Tuesday, March 19, 2013

China's Forced Labor Gulags & Sijie's Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Considering that East Asia has about a quarter of the world's population, we haven't covered it that much lately.  We had a February post about The Orphan Master's Son and North Korea and a post earlier this month about Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge.

Well, hopefully we can start to rectify the situation because I finally found an article about China that matches up with a highly-praised novel.

Here's yesterday's BBC article "Reforming China's gulags:"
China's new Premier Li Keqiang has signalled his government is prepared to start the process of reforming the widely-despised system of re-education camps. The camps, a gulag-type network created half a century ago, hold thousands of inmates who are made to undergo "laojiao", also known as "re-education through labour". But the case of one woman, Tang Hui, sent to a camp last year, galvanised public opposition to the system. Reforming it would be a significant legal step... Her ordeal began in 2006 when her 10-year-old daughter disappeared from home. Unbeknown to Tang Hui, the girl had been raped and then lured to a local karaoke centre by a man she'd met. There she was gang raped again by four men, beaten and forced to work as a prostitute. Local police did little to track down the missing girl, saying she'd probably run away from home. Tang Hui didn't give up and, after three months searching her hometown of Yongzhou, discovered where her daughter was being held. Only then did the authorities act, freeing the girl and arresting her captors. Tang Hui campaigned vigorously for the death penalty for the men who did it. But she says the pimps had powerful connections in the police force, and the bad publicity the case brought may have tarnished the careers of local officials. So those same police and officials had Tang Hui sent to Zhuzhou Baimalong camp to undergo 18 months of re-education. She says it was an act of revenge to silence her... Like all of those sent to labour camps Tang Hui went through no legal process. There was just a written order and she was shut away

For a novel about China's forced labor re-education camps, try Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie:

The Cultural Revolution of Chairman Mao Zedong altered Chinese history in the 1960s and '70s, forcibly sending hundreds of thousands of Chinese intellectuals to peasant villages for "re-education." This moving, often wrenching short novel by a writer who was himself re-educated in the '70s tells how two young men weather years of banishment, emphasizing the power of literature to free the mind. Sijie's unnamed 17-year-old protagonist and his best friend, Luo, are bourgeois doctors' sons, and so condemned to serve four years in a remote mountain village, carrying pails of excrement daily up a hill. Only their ingenuity helps them to survive.

UPDATE:  here's a longer review of Sijie's novel over at the Book Hooked Blog.

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