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The Dartmouth
June 24, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Human rights activist Wu to speak at College

Harry Wu, a Chinese-American human rights activist and former political prisoner, will be giving a speech exposing Laogai -- forced labor camps in China -- at Dartmouth next Wednesday, and Chinese-American students have mixed reactions.

Wu was arrested as a young student for speaking out against the Soviet invasion of Hungary and for his criticisms of the Chinese Communist Party. In 1960, he was imprisoned in a Laogai and spent the next 19 years in 12 different camps.

He was forced to manufacture chemicals, mine for coal, build roads, clear land, and plant and harvest crops. Many prisoner at Laogai still produce products for export to dozens of countries around the world, including the United States, according to Laogai Research Foundation website.

In a 1995 interview with the New American, Wu described the Laogai as "a fundamental machinery for crushing human beings -- physically, psychologically and spiritually."

Wu has documented many instances of human rights abuses in the camps -- including unsafe working conditions and beatings by prison guards. Even worse, the Chinese government harvests body organs from both executed prisoners and living inmates for transplants, according to Wu.

Last Saturday, Wu spoke to 5,000 protesters at Harvard University at the same time Chinese President Jiang Zemin delivered his speech.

At Harvard, Wu spoke about China's human rights record and pressured the American public to force change in China.

Although Jiang spoke about China's scientific, cultural and economic advances and called for a stronger partnership between his country and the United States, under audience questioning he admitted China's human rights policies could be improved.

Nima Taylor '00, a co-head of Students for a Free Tibet, said he hopes Wu's visit will "contribute to the important dialogue on human rights in China and Tibet."

However, not all activists are supporters of Wu's methods.

Ming Guo, a recent graduate of the Thayer School of Engineering who marched in the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement, said she thinks Wu is a liar and said there are protests by local Chinese students everywhere Wu gives a lecture in the United States.

"He claims that it's okay to tell lies against the Chinese government because he thinks the Chinese government lies," Guo said.

Much of the hard evidence Wu presents is faked or irrelevant, Guo said.

Guo said the British Broadcasting System had broadcast a video by Harry Wu depicting a liver removal operation on a prisoner. BBS later found out it had actually been footage of an ordinary heart-disease operation, Guo said.

"Of course I know the U.S. mainstream media love this man," Guo said. "He is a perfect hit man to demonize China."

"However, if you build your arguments on lies, you make a very weak point or even a false point," Guo said.

Taylor disagreed.

"Harry Wu has been great focusing interest on human rights in China," Taylor said. "It is hard to get the information out of China. I have a tremendous respect for courage -- you have to respect him even if you don't like his methods."

Wu, now an American citizen, was arrested again on charges of espionage by the Chinese government in July 1995 while crossing the Chinese border from Kazakhstan on one of his repeated trips to gather information about prisons.

After international outcry and protests from the American government, Wu was released.

The debate about Wu's position is similar to a controversy last May. During a lecture sponsored by Students for a Free Tibet, a debate erupted between Chinese graduate students and the speaker, Bhadko, a Buddhist monk who escaped from Tibet.

The Chinese students were angered by Bhadko's damning portrayal of their homeland.

Wu came to the United States in 1985 as a visiting professor at University of California in Berkeley. He began writing about his experiences and founded the Laogai Research Foundation, an organization committed to documenting and disseminating information about the Laogai system.

The foundation publishes an annual Laogai Handbook, investigative reports and assists in the preparation of documentary films on the Laogai for BBC, CBS, NBC and other television networks. Wu currently serves as the foundation's executive director. He is also a Research Fellow at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.

Wu has received many awards including the Hungarian Freedom Fighter Award in 1991 and the 1996 Geuzen Medal of Honor from the Dutch Foundation for the Geuzen Resistance Movement.

Wu will give a lecture titled "Laogai: the Chinese Gulag" on Wednesday, Nov. 12 at 7:30 p.m. in 105 Dartmouth Hall. This lecture is presented by Rockefeller Public Issues Forum as part of the Rockefeller Center's fall series of lectures "Citizenship and a Civil Society."