Abolish China’s Labor Camp System

Target:  Guo Shengkun, Minister of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China

Goal: Reform and ultimately abolish the Chinese labor camp system

In the past fifty years an estimated 50 million Chinese people have been sent to government sanctioned prison labor camps. Known as the Láodòng Gǎizào (or Laogai for short), meaning “reform through labor,” these labor camps harbor Chinese criminals. Although China reclassified the camps as prisons in 1997, the function of the facilities has remained the same – an extensive network of forced-labor buoying China’s production of consumer goods for export. While the abusive treatment of inmates in China is well known, a recent report by Chinese Monthly directly exposed many of the human rights abuses occurring in the labor camps.

The Masanjia female labor camp in Liaoning Province is one of more than 300 such prison camps littered throughout China. Here, police are given the power to arbitrarily imprison individuals for up to four years without trial. This practice is as unjust as it is unconstitutional, but imprisonment is the first of many injustices inmates face. The Laogai are infamous for the hours of forced labor and routine torture which inmates undergo. Despite laws mandating that labor in the prisons be kept to a maximum of six hours a day, inmates are regularly forced to work twelve to fourteen hours. If prisoners disobey prison officials, they are beaten or tortured with electric rods.

Labor camp laws stipulate that prison officials may use the electric rods during riots or in self-defense. However, recent reports have documented the frequent use of electric rods for ‘disobedient’ women in Masanjia. One inmate reported that an electric rod was used on her tongue, causing excruciating pain and uncontrollable convulsions. Reports of prisoners being handcuffed to iron bars and gates for prolonged periods of time (sometimes for more than a week) are widespread. Some prisoners claim they have been forced to build roads and work on farms. Naturally, forced labor comes relatively cheap, and China is profiting from the Laogai.

According to former deputy administrator of the camp Peng Daiming, the camp was making nearly 100 million Yuan (US $16.1 million) per year. By contrast, prisoners are malnourished. They are allowed only a small portion of vegetables and half-cooked rice daily, with meat offered only on Sundays. Prisoners were also forced to pay for their own medical treatments within the prison – and if the facility was incapable of treating the medical condition, prisoners were not allowed to receive treatment outside of the camp. Moreover, prisoners were forced to work regardless of their medical condition. The attention the labor camp system has received lately has only forced the Chinese government to make empty promises to reform the labor camps, and there is no serious discussion about abolition. These camps are a network of slave labor and institutionalized torture and must be completely dismantled. Sign the petition below to show your support for the abolition of the Laogai.


Dear Minister Guo Shengkun,

The current state of the prison labor camp system in China is absolutely deplorable. Chinese men and women are unconstitutionally and arbitrarily imprisoned, without trial, by the police and sent to these labor camps. Prisoners are often forced to work more than twelve hours a day and are routinely tortured if they disobey; both these inhumane acts are regulated against in prison law.

Moreover, prisoners suffer from malnutrition and lack of access to basic medical needs.  What access they do have, prisoner must pay for themselves. If a state incarcerates an individual are they not responsible for ensuring their safety? We believe so. The Laogai system is deplorable and must, at the very least, be seriously reformed. Reforms to the Laogai must be aimed at the eventual abolition of the labor camps as the practice of slave labor is inhuman and unjust. No crime can possibly justify the punishment the prisoners at the Laogai are subject to. Please do the honorable thing and dismantle this dark side of Chinese criminal justice system.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Christina Xu via Wikimedia Commons

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