Does the word ‘Gulag’ bring to mind black-and-white photographs of barbed-wire fences and guard towers from Stalinist-era Russia? How about those ghastly images of gaunt and starving Jews in striped uniforms during the Holocaust? Now, how about the senseless torture of innocent common citizens in twenty-first century “modern” China? For hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens, especially persecuted believers, the Chinese Gulag is a modern-day reality they must face every day.
Just like in the Soviet Union, the Chinese government uses laojiao (the common term for China’s “re-education through labor” system) to hold for years without trial those deemed troublesome to the regime, all the while profiting from their forced labor in these camps. Similar to China’s secret system of “black jails,” these labor camps are a convenient place for security forces to silence everyone from petty criminals to political dissidents without the need for a trial that might attract too much media attention or public disapproval. Anyone who consistently petitions the government about a personal grievance to the point of attracting attention to themselves usually ends up in one of the many laojiao scattered across China. Supposedly a system designed to make inmates learn to “obey law, respect public virtue, love their country, love hard work, and possess certain standards of education and productive skills for the building of socialism,” these camps are mainly a quick and easy way to suppress dissent without the need for due process.
CNN’s David McKenzie recently interviewed a typical laojiao survivor. Liu Xiuzhi spent more than a year in one of these forced labor camps, including an extended time in solitary confinement until she finally broke and “confessed” to trumped-up charges, because she had been too vocal about the government’s neglect of her grievances. In the past, Liu had won a civil case, only to be beaten by thugs sent by the losing party. To make matters worse, the police first ignored her when she reported the incident, then beat her themselves after she persisted in complaining about the injustice. At that point she started making official petitions to higher powers, which ultimately resulted in her imprisonment on false charges of “hooliganism, prostitution, theft, and fraud.” Now released, Liu still vows to fight for justice but no longer has much hope that the system will change. New President Xi, despite making numerous reforms, has given no indication of dealing with this issue.
Publicized in recent years through the activism of Falun Gong, a religious sect harshly oppressed by the Chinese government that has many vocal advocates abroad, these forced labor camps have also been home to thousands of Christians as well over the past decades. In fact, for the older generation of Chinese House Church leaders, doing time in laojiao and another system of prisons and labor camps known as laogai became somewhat of a rite of passage in ministry. Today these forced labor camps still contain countless Christians whose only crime is loving their Savior. Pray for their physical and spiritual health as they suffer for the sake of the gospel.
Keep your eyes peeled for updates in the weeks ahead as we provide more information about our upcoming biography of a brave woman who endured not only China’s unjust prison system, but even internment in North Korea for fearlessly preaching the gospel there. Her amazing testimony of enduring many perils and hardships while ministering to North Koreans in both China and North Korea is not something you’ll want to miss!