Wu Decries U.S. Denial of Chinese Crackdown

Article excerpt

Former Chinese political prisoner HaPPy Wu documents an `explosive' situation in Communist China and criticizes U.S. silence concerning that country's human-rights abuses.

The Chinese word for "reform through labor" is Laogai, the meaning of which Harry Wu knows quite literally. Wu spent 19 years in a Red China labor camp because he was outspoken in his political dissent. He now is executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation, which documents cruelties and evils practiced regularly in China.

Wu, a Roman Catholic, made headline news worldwide when he was detained by the Chinese government for 66 days in 1995, subjected to a mock trial and then finally released. He has made four secret trips to his native land during which he videotaped and compiled documentation on China's extensive prison system and its many other abuses of human rights. His indefatigable effort to record the horrors of forced labor in China coupled with his own almost two decades of personal suffering in the Laogai at the hands of a totalitarian system inevitably have led to a comparison with the great Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Christian who likewise was imprisoned by Communist authorities but lived to write about it.

Insight: What should we know about what's happening in China right now?

Harry Wu: There is information that indicates the situation now is very explosive. On Nov. 24, the government's public-security minister issued a new regulation. It said any meeting by more than 200 people was forbidden without a government permit.

Two hundred! If you schedule a basketball game or book a concert, there's going to be 200 people around! But if you do it without a permit it is an illegal gathering.

This new regulation is just another instance of a paranoid totalitarian regime rolling over the people. All totalitarian regimes are paranoid. The Communist Party feels threatened by every group -- students who demand an end to government corruption, for example, or women who gather in a park to practice meditation exercises.

Insight: Yes, we've been hearing a lot about the government's crackdown against what it denounces as "cults."

HW: We in China used to read Mao Tse-tung's Red Book [he holds up a copy]. This edition is not particularly well read because it's published on Taiwan [laughter]. But now the people read another book, The Yellow Book [of the Falun Gong, a movement advocating traditional Chinese approaches to physical and mental health]. Does it advocate violence? [He opens the book to pictures of people doing traditional Chinese exercises.] Why are they so nervous about this?

Not so long ago, many Chinese people believed in communism. They really trusted the party and the Communist leader. The attitude was that there is poverty, we are suffering, and communism is the only way out of these problems.

But now the people no longer have faith in communism or in the party as they once did. Falun Gong has become an organized nationwide movement. And when you look at The Yellow Book you see it does not advocate overthrowing the government. It isn't for violence. What it talks about is the individual's spiritual health. It shows how to do breathing exercises.

Beijing at first supported Falun Gong. It seemed harmless compared to Christianity or to big political movements. But then The Yellow Book became more popular than The Red Book.

You go back in Chinese history, you find out that organizations like the Falun Gong often play a very important role there. So now the government really is worried.

In China today you can have an organization, for example, of people who want to collect matchboxes. But it can only be organized at the local level, in a single province -- they will not allow a Chinawide organization of matchbox collectors. That is simply forbidden. Except for the Communist Party, there can be no nationwide organization, whatever its purpose. …