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Harry Wu got caught up in the maw of Chinese politics and did hard time in the labor camps of the People's Republic. Now known as "Laogai", such camps are strewn about the more remote areas of the country, much like the Soviet "Gulags" made famous by the Russian writer, Solzhenitsyn.
The Laogai are sweat shops writ large and they produce consumer goods for consumption in the West. Ironically, one Laogai produces some perfectly charming crucifixes that are widely purchased in the United States.
Harry Wu served his time and got out. Through a twist of fate, he came as a scholar to the United States, which was happy to receive him. He has spent the ensuing years inveighing against the Chinese system and his stated goal is to make the term "Laogai" as widely known as the term "Gulag". Wu has a ways to go to accomplish his task, but "Laogai" is indeed in several dictionaries and in several langauges (e.g., German) as well.
This is an important story, but it is a piece of political/historical writing that is difficult to get through. The story is chopped up into little pieces and scattered among seemingly endless maps and tables. I know this is an academic pieces, but still, that is no excuse for bad organization and bad writing.
I want to get his biography, "Bitter Years". I hear that is a decently rendered story. The book I am reviewing here is worthy, but I think that few will want to plow though the pages to get the message.
Harry does an excellent job of exposing what it's like to live inside a Socialist system. I say Socialist because there is almost no difference between Socialist and Communist, as evidenced in the writings of Marx, Stalin, and Mao (who all used these words interchangeably). Harry had a small taste of freedom through his father when he was young. As freedom evaporated all around him and his family, he began the long march into work camp incarceration and governmental abuse. Harry had the guts to fight back against a system that suppresses any idea of individual freedom. This is an excellent primer for those who wonder what life would be like should American Leftists get the 'Change' they are clamoring for.