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Editor’s note: In this exclusive interview with WorldNetDaily.com, Harry Wu, one of the world’s leading human-rights dissidents, spoke to international correspondent Anthony C. LoBaido. Wu discussed his views on communist China, the spy-plane situation, espionage at the labs in New Mexico, North Korea, Taiwan, the West and its transnational corporations, human-rights issues, Bill Clinton, nuclear war and the new Marxist government of South Africa. Wu also spoke about his ordeal as a prisoner for 20 years in a Chinese slave-labor camp and his maverick journey to America.
NEW YORK — The name Harry Wu needs no introduction to freedom-loving Americans. Having survived the laogai or slave-labor gulags of communist China, Wu came to America and testified before Congress about the horrors of China’s slave-labor system.
Wu was born into a bourgeois family that was fairly affluent when compared to the rest of China’s population.
“My father was a banker and my mother had descended from a family of well-to-do landlords,” Wu told WorldNetDaily. “My youth was one of peace and pleasure. Then in 1949 came the communist revolution, led by Mao. My life changed dramatically. During my teen-age years, my father lost all his properties. We had money problems. The government took over all the property in the country. We even had to sell my piano.”
“At first things seemed OK in China. The government was busy with the Korean War and suppressing the old government elements. The first four to five years after the revolution we were basically OK as a nation. But then the government began to wipe out religion — Buddhists, Catholics and all Christians.”
Wu said that during the initial years after the communist revolution, “the majority of the Chinese people wanted to dedicate their efforts toward serving the people of the nation. We believed this would make China a wealthy nation.”
“The communist government told the people, ‘There will be no more imperialism, no more colonialism.’ In China at that time, the government stopped prostitution, gambling and drugs. We believed that if we worked hard, we would have a bright future. The communist leaders killed many bourgeois landlord elements and demolished the churches.
“There had been many problems in China since the Japanese invasion. We believed at first that the new communist government would be clean and straight and honest. We wanted to work hard and discipline ourselves for the good of the next generation. We believed in the future of communism, and Mao was treated as a god.”
But that initial euphoria did not last for Wu and his family.
“When I was 18, I went to Beijing to begin studies at the Beijing College of Geology. At that time, I realized that my parents were at the top of society, a banker and the daughter of a landlord. I began to question myself and say, ‘Do I deserve this when so many are so poor?’ I thought that maybe the communist revolution would be good for the whole country.”
This sentiment was shared by many Chinese intellectuals of the time, including the Dalai Lama, who, in September 1999, told Time Magazine, “It was only when I went to China in 1954-55 that I actually studied Marxist thought. Once I understood Marxism, I even expressed my wish to become a Communist Party member. Marxism talked about self-reliance, without depending on a creator or a god. That was very attractive. I still think that if a genuine communist movement had come to Tibet, there would have been much benefit to the people.”
“When I was 20, I was a sophomore and majoring in geology and engineering. I played shortstop on the baseball team and was the captain. I had a girlfriend, too,” said Wu.
Little did Wu know that storm clouds were gathering on his horizon. It was to be the last “normal” era of his life for several decades.
“In 1957 came something called ‘The 100 Flower Movement.’ The communists named it as such because all Chinese were supposed to ‘blossom,’ [no matter what their views were]. The Communist Party invited me to a meeting where I was encouraged to speak my mind. Actually, I didn’t have much to say.”
Wu told WorldNetDaily about the events that transpired at that meeting and how he had been lured into a trap by the Communist Party.
“Well, first of all, I said, ‘I think the Communist Party has to correct their privileged status. The common Chinese have second- and third-class status under them.’ Then I said secondly that ‘the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary is a violation of international law.’ At that time, the People’s Republic of China was a supporter of the Soviet Union.”
Wu told WorldNetDaily that he never attended any other political conferences or walked or demonstrated on the streets of Beijing.
“Then two weeks later, we had another meeting with the Communist Party branch at my university. At this meeting, they said, ‘Harry Wu is a counter-revolutionary rightist. He comes from bourgeoisie. He has actively attacked the Communist Party. He is a very dangerous enemy of the Party of the People.'”
Wu added that the Communist Party had members at every university, factory, farm, school and hospital to keep an eye on the people.
Speaking of the political goal behind the 100 Flowers Movement, Wu told WorldNetDaily, “The CP (Communist Party) leaders’ idea was, `We have to let the snake [anti-communists] come out — then we will destroy them.’ They said that even though I had not committed a ‘bad’ crime. I erred by not admitting the crime. I had resisted it. Therefore, I was to receive a certain kind of punishment.”
“I had 24-hour surveillance put on me. Every week, I had to write a self-examination paper and a confession. My parents, girlfriend and friends had to denounce me publicly. I felt that my future and freedom was gone. People feel I am a criminal. Nobody sympathized with me. I was one of the 550,000 purged during the 100 Flowers Movement. The actual figure of those purged is closer to 1 million.”
Soon after, Wu decided that he would have to escape from China.
“At that time, I still believed in communism and that it would do good for the country. Then I realized, however, that I must escape from this country. To the CP, I had committed a very serious political crime. We had a small group of dissidents who planned to flee from China. But we were under surveillance. The communist police state found out about our plans to escape, and they caught us.
“Of course there was no trial, court or paperwork. I was sent to a slave-labor camp. The first night in the camp, they told me that I had been sentenced to life imprisonment. I was bourgeois, stubborn and had resisted. I was sentenced to a life of re-education on April 27, 1960. I was only 23 years of age.”
Life in the laogai
“According to Chinese law, all prisoners must perform labor. There was construction, railroads, iron mines, livestock, farming wheat and rice, machinery. All of these fields had forced labor. If we didn’t perform any labor, the police guards would say, ‘How can we help you to become a newborn person if you don’t work?'”
Inside the camp, Wu told WorldNetDaily, the prisoners were graded on political performance and labor performance.
“We worked seven days per week and 30 days per month. Each worker had to fulfill a quota. If you did not meet the quota, they would reduce your food or send you to solitary confinement. For your political performance, we had to make a confession for our crimes. A prisoner could not practice his religion. You have to betray yourself.
“At first I worked in a chemical factory in Beijing. We would work from 12 p.m. till a.m. in a straight shift. There was no protection for the slave laborers. We got burns on our skin, and many people were injured. Later, I worked at a brick factory and then in a iron mine. Later, a steel factory and then a farm. Between 1972 and 1979, I worked in a coal mine. Through all my 20 years in the slave-labor camps, I never once saw my family. My mother passed away in 1960 shortly after I was sentenced to the laogai.
Wu said that he found it difficult to resist the horrendous dehumanization of the slave-labor camps.
“I realized that I cannot resist them. I am no longer a human being. When you think of being a human being, what do you think of, Anthony? You think of freedom, your future, dignity, sex, business, children. I was sentenced for life in the slave-labor camps. There was no freedom for thinking. How can you fight for those things? In the beginning, the first two years in the slave-labor camp, I tried my best to say to myself, ‘I am innocent.’ But you had to give up your political beliefs and your faith or you would get tortured. So you pretend. You work hard and obey, or there would be big trouble for you.”
During this time, Wu became spiritually despondent.
“I had been baptized as a Catholic when I was 12-years-old. This was one of the biggest events of my early years. When I went to the laogai, I tried to remain calm. When I prayed I would say, `Where are you God? We are human beings, and we are suffering!'”
Wu’s mindset was greatly altered inside the slave-labor camps.
“Ideals like love and kindness — you don’t think about these things inside the laogai. Food was a major problem. The prison guards told us, `You will get good food for good behavior.’ But we did not. We never had any eggs. Maybe some pork scraps once per month. We ate corn, soybeans and vegetable soup. Everyone in the laogai system wanted to steal food. All of the slave laborers became animals. You can take the very best men in the world, and if you put them in the laogai, after a time they will all become beasts,” lamented Wu.
“I lost weight. My lowest weight was 36 kilograms [About 80 pounds]. I almost died. I was like a skeleton. My skin was thin. The bones were light.”
Asked if he ever thought about trying to escape from the laogai, Wu said, “Yes, I would have been able to escape. But I thought, ‘Where would I go — to my parents house? If I went there, they would have to turn me in or they themselves would be sent to a slave-labor camp.’ There would be no food for me and no money. Under the Communist regime, all food is controlled. Each Chinese citizen would get monthly food coupons with strict registration procedures that were enforced. There were no restaurants where I could go and eat.”
A glimmer of hope
Wu said that the death of Chairman Mao in 1976 was a turning point of sorts for the communist dictatorship.
“When Mao died, the communist government was in a crisis. Their car was in front of the cliff so to speak. The Communist Party realized it had to adapt. Then came Deng Xiou Ping. Deng said, `I don’t care if the cat is black or white, just as long as he can catch the mouse.’ He meant that the communist government had to feed the people. Whether the system was communism or had capitalist elements was irrelevant. A cat is still a cat, be it black or white.
“The Communist Party then decided that it would release the old counter-revolutionaries. I was among them. But sadly, many others had returned to ashes. The purpose of these releases was to reduce tension. People at that time in China had no money or food, so the government realized they must pull back a little and release some prisoners.”
Added Wu, “Communist ideology takes away the land, banks, factories and farms. There is no means of production that is privately owned. North Korea, the Soviet Union and her allies, and China remained communist through 1979. China had been communist since 1949. Deng Xiou Ping said that the CP would allow foreign companies to come back to China. Had he given up the communist revolution? No. The CP still had the same constitution. As I said, Deng felt, ‘If we want to remain in the center of power, we need money and food to stop demonstrations by the citizens of China. Black or white, we are still a cat.”
On the road to freedom
After 20 long and brutal years, Harry Wu was let out of the laogai system on Feb. 21, 1979. He was 42 years of age.
“I had spent all of my 20s and 30s in the camps. I had not had any access to movies, food, music, a girlfriend, family or a library,” he told WND.
“After I was released, I got a job at a university. But the party members there reminded me, ‘You are free, but you have a big tail. Wrap it between your legs.’ I realized that I am not free. I was the head of the laboratory and later became a lecturer at China Geoscience University. I was at that university for six years, between 1979 and 1985.”
Mr. Wu said that after his release from the laogai, “I was quiet, studied hard and never complained about anything. I even received two awards. I never ever spoke of politics.
“Then I was granted the opportunity to go to the University of California at Berkeley as a visiting scholar in the Civil Engineering Department. I remember the day I arrived at the airport in San Francisco. I said, ‘God, I am free now!’ I got on my knees and kissed the ground. I remember that day. It was Nov. 20, 1985.
“You see, freedom is priceless. I had it, then lost it. Then I finally got it back. You cannot understand what it means to have freedom unless you have lost it. Freedom is quite simple. You can say what you want and go where you want to go.”
But Wu’s journey to America would test his wits and will. This is a part of the Harry Wu epic that not many Americans know about.
“When I arrived in America, I only had $40 in my pocket. UC Berkeley officials had said to me to wait one more year and then come over to America, but I could not wait any longer. I had no money, so I had to sleep at the bus station and on a bench in the park. Finally, I found out that I could sleep on the sofa in the library of the university. I could actually take a nap there with the newspaper folded over my face. It was so comfortable.”
When UC Berkeley told Wu to wait in China one more year, it was because they wanted to free up money to give him a stipend or help with living arrangements. But Wu was still under surveillance in China and felt the need to leave immediately. He fibbed to UC Berkeley and said, “I have enough money to survive on my own.” Of course, Wu did not. Hence, he taught at the university while at the same time living as a homeless person.
Facing homelessness is something most Americans would dread, yet Wu told WorldNetDaily, “Remember, I had spent 20 years in slave-labor camps and mines. But I could not work. I had no work permit. So I taught at Berkeley while at the same time living as a homeless person and sleeping on the streets.”
While teaching at UC Berkeley, Wu got a job at a donut shop.
“I worked from 9 p.m. till 6 a.m. I used someone else’s Social Security number. I had to make 72 dozen donuts per shift, but it was wonderful for me. Finally, I had a roof over my head. I was not homeless anymore. The coffee was free, and the donuts and ice cream, too. I ate so many donuts — for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can tell you, today, I don’t eat donuts anymore!
“After four months of working, I had saved $1,025. I paid $250 for rent. Then I got a job at a liquor store. I worked from 6 a.m. till 2 p.m. I had half of a night free to sleep in my bed. I told myself, ‘If I work hard, I will have a good life because I am now a free man.'”
At that time, Wu “wanted to turn the page and look forward. I didn’t want to talk about my experiences in the laogai. There was no congressional testimony, no mass media. But then in 1989 came Tiananmen Square. Americans were shocked, but I was not shocked or surprised.
“I wanted at that time to have a family, a house, a good woman. At my age then, the road ahead of me was less than the road I had passed over. So, I didn’t say or do anything politically. Then in 1990, Sen. (Alan) Cranston (D-Calif.) and Sen. (Jesse) Helms (R-N.C.) invited me to testify before the Senate on the laogai.”
Thus began Harry Wu’s entrance into the public eye as a leading human-rights figure, perhaps the leading figure on earth.
“I went back to China with the “60 Minutes” television program. Ed Bradley came, the first person in the U.S. media to see the slave-labor camps. I said at that time, ‘People tirelessly talk about the Nazi Holocaust. In the Soviet gulags, 25 million have been killed, and now that is over. It is common knowledge that all totalitarian regimes — Stalin, Pol Pot in Cambodia use such camps. Where are the American academics, experts and Sinologists on this issue?’ I will tell you exactly where. They identify with Marxism themselves, but moreover, America needs the Chinese market. Free enterprise needs markets.
“By 1992, I was again on the `Wanted’ or ‘Black List’ in communist China. By 1994, I had a new American passport. I went back to China for five weeks, about 38 days. In 1995, I was charged by the CP with stealing state secrets. They said that I was a ‘trouble maker.’ But I said to them, `Why do you say this? I am not speaking about military, economic or governmental information. I am speaking about the slave-labor camps.’ At that time, the CP released a government white paper that said, `We have the best prison system in the world. We help criminals become a newborn person.’ So I said to them, `If you have the best prison system in the world, then I am helping people around the world to understand your prison system.'”
Wu said that at this time, he had accelerated his speaking engagements around the world, explaining the communist totalitarian system and the laogai camps.
“I spoke at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva. I spoke to the British and Australian parliaments.”
Asked about the future of the communist regime in Beijing, Wu said, “What happened in Moscow will soon happen in Beijing. Communism is an unreasonable system. In the 1960s, the West had social problems, and many communists believed communism would still succeed. In Eastern Europe, the communists tried new policies, but without success. Even today, communism remains the same basic system.”
Asked about his view of how former President Bill Clinton dealt with the communist Chinese government, Mr. Wu said, “Clinton is on the wrong side of history. He is a smart guy, but too concerned for his own benefit and the American business community. Clinton knew he must help the business community in exchange for political donations.
“Take Sandy Berger for example. Before he worked in the White House, do you know what he did? He worked at a law firm that was hired by the Chinese as lobbyists. Could an American lawyer working as a lobbyist for the Soviets get a job in the White House? In 1992, Clinton spoke to the National Geographic Society. He said, ‘We want to see a prosperous and peaceful and stable China.’ What does he mean by `stable’? Cuba, the Soviet Union, North Korea and the Soviet bloc, Iraq — we don’t want to use the word ‘stable’ in relation to these states. America didn’t and doesn’t want them stable. There is chaos and starvation in some of these places. Clinton meant that he wanted a stable investment climate in China for American businesses. Under the communist system, the government controls labor and resources. If chaos would result, the Western investors would lose their money they have invested in communist China.”
Concerning China’s alleged spying at the government labs in New Mexico, Wu said, “In regard to Wen Ho Lee, I think the facts will eventually come out from Beijing to tell the truth, because the communist system is collapsing. The government in China has planned to get America’s nuclear and defense secrets. They have that idea and they have the people to do it. My personal opinion is that Wen Ho Lee did it [the espionage against America]. I don’t have evidence. According to logic, I believe he did.”
Wu added, “Communism is not dead. And please don’t tell me Iraq was a successful operation. America has many allies in that region — Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait, Israel. They can use Germany’s airbases. They talk about handling two regional conflicts at the same time, let’s say Iraq and North Korea. But they never speak about Asia. They don’t know how to handle it. … Korea and Vietnam were America’s biggest wars since World War II.”
Concerning the recent surveillance plane incident and the 24 American crew members being held in China, Wu said, “This incident tells you that you cannot turn a blind eye to China. Bush will not go too far. But Bush will say, ‘China is a friend or maybe an enemy — but not a strategic partner.’ We know that China is using trade to upgrade her military equipment. When America sent an aircraft carrier into the Taiwan Strait a few years back, I said, ‘This is not a peace visit. This is a military maneuver. This is like a new Cold War.'”
Wu added that he believes North Korea is extremely dependent upon China for its survival.
“Without the support of communist China, North Korea would collapse right away. Even now, there are 200,000 North Korean refugees in Manchuria.”
China has a new friend in South Africa, Wu believes.
“When I think of Mandela, I feel very sad,” he told WorldNetDaily. “When he became president of South Africa, he abandoned Taiwan and recognized China instead. Taiwan and [anti-communist apartheid] South Africa had been close allies. Mandela has extensive human-rights knowledge. He may not be a communist, but the new leader of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, is definitely a communist. Recently, he went to Cuba to meet with Castro, and he was trained in Moscow.”
Speaking of China’s relationship with Russia and the possible military repercussions of this new relationship, Wu said, “In September of 1999, I went to Vladivostock, Russia, to the headquarters of the Russian Pacific Fleet. I saw rows of nuclear subs and missile destroyers tied up on the docks. This is good, right? The Russian’s fleet is tied up and rusting away. But communist China bought two of these destroyers and spent $2 billion on them. They were designed in the 1980s to attack the U.S. aircraft carriers. Now China has them in her naval arsenal.”
Concerning America, the West and its trade relations with communist China, Wu is resolute.
“America never gave trade favors to Cuba. America embargoes Iraq. What about human rights in China? There are no sanctions. America believes that capitalism will defeat socialism and that this is the best way towards a democratic society. I am confused. If money can change tyranny, then former President Ronald Reagan was wrong when he called the Soviet Union ‘the Evil Empire’ and said, ‘Tear down this wall [the Berlin Wall]’. He should have instead been giving the Soviets trade favors and money.
“Think of the PNTR, Permanent Normal Trade Relations. I ask you, ‘Is China a normal country? Is the Communist Party worthy of permanent status?’ When I testified before the U.S. Senate, John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked me about this issue. I said, ‘Why not get Cuba into the WTO?’ McCain then said to Brent Scowcroft [then a national security bigwig], ‘What do you think of Harry Wu’s idea about Cuba?’ Scowcroft then said, ‘Cuba is another problem. They have an exile community in the United States.’
“Congress gave me nice support — Sens. Helms and Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. When I met Sen. Wellstone, he said, `Harry, I don’t need a brief — just tell me what you want me to do.’ But they were only some of the senators. Others took a stand for communist China based on family or business interests. For example, Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), her husband is a board member of COSCO [The PLA’s Chinese Overseas Shipping Corporation] and he has other investments in China. You see, this is the kind of person [Feinstein] who is never interested in my work.”
When asked about a possible scenario involving nuclear war between America and China, Mr. Wu told WND, “The leaders in America will say, ‘China has only 18 ICBMs, and we have thousands.’ I tell you, if China launches a nuclear attack against America — and they have threatened Los Angeles with nuclear attack — the missile brain will say `Made in the USA.'”
Wu added, “When Clinton came back from China in 1998, he was like Chamberlain returning from Munich before World War II. Clinton said, `We reached an agreement with China not to target each other’s cities with ICBMs.’ I say, do we need such an agreement with India or the UK? China doesn’t want America to have a missile defense because it would make their offensive system lousy. They don’t want America to share the system with Taiwan.”
Asked if China would ever launch nuclear weapons at the U.S. mainland, Wu responded, “They are crazy. They will do it.”