To Remember Is To Resist

March 12, 2013 Updated: April 3, 2013


It’s inconceivable, in a modern society, to detain a citizen for up to three, even four, years based merely on police decisions without going through any proper judiciary procedure. But in present-day China, it is a vivid reality, and hundreds and thousands of Chinese citizens have fallen victims to it. That is, since China’s re-education-through-labor system was implemented in 1957. 

More and more scholars, lawyers, and citizens from all walks of life have been making strong demands to abolish it, while the international community has also been pressing China to end it by honoring a series of international human rights conventions that China has adopted. But until today, re-education-through-labor is still widely used. 

Re-education-through-labor camps detain not only petty criminals, but also drug addicts, prostitutes and clients of prostitutes, and people with mental illnesses. More and more, it has been used to persecute Falun Gong practitioners, petitioners, and dissidents.

As with most of the things in life, people often are satisfied with a general impression or prevailing description without giving it a chance, or the willingness, to explore and study it in detail, especially the fate and the feelings of the people involved.

On topics such as that of war, disaster, mass murder, imprisonment, and torture, we tend to, intentionally or not, avoid their dark and bloody depths. But this is precisely what good writing does, especially documentary writing. It is an important addition to our routine experiences. We must face it all; we must not pretend these things have never happened.

The book in front of me, “A Worthwhile Trip—A Documentation of the Beijing Reeducation-through-Labor Dispatch Center,” is a witness’s testimony of China’s re-education-through-labor system. It reveals the system to us, and at the same time, it also raises much larger issues about China’s political system, society, and human nature. 

The author of the book is Ye Jinghuan, a victim of “Xin Guo Da” futures fraud in the late 1990s involving a former premier’s son. During eleven years of petitioning, she was repeatedly beaten by police, detained, arrested, and finally given reeducation-through-labor. 

In the Reeducation-through-Labor Dispatch Center, she suffered various tortures, sometimes to the brink of breaking down. 

But she kept telling herself, “I can’t die, I can’t lose my mind, I must get out of here alive! I must tell everyone about the evils of re-education-through-labor, and I must tell it to posterity!” 

Because of her refusal to give in, the world is able to see the true face of re-education-through-labor. At the same time, writing is cathartic for the author; through it she is able to re-examine life and participate in reality constructively.


According to the author’s investigation, most petitioners among RTL detainees have been subjected to the electric baton and confinement in the “little dark room.” 

Even though China adopted the UN Convention against Torture in 1988, torture is still widely used these days in detention centers, prisons, and other incarceration venues, and a great number of citizens die of it, or are debilitated by it.

Torture perpetrated in RTL camps is extremely cruel; brutalities against Falun Gong practitioners are beyond imagination and continue to be perpetrated. The persecution of Falun Gong has long marked the nadir of human civilization, and constitutes, without a doubt, crimes against humanity. 

But internationally and domestically, only a few are willing, or would dare, to condemn it. For intellectuals and politicians, this reluctance is an irony and a shame that will only grow as time moves on.

The “characteristics” of Chinese prisons lie in that “law enforcers humiliate and abuse prisoners as a part of the system,” said Wang Lixiong when commenting on Liao Yiwu’s “Testimony” [the poet’s account of his time in RTL]. “A Worthwhile Trip” is less about physical abuses than the routine “teaching” in the camp that abuses and tortures the “RTLers” mentally. 

Many of RTL’s rules and informal requirements are designed to humiliate people so as to destroy their basic dignity as human beings. For example, “Head must be lowered when walking in hallways, lining up, speaking to police officers. Standard head-lowering is to look at the tip of your toes.” 

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.