Laogai Research Foundation

December, 1995 Newsletter

"Free Expression and Chinese Repression" –
An Interview with Lin Muchen

Lin Muchen is a leading figure in China’s independent labor and democracy movements. As a leader of "Shanghai Spring" in the late 1970s, he was repeatedly arrested, detained, interrogated and sentenced to prison labor camps. He left China in 1994. He lives in San Francisco, California where he works in a small advertising firm, paints and struggles for labor and human rights in China.

Reprinted from the Multinational Monitor from the article titled "Free Expression and Chinese Repression: An Interview with Lin Muchen". Vol. 16, No. 10, October 1995. Pages 26-28.

Multinational Monitor: Why were you arrested in 1981?

Lin Muchen: I was sick at home when a messenger informed me that the director of the factory wanted to see me about an application I had made to quit working at the factory. When I arrived, the director said he had to step out. After a long wait, police officers showed up, handcuffed me and took me to the station, charging me with counter-revolutionary activities. Another group of police went to my house and took away almost everything related to the publication for the journals, some money, my diary, my writing and some photos I had take of the poor living condition of people in the country.

When I was later sentenced to three years of labor, the more detailed charge was that I was a leading member of the Shanghai Spring and an editor of Voice of Democracy and other journals and had written many anti-Communist articles.

I was supposed to be released in October 1984. Without explanation, my imprisonment was extended for another year and heard that I was going to be kept in internal exile in the countryside. But the director of the Shanghai labor camps came to my cell for a long talk.

It seems that he believed that I was a good person who could be reeducated. By the end of the fourth year, I was released.

MM: What were Laogai conditions like?

LM: In the labor camp, every prisoner is called a student but the nature of the treatment is no different than a prison. The living area is surrounded by walls with electric wires and towers, where the guards can keep and eye on prisoner. The work is forced and the labor is generally harder than that performed by those in real prisons. This is because the Laogai are in remote, undeveloped areas. We had, for example, dig a canal in the winter. It was hard labor. This was in a remote, huge plain in the northeast of Jiangshu Province, close to the coast of the East China Sea, maybe 350 miles from Shanghai.

MM: Did this camps produce export products?

LM: I don’t think so. The quality was very low and we produced things that had no international demand, such as wine and construction materials. But prison labor elsewhere in China is used intensively for export products. A good example are wrenches and screwdrivers and more delicate tools designed for factory use. Such export tools are made in Shanghai Prison.

MM: How important is the work of Harry Wu?

LM: Harry Wu’s findings prove with numbers and statistics the extent of prison labor in China, things that people knew but could not prove. Also, his action provided great inspiration. Previously, democracy activists were very pessimistic about anything being accomplished on behalf of Laogai prisoners because it was considered too dangerous. Now we see that there are opportunities to bypass the control of the authorities.


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