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harry wu picinterview with harry wu

 Harry Wu survived two decades in Chinese prison camps and is the foremost critic of the Chinese Laogai labor camp system.

HW Harry Wu is my English name. I am originally from China. My Chinese name is Hong Da Woo. I was born in Shanghai, the largest city in China and my father was a banker. I was a Catholic. Unfortunately, when I was twenty years old and I spoke my mind, I got into trouble. The communist government treated me as enemy of the country because I came from a bourgeoise family and was Catholic. So I got labeled as a righteous counter-revolutionary. Three years later when I graduated from school, the police right away came to the college and without any paperwork, without any trial, took me to the labor camps. The warden told me that I was quite stubborn and that I needed a soul reform. They wanted to reprogram my brain. The government told me they would help me, that they wanted to help me become a good citizen and not like a bourgeoise. I had to go through hard labor, and then use it to study, to change my mind. The sentence was a life sentence, so I spent almost nineteen years—or until 1979, when the political situation changed in China. Then I got the rehabilitation release. 1979. I went into the labor camps at twenty three, and when I left, I was forty-three-years-old. But even when I left that small cave, I still remained in the big cave. I was still in their hands. As a human, I didn't want to remember these things. I wanted to turn the page over, I was looking for family—my mother had commited suicide while I was in jail, I was looking for a job, looking for money. Fortunately in 1985, I got an invitation from UC Berkeley, so I came to the United States. And I realized I had suddenly become a free man. I worked in Berkeley as a visiting professor, and my major was geology. Now I want to tell the people about my experience, my story. I just want to look forward to enjoying the rest of my life--just like everyone else, you know.

Q How do you know Kerry Kennedy Cuomo?
HW I know Kerry Kennedy Cuomo from a couple of years ago. This Kennedy family is a big name. But we don't have any connection. In 1997, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo organized a big protest, just outside of the White House, to protest the Chinese Communist government leaders who visited the Unites States. Of course I joined the protest, so that's why we know each other. I joined the protest and really felt that Kerry had guts. We kept in touch, she interviewed me, and invited me to participate in many other conference meetings. I suppose this Kennedy family is very political. They're really concerned about human beings, human rights. And that's why I very appreciate that I can do something with Kerry.

Q Is an event like this difficult? Some of your words were read by actors about what your experience was. How do you feel personally about what's happened here over the last 48 hours?
HW You know, my feelings today are so complicated. Today, everybody treated me as a hero, an honored guest. They put me on a stage and had a standing ovation for me. But on the other hand, I was called a criminal by the Chinese government. Not only did I spend nineteen years in the labor camps, but when I go back to visit my motherland, as I did in 1995, the government re-arrested and charged me, saying I stole state secrets. They sentenced me to another fifteen years. But then the Chinese kicked me out because I have American citizenship,although my sentence is from 1995 to 2010 according to Chinese government. If you look at the paperwork, according to their law, I'm a criminal. So as a human being, what shall I do? So different—the other side is in hell and this side is in heaven. As a human being, this a really big shock. I think because the value system very different, they have different view and I think another thing. But know I did it exactly right because I was telling the truth. The government today in China is very powerful and I dared to challenge them. The people say why you have the courage, but you know, during the night and day in the labor camps for that nineteen years, I totally turned myself from a human beings into a beast and from my view, death would have been better than life. They broke my back. They almost starved me to death because we had no food. I weighed only 80 pounds. Four months I could not stand on my feet. We were forced into labor seven days a week, thirty days a month. When we couldn't find food, we found rats in the field, We took frogs. We took all kinds, you know, whatever we could eat. That means not thinking about human dignity. Don't think about your family, your freedom, whatever your rights. Don't think about it. Because that kind of thing only causes problem. Don't talk about morality—I think this is the way I survived.


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