A Meteor Across the Night Sky—Harry Wu and the Laogai Museum


I received a call from a former prisoner of conscious still living in China. The caller gave his condolences and asked for information on Mr. Wu. He also asked whether the Laogai Research Foundation would continue to sponsor jailed dissidents or their families. I replied that all of the application forms are still on Laogai’s website with no changes, so I believe the Foundation would continue as it had when Mr. Wu was still living.


About Harry Wu’s sudden death, I do not know the real reason. Then I remembered it had been three months since Wu’s passing. Suddenly, I had mixed feelings. I stood outside, looking at the stars, feeling a little weary, when I saw a meteor streak across the sky.  A fighter. Comrades in arms tend to go quietly. Some of us wear our emotions on our sleeves, but all people are vulnerable and life is ephemeral. We are born with empty hands and die with empty hands, but what happens in between? A question we all struggle with remained persistent in my mind: What is the meaning of life? What does our spiritual conscience mean to history?


I remember first seeing Harry Wu in Hong Kong in 1995. He was collecting information about labor reform, specifically organ trafficking of death row inmates.  At the time he was convicted and sentenced to 15 years with “stealing state secrets.” After the expulsion, he had a short stay in Hong Kong.  National correspondents were blocked from interviewing him. I was the editor of a newspaper; with local media work permits allowed to enter the hotel he was staying. At the door, I said, “I have not come for an interview. There are other newspaper reporters doing interviews. I came to tell you that 10 years ago I had counter-revolutionary propaganda against me. I was imprisoned in the labor camps for five years. The labor camp where I was exported tea, sold at high prices in the West, including the United States. Spring and autumn was picking season, in the winter we trimmed tealeaves working 15 to 18 hours a day. I’d start before dawn and return to the laogai barracks after dark. There were no wages, no rest, unless the harvest did not sprout on time, then it might be half a day’s work.” We talked for about an hour. Before leaving, we encouraged each other with mutual words of support.


I saw Wu again in December of 1999. He scrimped and saved overcoming the challenges of opening a non-profit organization. In 1992, the Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) was established.  It was time the world understand the real status of human rights in China. Wu repeatedly accompanied Western reporters into the far off provinces of China to collect data on death row organ transplantation.


The return of Hong Kong to China in 1997 saw a mass exodus.  I along with a group of political exiles fled to the United States. I remained a journalist in New York City.


I learned Wu was giving a press conference to illustrate criminal intent and behavior having recordings and other evidence of perpetrators trying to buy and sell organs. I arrived at the office of Beijing Spring magazine in Flushing, New York, to ascertain the whole story. As it turned out, someone had taken out an ad in a Chinese-language newspaper in New York claiming to provide human organs for purchase.


A man simply known as “Wang,” claimed to have as many as 50 individual kidneys. Wu enlisted the help of intermediaries that could meet with Wang to discuss the kidney trading business. During the meeting with Wang, several severe offenses were revealed and the police intervened, but in the end, a key witness refused to testify and the court dismissed the case.


At that the same time the CCP enlisted a large group of newspaper reporters to cooperate with each other and the defendant to personally attack Wu. Neither haughty nor humble, Wu stood alone.  I really admired him for his pursuit of righteousness without fear. In response, someone on the Internet relentlessly released a statement, “No one should help Wu; otherwise ‘the white knife would become red.’” (A popular idiom used during the Cultural Revolution suggesting extreme and deadly force).  Motivated by Wu’s courage, I wrote an article for the independent democratic forumon the death penalty in China.


After years of efforts, Falun Gong practitioners strongly followed Wu promoting investigation of CCP organ harvesting procedures.  China finally announced on January 1, 2015, the cessation of organs from capital punishment criminals. It can be said that without Wu and unremitting efforts, the Chinese Communists would not easily give up the big business. However, in the Chinese Communist dictatorship remains a hotbed for bribery and corruption as officials cooperate with criminals trying to smuggle and traffic human organs only to be sold to Chinese dignitaries, Taiwan, Southeast Asian countries, and even to Westerners.  In March of this year in Putian, Fujian severalchildren were found in a room, their bodies lined with sewn incisions from removed organs.


Years later I was reacquainted with Wu at a commemoration for the victims on June fourth. It was then that I really understood Wu’s concept for the creation of his foundation. In 2003, I was invited to participate in a laogai fundraising seminar primarily for Chinese political prisoners and dissidents. It was beneficial to meet so many people who, like me, had labored for many years, but it eventually became devastating hearing so many similar stories. I couldn’t imagine the laogai continues to exist.


The Department of CPC Central Committee issued a directive on August 25, 1955  “to completely eliminate counterrevolutionaries,” one way, which is reeducation through labor. This legislation is the source that has stripped people like Wu of his youth. It wasn’t until 2001 that this evil system was officially rescinded publically. However, because of the nature of authoritarian regimes and dictatorships, the government can keep a person in prison; send them to work sites, just like the Cultural Revolution did to those counter-revolutionary rightists. For more than 60 years, the Chinese Communist regime has used the same old tricks. Even having one person put international pressure on China is better than nobody at all.


Which is why today laogai is found in the dictionary, synonymous with the Nazi concentration camps and Soviet gulags. And in 2008, his museum became the first in the world to specifically target Chinese human rights. It can be said, if not for Wu, the history of China’s persecution, the stories of those who have suffered may not see the light of day. We all eagerly await the day when Wu’s wish to have a Laogai Museum on the streets of Beijing is realized.


The Laogai Research Foundation touches on many human rights issues: slave labor and sweat shops, religious rights, supporting Tibetan issues and the Dalai Lama including rights for all minorities, supporting political prisoners past and present like Wei Jingsheng, Wang Dan, the 2010 Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo, and the lawyer Gao Zhisheng. Wu used the law of the United States to prosecute large companies colluding with the CCP violating human rights such as Yahoo. It’s almost been a decade that the Laogai Museum has joined the numerous wealth of museums in the District of Columbia. The Foundation has published a variety of books including The Black Series in which chief editor of Beijing Spring Mr. Ping Huping praises, “LRF is doing boundless good.”


During Wu’s lifetime, he worked with the US Customs agency, checking Chinese exports for prison slave labor products. It is said by the CCP, that the export of slave labor products is good for prison inmates. The prison inmates can make money that will improve their life, but who benefits the most? Go to the jails and you’ll find a large number have been arrested arbitrarily and forced to produce products [improperly equipped that risks their health]. The world wonders how China has so quickly accumulated vast wealth. It hurts the Chinese people. Factory jobs have eroded. Of which the survival of the ordinary Chinese workers has become unfair. It’s also unfair to American workers as the import and export of goods is in violation of US trade regulations. More importantly, universal human rights are violated.


Long before China’s 2007 woman’s rights were established, Wu had been in the United States petitioning Congress and other organizations condemning China’s One-Child Policy. In 1998, with the aid of Wu, the US Congress passed legislation identifying the Chinese regime’s forced abortion and sterilization practices. This enabled many women to escape China and seek asylum in the US. In 2009, I gave testimony to the US Congress on behalf of women afflicted by inhuman national policies of family planning.


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(From left ) Zhang Jing and Harry Wu, testifies in front of a Congressional hearing. (Photo by WRIC)

Veteran pro-democracy activist Chen Liqun has selflessly volunteered to assist LRF and Laogai Museum by providing copious amounts of information from prisoner biographies to screening eligible dissidents for aid.  Not once has Chen asked for compensation in return. It’s not always cheap both monetarily and emotionally contacting mainland China, which Chen has done countless times at her own expense. Since Wu’s passing, Chen still continues to work for his cause. She has never participated to denounce Wu. Her work is to help her suffering comrades.

I may not agree totally with Wu, but I have very much the same outlook. It is better to help out those who have or are suffering than to wallow in unsubstantiated speculation. I have provided samples of tea to the Museum forced labor products display. I’ve never asked for praise, for thanks, or tried to collect payment. I have no complaints. I do it in honor of Harry Wu. Those of us who do this know that it is for those who fought on the front lines. We are free of our conscience. We do it for no one else, but we act positively against the oppressive regime that has begun to manifest itself here in the US. That is our enemy.  Are actions are not for the spineless that spew slanderous sludge. Perhaps the “love-hate” relationship is the norm nowadays, [but I’m not one to follow].


In recent years, there have been negative articles about Wu some who have remained anonymous authors. They result to personal attacks. These authors seem to have two distinct characteristics: 1.) They have worked closely with Wu or for LRF, 2.) They have received aid from Wu. In particular is one such attacker who has received generous aid from Wu and seeks to bleed him for her own personal selfish gain. (Click here for the Chinese article.)


In regards to the tumorous articles about Wu’s sexual harassment, I believe those libellants have forgotten they live in a judicious country.  They must not be familiar with the weapons of law. These offenders are unforgiveable. Let there be a trial, let the evidence speak, at which there is little. Only the court has the right to make a conclusion. Yet, these foes with no credentials continue to publish complaints as if they were still in China. They make a mockery of themselves, the community, and the true victims.


Wu’s life was full of ups and downs. Interned in the camps for 19 years, he lost all his youth.  Human nature can be twisted. He rose from the depths of darkness to give light to consciousness. But people are not gods and Wu was neither immortal nor infallible. He was at times arrogant and stubborn which caused him to lose friends or collaborators. It was also these qualities that enabled him to reveal earthshattering knowledge of the laogai. Overall, his entire lifetime was dedicated to the laogai. It might have been enough for the man to accomplish as least two things: the introduction of the word laogai into the Oxford English Dictionary and the permanent establishment of the Laogai Museum. After half a century since the Cultural Revolution, the ghosts in China have nowhere to rest. Not one museum has been built dedicated to this time. Wu’s museum is a monument to Chinese history. It’s one of the stars that burn brightest in the sky. When I look up at heaven’s expanse, I do not see Harry Wu, because he’s still here on earth, in a sturdy house in DC called the Laogai Museum.




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