Voices Against Indifference Initiative
The Harry Wu Project
January – February 2000
- Executive Director, Laogai Research Foundation,
Research Fellow, Hoover Institute at Stanford University
Harry Wu was first arrested as a young student in Beijing for speaking out against the Soviet invasion of Hungary and criticizing the Chinese Communist Party. In 1960, he was sent to the Laogai – China’s Gulag – as a “counter-revolutionary rightist.” During the next 19 years he was imprisoned in 12 different forced labor camps manufacturing chemicals, mining coal, building roads, clearing land, and planting and harvesting crops. He was beaten, tortured and nearly starved to death. He witnessed the deaths of many other prisoners from brutality, starvation and suicide.
Released in 1979, Wu finally left China and came to the United States in 1985 as a visiting professor of Geology at the University of California at Berkeley. Later, he began writing about his experiences in the Laogai. He chose to end his academic work and become a human rights activist dedicated to exposing the truth about the Laogai – the largest forced labor camp system in the world today.
He has testified before various United States Congressional committees, as well as the British, German and Australian Parliaments, the European Parliament and the United Nations. In 1992, he established the Laogai Research Foundation, a non-profit research and public education organization. The work of the Laogai Research Foundation is recognized as the leading source of information on the human rights situation in China’s forced labor camps.
In the summer of 1995, he was arrested by the Chinese government as he tried to enter China with valid, legal documentation. He was held by the Chinese government for 66 days before he was convicted in a show trial for “stealing state secrets.” He was sentenced to 15 years, but immediately expelled as a result of an extensive international campaign launched on his behalf. Since his release, he has continued his work in publicizing the fight to condemn the Laogai and document its atrocities.
He is the author of three books. Laogai: The Chinese Gulag, published in 1991, is the first book to address the systematic abuses of the Laogai. Bitter Winds, published in 1994, is his memoirs of his time in the camps. His latest book, Troublemaker, was published in 1996. It tells of his clandestine trips back into China to gather evidence on the Laogai and his detention by the Chinese government in the summer of 1995.
He received the Freedom Award from the Hungarian Freedom Fighters’ Federation in 1991. In 1994, he received the first Martin Ennals Human Rights Award from the Swiss Martin Ennals Foundation. In 1996, he was awarded the Medal of Freedom, also known as the Beggars’ Medal, from the Dutch World War II Resistance Foundation. He also received honorary degrees from St. Louis University and the American University in Paris during 1996.