ad info




TIME Asia
TIME Asia Home
Current Issue
Magazine Archive
Asia Buzz
Travel Watch
Web Features
  Entertainment
  Photo Essays

Subscribe to TIME
Customer Services
About Us
Write to TIME Asia

TIME.com
TIME Canada
TIME Europe
TIME Pacific
TIME Digital
Asiaweek
Latest CNN News

Young China
Olympics 2000
On The Road

 ASIAWEEK.COM
 CNN.COM
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia
  australasia
 BUSINESS
 SPORTS
 SHOWBIZ
 ASIA WEATHER
 ASIA TRAVEL


Other News
From TIME Asia

Culture on Demand: Black is Beautiful
The American Express black card is the ultimate status symbol

Asia Buzz: Should the Net Be Free?
Web heads want it all -- for nothing

JAPAN: Failed Revolution
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori clings to power as dissidents in his party finally decide not to back a no-confidence motion

Cover: Endgame?
After Florida's controversial ballot recount, Bush holds a 537-vote lead in the state, which could give him the election

TIME Digest
FORTUNE.com
FORTUNE China
MONEY.com

TIME Asia Services
Subscribe
Subscribe to TIME! Get up to 3 MONTHS FREE!

Bookmark TIME
TIME Media Kit
Recent awards

Visions of China CNN TIME Asiaweek Fortune

SEPTEMBER 27, 1999 VOL. 154 NO. 12

XINGKAI LAKE PRISON FARM: Life and Death in the Chinese Gulag, 1950
"We Felt We Had Been Buried Alive"
By YU SHAN

The living hell that I would know as home for 18 years was set up in 1950. Camp No. 8, part of the Xingkai Lake Prison Farm in the vast swampy wasteland along the Ke'ercha River in Heilongjiang province, was initially stocked with 80,000 Nationalist prisoners of war plus countless Chinese who had collaborated with Japan's occupation of Manchuria. A few years later, 300,000 "rightists" and "counterrevolutionaries" were sent to refill slots at the camp vacated by the dead.

In August 1962 cavalry troops escorted 8,000 of us to the camp. To get there, we had to march through 400 km of wilderness. The camp's 12-sq-m prison cells were squalid dens, set 6 m into the ground. The ceilings, just 2 m above the floor, were made from a mixture of wood, grass and mud. From a distance, the compound looked like a cemetery. On each "grave mound" stood a pole bearing just a number. We felt as if we had been buried alive.

    ALSO IN TIME
VISIONS OF CHINA
China's Amazing Half Century
Navigate through the People's Republic of China and discover the 50 places where history was made

China's Wild Ride
The early years of Mao's new republic were exhilarating and disastrous. Deng Xiaoping brought the country back from the brink

Essay: Happy Birthday to Me!
A Beijing writer recalls what he was doing when the People's Republic celebrated some earlier birthdays

  VISIONS OF CHINA
50 years of the People's Republic
presented by CNN, TIME, Asiaweek and Fortune

Asiaweek
Quest for Dignity
The success of the Communist revolution climaxed a century-long drive by the Chinese to reclaim their historical greatness

My relatives, landholders in Sichuan province, were accustomed to suffering. Soon after the communists prevailed in 1949, 27 of my family were persecuted in the Land Reform Movement. Fifteen were sent to labor camps, while eight died of starvation in the "natural disaster" caused by Mao's misguided economic policies. In 1949 my mother was forced to perform supervised labor. She died in 1984, one year after she was freed from that task.

I was arrested in 1955. While serving as an officer in China's army, I was accused of being a counterrevolutionary and correctly unmasked as an intelligence officer for the kmt. I was interrogated at a detention house outside Beijing's Desheng Gate and thrown in jail. On June 23, 1958, I was taken to an execution ground with others condemned to death. Twenty-seven were shot dead, while three of us were spared. The goal: to intimidate us into confessing. I was then sent to a series of labor camps, spending most of my time at Camp No. 8.

During Mao's era, Chinese life was shrouded in the shadow of the nation's vast network of labor camps. Leaked official documents from the Cultural Revolution show that in 1958 China maintained 2,248 prisons and reform-through-labor camps, in which 24.7 million people were held--73% of them for political crimes. Since the communist takeover in 1949, nearly 90 million people are thought to have been sentenced to work in such camps. In Qinghai province alone, there are 103 labor camps, with an estimated 2.8 million prisoners--equal to a quarter of the province's population. Hundreds of thousands of these prisoners participated during the early 1950s in building the country's national highways and railways. Later they were sent to salt and uranium mines and to reclaim wasteland.

At Camp No. 8, spring was the season for death. More than 100,000 prisoners spread out in the vast corn and soybean fields. With no beasts of burden, six people had to draw each plow as two others held it. The superintendents walked ahead of the laborers with a red flag while troops, whips in hand, brought up the rear. They were quick to lash those who were slow or weak. Once, when I heard a cracking sound, I turned to see a white-haired former professor falling down, a long bleeding whip-mark visible on his back through his torn shirt. He never stood up again. At the end of the day, with tears in our eyes, we carried his body to Coyote Hills, the prisoners' graveyard. The burial was hasty, and we knew the body would be devoured by animals before daybreak.

After 18 years of hard labor, I was released. Sent back to Sichuan in 1980, I wandered around as a panhandler and later found work as a coolie on a harbor dock. In 1983, I passed an examination and became a high school math teacher. I retired in 1991 and moved to Taiwan. Only in Taiwan do I have the freedom to tell this story.

Yu Shan is the pseudonym of Jiang Fang, author of The Crying Great Northern Wilderness

This edition's table of contents
TIME Asia home

CNN's Visions of China home

AsiaNow


 Search


Back to the top   © 1999 Time Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.