent commission
of one the [following acts] within three years of being lawfully fined
by police or completing administrative detention, custody and
education, or RTL issued by police: compulsory indecency; humiliating
women; indecency with children; group promiscuity; luring juveniles to
engage in group promiscuity; illegal detention; theft; fraud; forgery
or resale of invoices; resale of train or boat tickets; forgery of
price tags; sale of forged price tags; forcible seizure; group robbery;
extortion; swindling; forgery; alteration; trafficking in official
documents, credentials, or chops; or the harboring, transfer, purchase,
or sale of stolen property;
4. Endangering public safety by creating an atmosphere of terror
or causing the public to panic; organizing or using a secret society or
cult or use of superstition to undermine implementation of national
laws; mass brawling; creating a serious disturbance; instigating
turmoil; forcing purchases or sales to dominate the market; or
disrupting social order through deeply engrained bad habits such as
bullying, engaging in mischief, or oppressing the masses, wherein
criminal punishment criminal punishment is not yet warranted;
5. Deliberate provocations that disrupt the order of production,
work, education or research, or daily life, as well as rejection or
obstruction of state employees' [efforts] to carry out their duties in
accordance with the law but without the use of violence or threats;
6. Instructing others to commit crimes, wherein criminal
punishment is not yet warranted;
7. Introducing or allowing others to engage in prostitution or
solicit prostitutes; enticing others to engage in prostitution;
gambling or providing conditions for gambling; or producing,
reproducing, selling, renting, or disseminating pornography, in which
the acts are of a rather serious nature but do not yet warrant criminal
8. Engaging in prostitution or soliciting prostitutes after being
lawfully warned, fined, or given administrative detention by the public
security authority for engaging in prostitution or soliciting
9. Taking or injecting drugs after having been sent to compulsory
drug treatment for addiction to taking or injecting drugs;
10. Other circumstances for which there is statutory basis for
Individuals who have committed offenses of endangering state
security, endangering public safety, infringement of civil rights,
infringement of property, or obstruction of social order management but
whom, because the offense was minor in nature, a people's procuratorate
has opted not to prosecute or a people's court has exempted from
criminal punishment may be sent to RTL, in accordance with the law,
where they meet the conditions for RTL. I am grateful to the Duihua
Foundation for providing links to these 2002 regulations and the 2005
opinion on their website, as well as English language translations. The
link to those materials at the Duihua website is: http://
Moreover, in terms of process, RTL is still administered solely by
the MPS. A decision to incarcerate someone under RTL is made by the MPS
without any judicial review.\2\
\2\ A person subject to RTL may challenge the RTL decision in court
after the fact through the Administrative Litigation Law. Such review
may not take place until the individual has served a substantial
portion of their RTL sentence.
China has committed itself to establishing a society under the Rule
of Law. To the extent China maintains the authority to detain
individuals outside the formal legal system and under such a vague set
of standards, with very little in the way of due process, such a system
undermines China's own goal of establishing a society under the Rule of
a brief history of rtl
The history of the RTL system also suggests that it is long overdue
for reform. The RTL system was initially created in the 1950's during
the early years of Chairman Mao's rule and it was used to suppress
``counterrevolutionaries'' and others who the Party determined did not
support the new socialist regime in China. As such, the maximum level
of flexibility, or one could say, arbitrariness, served that type of
Fast forward to 1979, the end of the Cultural Revolution and the
beginning of Deng Xiaoping's policy of Reform and Opening Up. In 1979,
China opted to develop a formal legal system with predetermined rules
and procedures that would limit arbitrariness. Thus, in 1979, China
promulgated a new Criminal Law and a new Criminal Procedure Law.
However, at that time, China maintained the RTL system as well. The
Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure Law have been amended repeatedly,
each time introducing new procedural protections for individuals.
Over the years, there have been many efforts by legal reformers to
abolish or substantially reform RTL. To date, those efforts have not
succeeded. However, the role RTL has played during this period of time
has shifted away from suppressing ``counterrevolutionaries'' to,
according to its supporters, ``maintaining social stability.''
As noted above, in 2002, the Ministry of Public Security issued new
``Regulations on the Handling of Reeducation Through Labor Cases by
Public Security Organs.'' The MPS has the authority to issue
departmental regulations and guidance about how to implement national
rules and regulations provided they do not contradict those laws and
regulations. Of course, MPS regulations can be changed by the MPS at
any time and do not have the same status as State Council regulations
or National People's Congress legislation. In the 2002 MPS regulations,
the MPS provided more details concerning how RTL should be
administered. The rules provided for RTL hearings in some cases, but
excluded from the hearing requirement any cases involving drug addicts
and `those involved in organizing or using a cult to undermine the
implementation of national laws,'' an apparent reference to followers
of Falun Gong. The MPS also provided for non-custodial RTL in some
In 2005, China's National People's Congress promulgated a Public
Safety Administrative Punishments Law, which provides for a maximum
punishment of fifteen days in jail for minor offenses. This seemed to
presage the abolition of RTL because RTL's supporters had claimed it
was a more lenient alternative for minor offenses. With the Public
Safety Administrative Punishments Law providing for a maximum
punishment of fifteen days detention for minor offenses, RTL's maximum
sentence of four years seemed even more out of step with the rest of
However, in the same year, 2005, the MPS issued an ``Implementation
Opinion Regarding Further Strengthening and Improvement of Reeducation
Through Labor Review and Approval Work.'' The 2005 Opinion provided for
police hearings for all those subject to RTL, removing the exclusion
for drug addicts and cult members, expressly limited the maximum RTL
sentence to two years and provided that legal counsel could participate
in RTL proceedings.
Has Reeducation Through Labor served the purpose of maintaining
social stability? The system is not very transparent but it appears
that RTL is primarily used for involuntary drug rehabilitation for drug
addicts, for compulsory reform for those engaged in prostitution, and
to confine followers of Falun Gong as well as some political
The point is that the standards for RTL are so vague and ambiguous
and the decision-making process so lacking in due process and
transparency that it seems that RTL could be used, or in the view of
some, abused, to incarcerate a whole host of people the police simply
find to be annoying or obnoxious. A system such as this can also be
used and appears to have been used to stifle the freedom of expression
In addition, to the extent that China has made important strides in
improving the rights protections in its formal criminal justice system,
the existence of an alternative, much more flexible and arbitrary
police-friendly system like RTL, undermines those reforms. The police
can completely avoid the criminal justice system and its small but
growing protections for individuals' rights simply by sending someone
chinese legal scholars debate rtl reform
Since even before the 18th Party Congress, rumors began to
circulate that China's new leaders might take up RTL reform as one of
their first tasks after assuming power. In January, we learned that Mr.
Meng Jianzhu, Chair of the powerful Political-Legal Committee of the
Communist Party had directed that the use of RTL be terminated this
year. On March 17, 2013, after the annual meeting of the National
People's Congress, Premier Li Keqiang told a press conference that with
respect to RTL reform, ``the relevant departments are working
intensively to formulate a plan, and it may be laid out before the end
of this year.''
The leadership's public support for RTL reform has reopened the
public debate about RTL and Chinese experts are publicly debating
whether it should be abolished and whether something should be enacted
to replace it. One of the bright spots of the debate is the use of
legal norms, as expressed in domestic Chinese law and the Chinese
Constitution, as well as international human rights norms and concepts
of the Rule of Law to support various arguments. Under all of these
norms, RTL falls short. Chinese scholars are debating whether providing
judicial review, substantially shortening the maximum period of
incarceration and changing the name can save the system.
For example, Professor Liu Renwen of the Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences advocates for the abolition of RTL and argues that all
punishments that involve the loss of liberty should be handled under
the criminal justice system and be subject to judicial review. He
argues forcefully that RTL is inconsistent with Article 9 of the
Legislation Law, passed in 2000, because the Legislation Law requires
that all laws restricting the liberty of citizens be enacted as
legislation by the full National People's Congress. He further argues
that RTL is inconsistent with the Chinese Constitution, apparently
referring to Article 37, which provides that ``no citizen may be
arrested except with the approval or by decision of a people's
procuratorate or by decision of a people's court'' and ``unlawful
detention or deprivation or restriction of citizens' freedom of the
person by other means is prohibited.'' He further argues that many
punishments permitted by the Criminal Law are less severe than RTL and
therefore it does not make sense to have an administrative system of
punishment that can provide for more severe punishments than the
Criminal Law itself.
On the other hand, Professor Chu Huizhi of Beijing University
argues that there is still a social need to deal with habitual
offenders and he suggests that a new law titled: ``Unlawful Behavior
Corrections Law'' be enacted to provide for up to two years confinement
for habitual drug addicts, those engaged in prostitution as well as
juveniles who are not subject to criminal prosecution. Professor Chu
also proposes that the process be modified to make it a judicial or
quasi-judicial process to ensure some neutrality in the decision-making
process. There are many other opinions that fall somewhere between
complete abolition, as advocated by Professor Liu, and the type of
reform suggested by Professor Chu.
There does appear to be consensus among Chinese legal scholars that
the legal basis for RTL is questionable, the lack of judicial review is
problematic, and that RTL's vagueness and lack of due process does not
comport with China's own commitment to governance according to law.
However, while legal scholars will no doubt have input into the
decision about what to do with RTL, the final decision will be made by
political leaders. China's new leaders deserve credit for publicly
committing to reforming RTL at a very early stage in their
administration. They did not have to put this pressure on themselves.
There are also hopeful signs that the reform may be meaningful. There
have been reports of local governments issuing rules to stop the use of
RTL this year and we have also heard reports that the number of people
in RTL has been reduced dramatically. It may also be that some of those
held in RTL, specifically juveniles, drug addicts and those involved in
prostitution, may have been sent to other forms of administrative
confinement. At this point, it would be mere speculation to predict
what the final outcome will be.
recommendations for u.s. policymakers
This brings us to the question of what U.S. policy makers should
do. First, let me congratulate the Commission on bringing attention to
this issue. Bringing these issues out in the open and discussing them
is always helpful. Second, while there are limits to what anyone
outside of the Chinese system can do to affect the final outcome I do
believe there are many positive steps that the U.S. government can
Before I go into those, however, I want to suggest that the U.S.
government expand the scope of its interest in this issue beyond RTL to
encompass all forms of extra-legal, extra-judicial detention in China.
This would include so-called ``black jails'' used to detain petitioners
and ``soft detention (ruanjin)'' used to keep some people deemed to be
troublemakers under some form of house arrest. To my knowledge there is
no legal basis in legislation or publicly available regulations for
either of these forms of limitations on the liberty of individuals.
Moreover, there are other specific forms of administrative
confinement and involuntary treatment and education for drug addicts,
for those engaged in prostitution and for juveniles who are too young
to be subject to the juvenile criminal justice system. These include
custody and education (shourong jiaoyu), used for those involved in
prostitution and custody and cultivation (shourong jiaoyang), used for
juveniles under the age of 16, who are exempt from criminal punishment.
While RTL gets most of the attention, I would urge the United States
government to also take note of these other forms of detention and
include them in its efforts to engage with the Chinese government.
What can the United States do? First of all, China is an
independent, sovereign nation that has the right to make its own
decisions and its own laws. However, China is also a prominent member
of the international community, and, as such, engages with the rest of
the world through various multilateral and bilateral processes. China
is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. China has
ratified many international human rights documents. While China has not
yet ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,
which prohibits arbitrary detention, China has signed it and has
repeatedly committed to ratifying it in the near future.
My own view is that all countries, as well as all individuals have
an interest in upholding international human rights standards and the
Rule of Law and that there is a constructive role for sovereign nations
to play with regard to human rights and the Rule of Law in other
countries as well as within their own. We are all imperfect and we all
benefit from mutual exchange and oversight.
The first order of business, however, is to get one's own house in
order and lead by example. This is not the time or the place to go into
how the United States could improve its own adherence to international
human rights standards and the Rule of Law but I think it is fair and
appropriate to make that a part of the larger discussion. The better we
do at home the more credibility we have overseas.
Second, the United States government has many tools at its disposal
which it can use to voice its concerns to the Chinese government,
foremost among them the diplomacy conducted on a regular basis by our
excellent career diplomats. The government can also raise these issues
during the visits of high level officials and members of Congress, and
at periodic human rights and legal experts' dialogues, and other high
level dialogues. Each of these is an opportunity to communicate the
United States' concern about these issues.
Third, the United States can support research to help us understand
the actual situation in China. The government has provided some support
for research but, speaking very frankly, support for research is not
Fourth, the United States government should continue to support
expert legal exchanges between non-government actors, including
academics, practitioners and students. My own view is that those
programs have been highly valuable in enhancing mutual understanding
and in improving the Rule of Law and human rights situation in China.
It is hard to imagine where China would be now had it not welcomed the
support of the rest of the world, including the United States, or had
the rest of the world not provided it.
Every country borrows ideas from other legal systems and China has
been very active in studying the legal systems of other countries as a
way to improve its own system. As noted, RTL is a form of arbitrary
detention. But the reform of RTL raises legitimate questions about how
to deal with social problems such as minor offenses, drug addiction,
prostitution and juvenile delinquency in a fair and effective way.
These are challenges common to many countries, including the United
States, and we could all benefit from sharing our experiences and best
I should say here that U.S. government support for such exchanges
is critical. Institutes like the U.S.-Asia Law Institute rely upon
grant support, including U.S. government grants, to be able to maintain
our expertise and to engage constructively and productively with
Chinese partners. Without that support it would be difficult, if not
impossible, to carry on this work. Our Institute and other
organizations also commit their own resources to this work but the
extent of such work is dependent, in part, on the level of government
The real question though is how to use these tools effectively. To
be effective, we need to be persistent, consistent and focus on the
long term as well as whatever short term goals may be within reach.
There is a tendency in government to demand short term deliverables and
outcomes from each meeting, each dialogue and each legal reform
project. That is understandable from the point of view of
accountability to taxpayers. However, legal reform and social change do
not necessarily work on the schedule of diplomats and grant makers.
Progress takes time and requires a process of exchanging ideas, opening
minds to new ways of thinking, and assuring policymakers in other
countries that improving the rights protection of their citizens can
enhance social stability rather than undermine it.
Sometimes, in the pursuit of concrete outcomes that we can claim as
successes we overemphasize the short term at the expense of
persistence, consistency and the pursuit of long term goals. Our long
term goal should be to help China meet its own objectives of creating a
society under the Rule of Law and meeting the obligations China has
undertaken under international human rights instruments.
In conclusion, I thank you for the opportunity to share these
thoughts and I hope you will continue to support efforts to improve the
Rule of Law and human rights protections in China and in the United
Prepared Statement of Margaret K. Lewis
may 9, 2013
Mr. Chairman and distinguished Members of the Commission, I am
privileged to be invited to participate in this roundtable and greatly
appreciate the Commission's efforts to improve American understanding
of China and the specific issues at hand.
With respect to our topic today, ``The End of Reeducation Through
Labor? Recent Developments and Prospects for Reform,'' I am going to
focus my remarks on the prospects for reform of reeducation through
labor (RTL). In particular, I have been asked to discuss Taiwan's
experience in abolishing its RTL analog, how that experience could
inform the People Republic of China's (PRC) own efforts to reform RTL,
and recommendations for US policymakers.
Today, I get to be the optimist and deliver the hopeful story for
reform. Taiwan's system of reformatory training for people deemed
``hooligans'' (or ``liumang'' using the Romanization of the Chinese
term) was gradually reformed in order to restrict police power and to
offer greater procedural protections before its ultimate abolition in
January 2009. Reformatory training was formerly a non-criminal
sanction--hough more accurately understood as a quasi-criminal
sanction--that allowed police to lock up vaguely described hooligans
for up to three years.
By way of general background, from shortly after President Chiang
Kai-shek's Nationalist Party (Kuomintang or KMT) took refuge on Taiwan
in 1949 until the mid-1980s, the police wielded tremendous power.
Throughout the martial law period, the police easily found support for
their actions in suppression-friendly laws and regulations. Although
outwardly aimed at hooligan behavior such as gang participation and
gambling activities, the relevant legal framework also proved itself to
be expedient for silencing political opponents who did not fit the
conventional description of hooligans. As with RTL, police unilaterally
made the decision to condemn hooligans. The punishment imposed on
hooligans at the time was an extraordinarily harsh military-
administered punishment that could be used to detain perceived
Consequently, despite the fact that the KMT had brought with it to
Taiwan the Republic of China's 1928 Criminal Procedure Code, police
could easily avoid the judicial process required by the Code. Although
the KMT's tight grip on the judiciary during the years of martial law
virtually guaranteed desired outcomes if it chose to invoke the formal
criminal process, in many cases--especially politically charged ones--
it was more convenient to bypass the judicial system by resort to
administrative punishments. This experience echoes in the PRC today.
Following the end of martial law in the late 1980s came a crucial
transition in Taiwan whereby police powers diminished and judges,
prosecutors, and lawyers were no longer under tight political control.
In contrast to the entrenched police repression in the PRC, the past
twenty years have witnessed a startling transformation of Taiwan's
criminal justice system. Perhaps the most immediately notable shift was
the transformation of the draconian, military-run punishment into the
Ministry of Justice's ``reformatory training,'' a more conventional
form of imprisonment for which judicial approval, albeit truncated, was
required in every case and incarceration was limited to three years.
The waning years of martial law in Taiwan had seen the beginnings
of judicial involvement in decisions that had formerly been left
exclusively to the police. Legal reforms introduced the use of special
``public security tribunals'' within the district courts to determine
whether alleged hooligans should be incarcerated, but those courts
provided little check both because of daunting procedural barriers to
mounting a defense and the courts' general pro-KMT/police propensity.
Even reforms after the end of martial law changed little with regard to
procedures with, for example, the tribunals continuing to rely heavily
on secret witnesses. It was not until Taiwan's constitutional court--
the Council of Grand Justices (the Council)--stepped in that important
changes began to occur.
In a series of judicial interpretations) the Council increasingly
declared unconstitutional portions of the legal regime for dealing with
hooligans. In the final interpretation issued in 2008, the Council was
persuaded by several constitutional arguments but called for only
targeted repeal of unconstitutional provisions rather than requiring
wholesale repeal of the law. The last interpretation apparently
persuaded Taiwan's political elite that the special law aimed at
hooligans was proving to be more trouble than it was worth. After
President Ma Ying-jeou took office in May 2008 the executive branch
recommended its abolition. In January 2009, the legislature took the
unexpected step of repealing the law in its entirety. Four years since
abolition, I have heard no reports that the public security situation
in Taiwan has deteriorated because of the law's repeal. In part this is
because gradual reforms leading to abolition meant that the number of
people undergoing reformatory training had dwindled. People who
formerly would have been treated as hooligans were increasingly being
channeled through the standard criminal process. A sudden shock to the
system would similarly be politically difficult to accept in the PRC
and, thus, Taiwan's experience suggests that incremental reforms to RTL
might allow for a smoother transition than abrupt repeal.
The gradual decline in the previously unfettered punishment powers
of Taiwan's police must be viewed within the broader context of reforms
to the criminal justice system that had gathered strong support.
Beginning in the late 1990s, Taiwan's Criminal Procedure Code underwent
seismic changes, even while further reforms to the procedures for
hooligan cases appeared to stall and those cases remained largely
behind closed doors without any prosecutorial involvement and using
heavily truncated judicial proceedings.
As reforms to the criminal justice system progressed, the
judiciary, legislature and executive gradually recognized the untenable
gap between the new procedures applied to ``criminal' cases and those
used for ``hooligan'' cases. Likewise, the PRC's newly revised Criminal
Procedure Law includes a number of reforms that are unavailable to
people facing RTL. Taiwan's experience also underscores that merely
involving an entity called a ``court'' is insufficient to guarantee a
fighting chance for the suspect to contest the possible imposition of
RTL. What is needed is not just more process but rather more meaningful
process. I am certainly not expecting anything resembling the judicial
independence we enjoy in the United States to blossom overnight in
China. Nonetheless, even modest judicial review can encourage the
police and prosecutors to be more cautious in how they use their
powers. For example, after Taiwan voided the prosecutorial power to
detain people without judicial approval in 1997, the courts approved
the vast majority of detention applications. At first glance, it might
appear that judicial review served little purpose. However, the advent
of judicial review also quickly saw a considerable decline in
prosecutors' applications for detention. In other words, prosecutors in
Taiwan sought detention far less once they had to go through the courts
even though the courts rejected few applications.
Given existing political constraints and other distorting
influences upon PRC courts, which significantly diminish prospects for
independent judicial action, it would be unfortunate if the PRC should
establish the equivalent of Taiwan's ``public security tribunals.''
That would impose further restrictions on fair court procedures while
misleading the public into thinking that adequate court review was
being granted. It would be far better for the PRe's judicial resources
to be expanded to assure that, at a minimum, all decisions imposing or
recommending RTL would receive in practice the same judicial review as
currently available in principle under the Administrative Litigation
Law. Giving full force to the procedures provided for in the
Administrative Litigation Law would be an initial step. A more
significant step short of abolition would be to recognize that RTL is
criminal in nature and require that all cases follow the procedures
laid down in the Criminal Procedure Law.
In highlighting the ways that Taiwan's past might be helpful in
charting the PRC's path forward with respect to RTL, I recognize that
despite shared historical and cultural ties, Taiwan's recent experience
is far from a perfect blueprint for the future of RTL. Most glaringly,
since the late 1980s, Taiwan has transitioned to a vibrant multi-party
democracy and the story of criminal justice reforms are embedded in the
larger story of this political transition. Moreover) Taiwan's
constitutional court played a critical role in both drawing attention
to the human rights abuses involved in reformatory training and forcing
the legislature to respond. Sadly, the Council has no counterpart in
the PRC, where the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress
has the exclusive power to interpret the Constitution but, in practice,
does not exercise it.
That said, Taiwan's reform path still has much to offer despite the
PRC's current political reality. Taiwan's judicial reforms did not
flourish until the political climate changed. Nevertheless, reforms
during the martial law era-such as the establishment of the public
security tribunals-helped lay a foundation for future reforms even
though the tribunals were heavily flawed from a human rights
perspective. Likewise, Taiwan's revision to its Criminal Procedure Code
in 1982 that allowed defense counsel to participate in the
investigation stage made little difference at the time but was seized
upon by lawyers in the 1990s as they began to vigorously expand their
roles in the criminal process.
Even if it is unlikely that the PRC will directly and swiftly
follow Taiwan's path by abolishing RTL, Taiwan's experience might at
least stimulate new thinking and begin to assuage concerns that
reforming RTL will lead to a deterioration in social order. As a
possible intermediate step towards abolition, the Taiwan precedent of
classifying hooligans into two categories and subjecting only those in
the second, more serious category to incarceration may reduce the
number of people subject to RTL detention, numbers that have been far
larger in the PRC than in Taiwan.
In light of this background, what steps should US policymakers
take? The US's ability to influence the path of RTL reform is, of
course, limited. Reform will only happen when the government bodies in
the PRC that have a vested interest in RTL--particularly the Ministry
of Public Security--are willing to budge. What the US can do is both
offer our own experience and serve a coordinating role in helping to
introduce people in the mainland to Taiwan's experience. As an added
benefit, although there are differences in legal terminology, the
shared language between Taiwan and the Mainland allows for a more
fluid, efficient discussion than is possible through translation.
The current relatively warm cross-strait relations have opened up
opportunities for legal exchanges unthinkable in the past. In addition
to bilateral cross-strait exchanges of scholars and personnel involved
directly in administering the criminal justice system, I have also been
involved in successful multilateral conversations that included the PRC
and Taiwan, along with participants from the US, Hong Kong, Japan, and
other jurisdictions. These meetings are relatively easy to arrange with
participants from academia and other non-governmental positions. There
remain challenges for government personnel from both Taiwan and the PRC
to physically travel across the strait, though indications are that
these restrictions are starting to relax. For example, Taiwan's
Ministry of Justice recently established an Office of International and
Cross-Strait Affairs. Alternatively, sometimes a third location, like
Hong Kong, can serve as an easier meeting point. Another option is to
make greater use of video conferencing capabilities.
A lack of accurate information regarding our bail system is an
illustration of how not only cross-strait but also US-PRC meetings of
legal practitioners and scholars can at least take the concrete step to
dispel misconceptions regarding our criminal justice system that can
serve as barriers to reform. I have on several occasions cleared up the
mistaken belief that, only because the US has advanced technology to
track people, it is rare for US defendants to fail to appear in court
and, in contrast, the PRC is not ready for broader use of bail. In
reality, the US bail system is quite low-tech and failure to appear
rates are still very low: a recent study by the New York City Criminal
Justice Agency (CJA) found that, using 2005 data, the failure to appear
rate in New York City was 16%.\1\ However, CJA found only 7% failed to
return within thirty days: many defendants miss court dates ``because
of forgetfulness, illness, inability to find child care or
transportation, or some other reason related to a disordered life
rather than a willful attempt to evade justice.''
\1\ New York City Criminal Justice Agency, Inc., A Decade of Bail
Research in New York City (August 2012).
Careful screening for risk factors at the time of bail
determinations, not use of high-tech tracking methods, is largely
responsible for New York's ability to release approximately 78% of non-
felony defendants on their own recognizance without dire consequences
for public security. I am convinced that the PRC could take steps to
expand its system of release pending trial, which is at present seldom
used. Similarly, there is room for creative thinking regarding how the
prison-like RTL might be converted into a system akin to the US
probation system that involves a much less severe deprivation of
liberty. Reform efforts in the US to change our current practice of
using administrative detention for unwanted immigrants offers another
interesting point of comparison to the PRC's discussions regarding
possible changes to RTL.
This is all to say that both the US's and Taiwan's experiences
could help the PRC chart a reform path that, while it might not
immediately abolish RTL, could gradually lead to significant reforms.
And the time is ripe for these discussions. President Ma Ying-jeou has
even proposed that the subject of human rights be placed on the cross-
strait agenda. It is increasingly clear that stronger cross-strait
relations cannot be built on economic ties alone. A meaningful
discussion of how each side treats people who face criminal, or quasi-
criminal, sanctions is an important next step in exploring prospects
for the greater mobility of people between the PRC and Taiwan. Although
the PRC has generally been careful not to impose RTL on visitors from
Taiwan, the PRC's abolition of that administrative punishment would
send the island's people a strong signal of legal progress. It would be
especially comforting to business personnel and other Taiwanese who
reside on the Mainland.
Finally, US policymakers can continue to draw attention to the
PRC's stated goal of ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights (ICCPR). Although the PRC signed the ICCPR in 1998, it
has thus far failed to ratify it. RTL stands as a notable barrier to
ratification because it is difficult, if not impossible, to square the
lack of judicial procedures for an RTL sentence with the ICCPR's
requirement that people charged with crimes be afforded a ``fair and
public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal
established by law'' and that they be allowed to examine witnesses
against them (Art. 14). Even if not labeled by domestic law as a
criminal charge, a jurisdiction cannot skirt ICCPR protections by
calling a proceeding ``administrative'' in nature.
As Xi Jinping and his cohorts begin their terms, I hope that the
new PRC leadership has the wisdom to see that RTL, like Taiwan's
reformatory training, should become a relic of the past. Surely there
are many legal experts across the strait and from the US who are
willing and able to provide valuable advice on charting a path to an
RTL-free future. I hope that the US government will support those
Thank you for the opportunity to present a few thoughts. I look
forward to our discussion with the Commission.
Prepared Statement of Harry Wu
may 9, 2013
Thank you for inviting me to speak before the Commission today. As
a survivor of China's brutal system of forced labor camps, the issue of
laojiao reform is particularly meaningful to me. Ever since arriving in
the US in the mid-1980s, I have fought tirelessly to expose the reality
of forced labor camps in China. The CECC has also played a valuable
role in raising awareness of this pressing issue, and I am tremendously
grateful for their work in this regard.
As you are all aware, Chinese government officials have expressed
intent to reform the laojiao system. Although I welcome changes to this
horrible system, we must place proposed laojiao reforms in context. We
must remember that the laojiao has long been an integral component of
the Communist Party's efforts to imprison dissidents and maintain
political stability. In addition, we need to recognize that the laojiao
is only one part of a larger system of arbitrary detention
institutions. In light of these realities, we must ask whether proposed
reforms represent a genuine attempt to align the Chinese criminal
justice system with international norms or just another effort to
maintain stability in the face of mounting societal pressure to abolish
this repressive system.
history of forced labor in china
All authoritarian governments employ repressive tools in an attempt
to maintain and project power. The Soviet Union relied on the gulag.
Nazi Germany established a vast network of concentration camps. In
China, the government has long relied on a system of labor camps to
jail dissidents who threaten political stability.
The Chinese government initially established two networks of labor
camps: laogai camps and laojiao camps. Although conditions in laogai
and laojiao camps were substantially similar, laogai camps were
reserved for convicted criminals, whereas laojiao camps served as jails
for political dissidents and suspected petty criminals. In 1994,
Chinese authorities proclaimed an end to the laogai system when they
changed the name of these facilities to ``jails.'' The government
continues, however, to openly use laojiao camps.
The origins of Chinese labor camps can be traced to the Soviet
gulag. In the early 1950s, Soviet security officials helped their
Chinese comrades design a system of labor camps capable of jailing
large numbers of dissidents. In addition to isolating troublemakers
from the rest of society, these camps functioned to transform class
enemies and criminals into ``new socialist beings'' through a
combination of hard labor and thought reform.
Early laojiao camp inmates arrived in three waves: The first wave
arrived in 1956 and consisted of an estimated 200,000
counterrevolutionaries. This label was applied to former bureaucratic
officials under the Nationalist government and others deemed
counterrevolutionaries during the early years of communist rule. The
second wave of labor camp inmates took place from 1957 to 1958. These
prisoners were mostly ``rightists'' who were arrested during the
``Anti-Rightist Movement.'' The third wave occurred a couple of years
later and was comprised of millions of peasants who had moved to cities
from the countryside in search of food and work. Chinese cities were
unable to cope with this influx of peasants, so the government decided
to incarcerate these people in labor camps.
Early laogai inmates were issued sentences of indefinite duration.
In 1960, however, the government limited laogai sentences to a maximum
of three years. Despite the imposition of sentencing limits, many
inmates toiled in laogai camps long after the expiration of their
Although many inmates remained in labor camps throughout the 1960s
and 1970s, reliance on the laogai and laojiao as a means to jail
criminals and dissidents waned during the madness of the Cultural
Revolution. In 1979, however, Deng Xiaoping reinstituted the labor camp
system in order to deal with increasing social unrest that accompanied
economic reforms. At the same time, Deng limited the length of laojiao
sentences to four years. Prior to 1979, laojiao sentences were of
Today, an estimated 300-400 labor camps exist in China. These camps
jail an estimated 200,000-300,000 inmates. Although the Chinese
government has increasingly used laojiao camps to incarcerate petty
criminals, a large number of laojiao inmates are petitioners and
political dissidents. In addition, individuals incarcerated in laojiao
camps are jailed without trial. Laojiao inmates are forced to perform
hard labor for long hours and are often subjected to vicious beatings
and other forms of abuse. In addition to laboring, inmates are forced
to attend lengthy, daily study sessions during which they are subjected
political indoctrination. Food rations at laojiao camps are meager, and
inmates are routinely denied timely medical care.
prospects for meaningful reform
Laojiao camps exist in modern China despite the fact that the
practice violates protections outlined in the Administrative
Punishments Law, the Criminal Procedure Law, and the Law on
Legislation, each of which prohibits the arrest and incarceration of an
individual in the absence of authorization from the People's Procurate.
Moreover, imprisoning an individual for exercising fundamental human
rights undermines protections outlined in the Chinese Constitution.
Laojiao inmates, however, are incarcerated at the whim of public
security forces without even the pretense of due process protections,
often for engaging in constitutionally protected activities. Despite
these foundational legal protections, Ministry of Public Security
regulations and State Council decisions provide the hollow legal
justification for the continued use of laojiao labor camps. This
supremacy of patchwork regulations over duly enacted laws and
constitutionally protected rights exemplifies the dominant position of
public security forces in China's criminal justice system. It is this
disproportionate power granted to public security forces and their
mission of maintaining political stability that serves as the greatest
obstacle to rule of law reform in China.
In addition to facing resistance from public security forces,
laojiao reform has been hampered by the reluctance of Chinese
authorities to formally recognize past oppression perpetrated by the
Party. Abolishing laojiao camps would vindicate criticism leveled
against the Party for its historical reliance on labor camps as a means
to suppress dissent. In addition embarrassing Party leaders, such an
admission might prompt an influx of lawsuits seeking compensation for
past labor performed and suffering endured. Despite indicating
willingness to reform laojiao camps, it is not clear that the Party is
prepared to accept the consequences of abolishing the laojiao system.
It is also important to note that the laojiao is only one component
of China's vast system of arbitrary detention institutions. In addition
to laojiao camps, authorities imprison individuals in facilities such
as black jails, psychiatric hospitals, law education classes, military
prisons, juvenile detention facilities, and the shuanggui system of
punishment for Party members. Moreover, Chinese courts sentence
political dissidents to lengthy prison sentences in violation of
international human rights standards. Although providing a pretext of
legality, such sentences are often issued in the absence of meaningful
due process protections. Thus, the reform or even abolition of laojiao
camps will not alter the arbitrary character of the countless
politically motivated detentions imposed by Chinese authorities each
year. Meaningful reform to China's criminal justice system would
require the creation and empowerment of an independent judicial system
committed to upholding substantive rule of law principles.
Instead of signaling an intention to more closely align China's
criminal justice system with international rule of law norms, laojiao
reform is likely an attempt to maintain stability in the face of
mounting societal pressure to end this specific relic of Maoist
repression. In the end, laojiao reform proposals represent nothing more
than a substitute for meaningful political change.
(1) The US Congress should pass a resolution condemning the laojiao
system and encouraging the Chinese government to completely abolish the
use of labor camps to punish non-criminal offenders.
(2) The US Congress should work to raise awareness of other forms
of arbitrary detention still in use by the Chinese Communist Party.
(3) The US Congress should pass a resolution in solidarity with the
growing international movement to urge the Chinese government to ratify
the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The ICCPR
explicitly forbids the practice of arbitrary detention, and China
signed the treaty in 1998.
Prepared Statement of Christopher Smith, a U.S. Representative From New
Jersey; Cochairman, Congressional-Executive Commission on China
may 9, 2013
Over the past several months, the Chinese government has suggested
that reforms might soon come to China's brutal reeducation through
labor (RTL) system. Under the current RTL system, Chinese officials can
order Chinese citizens to be held in reeducation through labor centers
for up to four years without a trial or legal representation. There are
no judges, no defense attorneys, and no prosecutors. If the public
security forces want to detain an individual for years without any
judicial review, they have authority to do so. Detainees have little
China's police forces have used this administrative system for
decades to target ``minor offenders,'' whose crimes fall beneath the
threshold of the Criminal Law. And, while the RTL system was created to
``educate'' minor offenders, Chinese police officials frequently use
RTL to punish, among others, petitioners, dissidents, drug users, sex
workers, Falun Gong practitioners, and individuals who belong to
religious groups not approved by the government. The unchecked
decisionmaking power has given China's police forces an extra cudgel to
wield against a range of so-called troublemakers and those brave
citizens wiling to advocate for change.
Once held within the RTL system, detainees are faced with a grim
reality. They are forced to work long hours for little pay, often in
unsafe working conditions. In addition, the detainees are sometimes
subject to harassment or torture by officials--and even beatings by
other inmates seeking shortened sentences. An April 2013 investigative
article in a Chinese magazine highlighted cruel conditions in one of
these camps. In the report on the Masanjia RTL detention center in
northeast China's Shenyang city, ex-detainees described a range of
abuses, including harsh restraints, electric shocks, extended solitary
confinement, and forced labor.
It is a nightmare that tens of thousands of Chinese citizens live
with every day.
Of course, China's RTL system is not the country's only forced
labor camp system. Prison inmates, throughout China, continue to be
subjected to forced labor and harsh working environments. I recall one
of my earliest visits to Beijing, where I was able to visit Beijing
Prison No. 1, one of hundreds of the vast Laogai system, where jelly
shoes and socks were being made for export. We saw factory workers'
heads shaved, very gaunt, and at least 40 Tiananmen Square activists in
large vats with dye all over their bodies. Obviously, the dye is
penetrating their skin and being absorbed into their systems. And we
complained to the Administration that we knew, because we brought back
the socks and the jelly shoes, that were being made by convict labor,
including political prisoners, and it was showing up on our shores. An
import ban was imposed and that place shut down, although I am sure
they just relocated.
In recent months, stories of harsh work conditions and wrongful
detentions have sparked public outrage and intensified calls for
reforms. In response to controversial cases, Chinese citizens have
taken to the Internet to voice opposition to the RTL system and to the
corrupt practices. Citizens have also used popular social media and
microblogging Web sites to express support for those detained unjustly.
Even China's state-run publications have questioned the RTL system and
its abuses. In response to the case of a young village official ordered
to two years of RTL, the Global Times--an official publication under
the People's Daily--wrote, ``It's worrying that people can still be
punished for expressing or writing critical thoughts in modern China.
Ren's case is not an isolated one.''
Officials appear to be listening. In March, China's new Premier Li
Keqiang told a press conference in Beijing that RTL reforms may be
unveiled before the end of the year. Other officials at lower-levels
have similarly voiced support for RTL reforms or voiced their
expectations for a timely end to this brutal system.
Still, today, tens of thousands of people languish in China's 350
RTL detention centers. Rhetoric is not enough.
China's new leaders should now act immediately to end reeducation
through labor for once and for all. And, if they can have the courage
to end this brutal and senseless system of arbitrary punishment, we
But, let's not forget: RTL orders are not the only form of
arbitrary detention in China. Officials routinely use home confinement,
harassment, torture and unofficial holding centers to silence those
seeking to advocate for human rights or expose official abuses. Without
a doubt, the outdated and cruel RTL system should be abolished
immediately; however, the other forms of arbitrary detention and
official harassment must end, as well.
Over the past few months, we have witnessed increasingly loud calls
for reform and justice throughout China, as citizens have bravely and
publicly called for an end to this arbitrary system of punishment and
cruelty. Today, we are fortunate to have four expert panelists who can
give us further insights into these developments and the potential for
RTL reform. We look forward to hearing about the prospects for RTL
reform and for other reforms that could end the arbitrary detention of