Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - As Chinese authorities ponder scrapping the
laojiao, the 're-education through labour' programme that is part of the
country's penal system, two courageous documentary films were screened today
in Hong Kong and Taipei showing the brutality child inmates suffered in the 60s
and women still endure today.
Chinese legal experts and human rights activists have tried for
years to stop the laojiao, deemed "arbitrary" and "unconstitutional"
by its critics. In recent months, the government has moved in different
directions on the matter. After announcing
it was closing "some" facilities in two provinces, it later backtracked
and is now talking about reforming the system.
The first documentary premiered today in Hong Kong's 1908 bookshop
and Taipei's Cafe Philo as well as online (see trailer). Titled Juvenile Labourers Confined in Dabao, it
was directed by Xie Yihui, and tells the story of the children of Dabao, a
facility in Sichuan where at least 2,600 inmates died from "re-education
After Communists came to power in 1949, juvenile labour and
education centres were set up across the mainland in the late 1950s, based on
the Soviet model. Young delinquents and street children were sent to such
locations for reform.
Some of the inmates were young offenders convicted of petty crimes,
but many were sent by impoverished parents who believed their children would
fare better in an institution where they were promised food and education.
Witnesses said that 5,000 to 6,000 children aged from nine upwards
were sent to Dabao from late 1957 until it was closed in 1962.
Former inmates, now mostly in their 60s, said they were forced to do
hard labour such as hauling wood, clearing land and planting crops under the
supervision of guards armed with whips.
At the height of the Great Famine (1958-1961) that followed the unprecedented
economic disaster caused by Mao's Great Leap Forward, the child inmates ate anything
they could find: earthworms, mice and poisonous plants. Whilst many still died
from malnutrition, others developed parasitic infections that eventually killed
Above the Ghosts' Heads:
The Women of Masanjia Labour Camp (see trailer), by freelance
photographer Du Bin, is the other documentary that premiered today.
Based on the testimony of recently released prisoners, the documentary
depicts the cruelty and violence perpetrated in the Masanjia women's labour
camp, in Liaoning province, one of more than 300 labour camps that still dot
the landscape of mainland China, where police can imprison people for up to
four years without trial.
"Re-education through labour is the most evil system on earth,"
said Liu Hua, a former inmate who was released in October.
"The Masanjia female camp is the most evil camp on earth," a place
where "we were made slaves and hostages," a site Chinese Human Rights Defender
had already slammed as
the worst in all of China.
In telling their story, Liu and a dozen other interviewees told
director Du Bin of severe torture, beatings as well as mental and sexual
Du and Xie hope that their documentaries will speed up the laojiao's
"At the camp, they don't treat people like humans," Du said.
"All I want to say is that they are humans, not animals and they can't
humiliate people like that."
For her part, Xie said she hoped mainland Chinese officials would watch
her film, "so they could see what consequence those regulations can have
on ordinary people."