Harry Wu: Illuminating China’s Dark Secrets

In 1960, a young Chinese man criticised his government, forever changing the course of his life.

At 23, Harry Wu was never formally charged or tried, but he spent the next 19 years in a forced labor camp, or Laogai, suffering systematic starvation, torture, and the deaths of fellow inmates.

Wu is one of the rare individuals who has transformed his experiences into action.  He was released in 1979, and came to the US in 1985 with just $40 in his pocket. Since that time, he has traveled back to China multiple times to further investigate Laogai camps and continue his call for human rights in China.

Wu founded of the Laogai Research Foundation in 1992 to gather information on and raise public awareness of the Chinese Laogai. 

The Foundation has grown over the past 18 years, and provides information on some of China’s most pressing human rights issues:  forced labor, the one child policy, illegal organ harvesting, the death penalty, and Internet freedom.

Before Liu Xiaobo swept to prominence as a Nobel Peace Prize winner, the LRF had already published Civil Awakening: The Daw of a Free China, Liu Xiaobo and Charter 08 and China’s Transformation.  In fact, in In 2008, Yahoo! named the Laogai Research Foundation administrator of the Yahoo! Human Rights Fund. The Fund provides humanitarian and legal assistance to persons in the People’s Republic of China (who, like Liu) have been imprisoned or persecuted for expressing their views on the Internet.

In the US, Wu has tirelessly advocated to bring awareness to China’s dark secrets.  This year alone, he attended the Nobel ceremony for his fellow country-mate and dissident, Liu Xiaobo, won the Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, and launched  the Laogai Archives, an online repository for information on all known Laogai camps and the products they produce, as well as smuggled out classified documents, photos, and and video.

In Spring of 2011, the foundation will open the Laogai Museum in Washington DC, a testimony to the injustices citizens under the PRC suffer daily.

I first learned of Harry Wu when Ven. Palden Gyatso visited with me in New York.  Palden for years has been an inspiration to me, he himself survived 33 years as a political prisoner in Tibet.  The LRF had recently translated Palden’s book, Fire Under the Snow, into Chinese as part of their collection of prisoner’s stories known as ‘The Black Series.’

The more time, I spent on their website, the more entranced I was.  Harry Wu has dedicated his life to information, and making it easily accessible, not an easy task when dealing with the PRC’s arbitrary restrictions and tight-lipped procedures.  Here, an easy parallel is drawn between China’s dark side, and how it affects us directly. 

I have found endless information on how concentration camp-made goods enter Western markets illegally, the true source of the infamous ‘Bodies’ exhibit that has been making the rounds in US cities, and the horrific tales of forced sterilization and abortion young Chinese women face under the one child policy, and the role the workplace takes in reporting them to authorities.

There is no arguing that the PRC has presented itself as a world player; but they will have a hard time silencing this whistle blower, as he educates and advocates.  Harry Wu, you are an inspiration.

Laogai Research Foundation


Brenda Towers
Brenda Towers8 years ago

It is a poor government that cannot take criticism and improve the lot of its citizens, without resorting to imprisonment and torture.
China needs to rethink its policies and amend its laws if it is to be truly part of the international scene. Then it can hold its head up high and be a proud nation again!

Jamie Clemons
Jamie Clemons8 years ago

Guantanamo Bay.... The way we treat not just Wiki Leeks but anyone in the media that questions the right of the government to kill civilians and torture innocent people looks a lot like China.

Rose Balcom
Rose Balcom8 years ago

Dark places. Thanks to all those who document and bring these autrocities to light. It's sickening to see my country (Canada) do billions of dollars worth of trade with China but don't dare speak of these autrocities! Our politicians need a kick in the preverbial political backside. It's like doing business with the mafia!

Colin Hope
Colin Hope8 years ago


Margaret Wood
carolyn Wood8 years ago

Stop the import's,inturn the lesser need for forced labor? what ever happened to buy made in the U.S.A????????????

Elise Lanciault-Breton
Elise L8 years ago

I was not really aware of those camps, but can I say that I'm not surprised? China is becoming every seconds scarier. But then I wanna say it's less scary than North Korea with Kim Jong-il

Robynn L.
Robynn L.8 years ago

pretty sad stuff

jane richmond
jane richmond8 years ago

a sad situation

Simon Validzic
Simon Validzic8 years ago

I have never come across any suggestions regarding how to help the people of China achieve a high standard of living, and, at the same time, condemn human rights abuses, animal rights abuses and environmental destruction. Maybe selective protests? Boycotting everything "Made in China" seems to be a blunt-edged instrument that punishes everybody. Even so-called "democratic" countries such bas the USA and Australia have their dark side. In addition to those already mentioned by others; authorities do nothing to help victims of bullying but are quick to place the victim in a mental institution without rights if he/she fantasises about suicide or violence towards others; the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, the genocide of indigenous peoples, financial scams ... When it comes to animal abuse, these countries have a much higher meat consumption than China; so they cause more animal suffering; just that it is hidden from the public.

It is not just governments that silence free thinking, but even "ordinary" people. For example, when I protested for free education in Australia 1989, other students would say "If you don't like it, why don't you quit university?" Of course, I would like to see Harry Wu achieve what has been achieved in Eastern Europe - democracy. However, it must be pointed out that the quality of life was better in many ways during communism than it is now. Amongst other ways, capitalism silences free speech by keeping people too busy in the rat-race.

Donna Holland
Donna Holland8 years ago

It is nice to know that as evil as we may think the USA is, she still provides Freedom to others like Mr. Wu.

I do often wonder how would I feel about the world, the people in it and the things that we do if I didn't "know" so much about it.

If I am to hold Mr. Wu in the light of hero, then I MUST also hold Pvt. Manning, and even Mr. Assanger in that same light, and I Do!

All heros in my book as is the late Barry Jennings.