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Posts Tagged ‘China-style Gulag

“The chant of martyrs”: In the death camps of China Mao, by Xianhui Yang

I am reading the French version of “The chant of martyrs”. Have you heard of the death camp in China called Jiabiangou in the province of Kansu (Ganzu), in the Gobi desert?

The introduction, translated from mandarin to English by Wen Huang, goes:

“Jiabiangou is the name of a forced-labor concentration camp, a kind of China-style Gulag, lost in the desert region in north-west China.

About 50 years ago, over 3,000 Chinese intellectuals and public servants of the province of Gansu were snatched from their families and dispatched to the camp for “re-education”. They were to “field-experiment” what the Chinese Communist Party defined as re-education by work.

The detainees were labeled right-wing supporters for opposing Mao in free opinions, not exactly converging into socialism ideology, or for offending cadres of the Party…Most probably for being born into “exploiting classes” of land and capital…

This camp was a microcosm of the vast campaign initiated by Mao to imposing his mind-fix ideology: Those intellectuals were to expiate the offenses levied on the peasants who had to live a harsh life under the previous feudal system…

The campaign had the code name of One Hundred Flowers, which destroyed the careers of over half a million members of the intellectual and political elites in China.

Between 1957 and 1960, the laborers in the camp cultivated the land, raised cattles…under harsh climatic conditions and closely supervised by guards.  The land around Jiabiangou was mostly salty swamps and arid desert

At night, the laborers were to study Mao’s manuscripts and write “autocriticism“.

The camp was initially built to accommodate 50 detainees, and not the future potential number of 3,000.

The State refused to offer supplementary aid to the growing numbers, and the prisoners were to struggle for survival.

By 1960, the detainees ate whatever herb grew in the land, roots, leaves, earth worms… Hundred of dead people were left unburied, out of exhaustion and weak body conditions…

In 1961, the State got “hints” on what’s going on in Jiabiangou and dispatched trucks to vacate the prisoners.  By the time the trucks arrived, only 500 had survived.

This tragedy was never made public. A physician was sent to falsify the medical records of the deceased detainees, a job that required 6 months.

Famine was never mentioned as the main cause, but various infectious illnesses were the culprit, as the family of the victims were informed.

Xianhui Yang heard of the camp in 1965 as a revolutionary working at the collective of Xiaowan in the Gobi desert; he was 19 year-old. Xianhui met a few of these survivors who were assigned to work in the collectivity.

China was in another upheaval called Cultural Revolution. Consequently, Xianhui, who worked in the collectivity till 1981, began writing stories about individual survivors such as “The little Plouc”, “The Aristocrat”, “Thunder over the far sea“…

What happened in Jiabiangou remained a taboo topic till 1990.

“The Lady of Shanghai” is related to this camp.  Yang stories were published under the title “Farewell to Jiabiangou ” in 2003.

The book is of 408 pages and divided into 13 chapters.

After reading part of this introduction, don’t you feel the urge to know how the prisoners survived?

What’s common among all these nasty horrible labor camps disseminated in ideological regimes?  From Russia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Cuba, Germany,…

Note: Other books told the story of Jiabiangou. For example, “Bitter winds” by Harry Wu, and “Herbal soup” by Zhang Xianliang




June 2023

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