Torture methods at a Chinese gulag, or reeducation-through-labor camp, are exposed by Chinese media

April 9, 2013Jing Gao2 Comments, , , , , , , ,

Campaigns to abolish the oft-maligned reeducation-through-labor camp have been gathering steam on the Chinese social media in the past few years and even made their way into the agenda at China’s annual political meetings, for the reeduation system is often seen to be an extrajudicial punishment that have emboldened local authorities to jail and torture dissidents and petitioners without the law entering the equation. So far, these campaigns are yet to bear any fruit.

But the good news for human rights activists in China is, the latest 20,000-word investigative story published in Lens Magazine revealed the most horrific and inhuman side of the reeducation system that even Chinese people, well-vaccinated against any dirty tricks of local authorities because of having heard too much about it, find appaling. (Full-length article in Chinese can be viewed here.)

@Lens Magazine wrote on its official Sina Weibo account that in Masanjia Women’s Reeducation Through Labor Camp in northeastern China’s Liaoning province, torturing methods, such as exploitation of camp labor, solitary confinement, electric shock, ‘big hang’, ‘tiger bench’ and ‘death bed’, are taking place almost every day. Some may have become pregnant by the time they are thrown into the camp, but are forced to work nevertheless.

The Liaoning authorities announced on April 8 that a special team had been formed to investigate Masanjia labor camp, and results will be made known to the public truthfully.

Below are some excerpts and highlights of the article, including some unheard-of terminology.


At Majiasan Labor Camp, petitioners, as ‘key targets’ are placed under the strictest surveillance. ‘Flanking’ is arranged for them immediately upon their arrival at Majiasan.

‘Flanking’ (包夹, bao jia), in the context of the reeducation-through-labor system, is around-the-clock surveillance on ‘key targets’ by personnel or by trusted fellow inmates. “Two well-behaved (inmates) will be responsible for keeping an eye and sleeping, eating and working together (with the key target),” said Peng Daiming, former chief at Majiasan.

But in reality, the number of people who flank a key target may well exceed two. Mei Qiuyu got ‘priority treatment’ for holding some material evidence against the local authority, “In the workshop, seven people watch me. At meal, four. In the aisle, four,” she said.


Gai Fengzhen, one former forced labor camp inmate at Masanjia, recounts her story of being put through ‘big hang’ and ‘small room’.

Labor camp inmates who generated massive output value do not receive much of payment or reward for their labor. Peng Daiming recalled that in his days, labor camp inmates were never paid for their wrok. In recent years, some labor camp have started to grant each inmate a largely symbolic stipend of 10 yuan (US$1.6) per month,  but even this paltry payment is often withheld.

Peng Daiming has always maintained that labor camp inmates are different from criminals in jail and deserve payment for their work as much as ordinary workers do.

In recent years, there has been a sudden increase in the number of petitioners at the labor camp. Because they believe they are not at any fault, they often resist hard labor and are therefore often punished for that. This has been the biggest conflict between officers and inmates here, according to a staff member at Masanjia who spoke under the alias of Xiao Xi. Zhu Guiqin, a petitioner with disabilities, received punishments such as ‘small room’ and electric shock regularly for failing to work.

Some forms of torture with fancy names are:

‘Big hang’: An inmate is hung by cuffs that restrain her to a bed, a wall or a door at her four limbs, stretching her body to the limit with gravity and other forces.

‘Small room’: A nick name for solitary confinement. It comes in various forms, the smallest being less than 4 square meters (43 sq ft) and the larger one about 6 square meters. There is no natural light or window, and only a bulb for lighting and a vent-hole. If the vent-hole is blocked, breathing will be very difficult. Besides, because an inmate put into ‘small room’ is deprived of freedom to use the restroom, she has to eat, drink, urinate and defecate in the same room.

Rehabilitation through reeducation must be used together with punishment. If one is locked in a ‘small room’, she may be asked to recite the “30 rules” until she mentally breaks down.


Liu Hua’s ‘Diary at a Labor Camp’ was written on a scrap of paper and slipped into her vagina in order for her to take it outside.


Zhao Min’s front tooth was knocked off when she was force-fed on the ‘death bed’. 

‘Tiger bench’: an iron bench to which the inmate’s ankles and knees are cuffed in a way to cause her legs to bend upward for a long period of time. Her hands are tied behind her backs. The cuffs are designed to tighten if they struggle.

‘Death bed’: an iron or wood board with handcuffs and shackles to restrain an inmate who goes on hunger strike and force-feed her. The inmate is often stripped naked with her rear over a hole in the bed for urination and defecation. That way, she can be restrained for a prolonged period.

‘Forcefeeding’: A cervical speculum, commonly used for gynacological surgery,  is employed to pry open the hunker striker’s mouth. After the forcefeeding is finished, the speculum is still left in her mouth for the next meal. Gai Fengzhen, a regular victim, had many of her teeth damaged by the forcefeeding process. Two officers on the shift could not stand the sight and demanded to transfer to other shifts, saying they did not have the heart to do it.


Zhao Min’s leg has a scar left from sitting on the ‘tiger bench’. 


Mei Qiuyu’s paperwork for her release. The local judiciary dropped charges against her and granted release, but the labor camp stepped in nevertheless on the same day and threw her into custody. 


A reeducation-through-labor announcement paper without even a rubber stamp. 


Li Ping’s disability worsened at the labor camp from the third degree to the second degree.

Selected comments from Sina Weibo

青莲066:The reeducation through labor system is extremely evil!

作家草军书:Investigate my ass! The torture by the police is a hidden rule. Which Chinese doesn’t know that? You’d better investigate which jail or which labor camp does not do that. The same for corruption: an investigation team is not formed until a case is aired on the web. So is there any good guy on your investigation team? Just the same!

自由-北风:A concentration plan of the modern age. The disgrace for the civilizaiton!

军少先生:Really? This is only happening in Masanjia in Liaoning??????

媒体人杨清林: A real living hell! You call that the embodiment of the advantages of our political system too? If we really believe in our ideology, please shut down labor camps, abolish the system and let people live free from terror!

文笔流畅love:An open-minded government will never use force against its people! This shows how corrupt the Chinese government is. It’s like a big tree. Even if you are strong and exuberant, your root and trunk are so rotten that you are doomed to fall sooner or later.

追梦女王_乔:I cannot go on reading it at all. It’s so horrific! What’s wrong with the country I love! How did this happen? Wake up! The lion is about to fall asleep!

王二律师:Not only labor camps need investigating. Prisons, detention centers, forced rehab centers across the country need investigating too.

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2 comments to “Torture methods at a Chinese gulag, or reeducation-through-labor camp, are exposed by Chinese media”

  1. eebs | April 11, 2013 | Permalink Reply

    Masanjia is notorious primarily due to it’s horrific abuse and treatment of Falun Gong practitioners. Glad to see news of this coming out. Obviously the Chinese government is trying to soften the blow when the truth of what they have done is revealed to the public.

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