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China to Do Away With Labor Camps

China has announced plans to abolish its “re-education through labor” system.

Adopted in 1957, the system allows the police to send minor offenders to the labor camp such as thieves, prostitutes and drug addicts for up to four years without a trial. Yet many have criticized the system as a tool by local officials to deal with troublemakers who challenge authority.

According to a 2009 report for a United Nations human rights forum, there were 190,000 people imprisoned in China’s labor camps without trail. 

In 2012, village official Ren Jianyu was sentenced to two years in a labor camp after posting messages on microblogs accusing former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai of bringing the Cultural Revolution back to China with his “red songs” campaign. Ren’s case triggered a campaign to end the “re-education through labour” system on Chinese social media. 

The decision came after the third plenary meeting, during which the Chinese Communist Party's Central Committee meets. While many consider the move a step forward, some lawyers and journalists have shown their concern on Chinese social media over whether it is a true abolishment. 

After the third plenary meeting, China has announced its plans to abolish the “re-education through labor” system. (Picture from 163.com)

After the third plenary meeting, China has announced its plans to abolish the “re-education through labor” system. (Picture from 163.com)

Veteran lawyer Yuan Yulai wrote [zh]:

劳教是个毒树,铲除了,固然值得高兴。但土壤还在,肯定还会长出什么变种来。所谓里程碑一说,则纯属意淫。里程碑是在路上的,宪政根本没有上路,哪里来的里程碑?

Detention is a poisonous tree and we’re happy to see it eradicated. But the soil is still there, some kind of variation of the camps will definitely grow out of it. The so-called milestone is purely fictional. Milestones are supposed to be on the road, but there is no constitution on the road, where does this milestone come from?

CEO of Zhongzheng Company Peng Xiangfeng wrote:

劳教制度虽然废止了,不要高兴得太早,这几天和政法系统的领导交流,貌似现在有两个轻刑化罪名要大量应用了,一个是妨碍公务,一个是寻衅滋事,不过这两个终归要经过法院审判、律师辩护,还是进步了

Although re-education through labor is abolished, don’t get too excited. After an exchange of ideas between the leaders of the political and legal system, it looks like there are now two counts of light punishment applied to a large number of cases, one is obstruction, the other is causing trouble, but the two, after all, will have to go through the trial court and counsel, which can still be considered progress.

Teacher Li Qidong from Shenyang who was sent to a labor camp for a year because he “disturbed order in the classroom” wrote sarcastically:

劳教没有废除时,总是强调“不可替代”;宪政没有实施时,总是大加批判。这就是中国国情——总有阻碍改革、唯马首是瞻的人!

When detention was not abolished, they stressed that it was “irreplaceable”; when constitutionalism is not implemented, they always criticize it. These are China's national conditions – there’s always someone standing in the way of reform.

“Southern Weekend” commented [zh]:

从来没有一个制度如此大面积地侵犯公民的人身自由。全国人大常委会不仅要作出废止决定,更应直接对劳教制度进行合宪性、合法性审查;与劳教改革相配套的相关措施,也应进入人大视野。司法机关则应考虑如何公正对待劳教受害人的诉讼和赔偿等要求。

There has never been a system that has such an extensive power to infringe on civil liberty. The NPC Standing Committee should not only make a decision in the abolishment, but should also check the constitutionality and legal review of the detention system. Relevant measures for detention reform should be taken. The judiciary should consider how to do justice to the victims’ detention litigation and compensation requirements.

Professor Jiao Hongchang from China University of Political Science and Law wrote [zh]:

现在的问题不是废不废,而是怎样废。关键是在什么时机通过什么方式,建立怎样的制度转化来填补劳教制度废止后的空白。

The question now is not the abolishment or not, but how to abolish it, at what time, in what way, and how to establish a system to fill the gap after the abolition of the reeducation through labor system.

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