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(December 21, 1999)

UCR Conference Looks at Chinese Labor Camps

Chinese scholars, human rights activists and former prisoners will gather at the University of California, Riverside on Saturday, Jan. 15, for a one-day national conference, "The Chinese Labor Camp: Theory, Actuality, and Fictional Representation."

The conference has been organized by Yenna Wu, associate professor of Chinese at UCR, and Philip F. Williams, a visiting professor from Arizona State University. The conference, which will take place in Humanities 1500, is open to the public and when necessary, English translation will be provided.

Wu said this conference will examine Chinese prison camps, called laogai ying, from a variety of perspectives. Speakers include both senior scholars in China studies and human rights activists, some of whom have first-hand experience of the camps. Topics include personal accounts, comparative studies, film and reportage, poetry and fiction, human rights conditions, political dimensions, gender dynamics, and the integration of ex-prisoners back into society.

Conference speakers Harry Wu, Liu Qing, and Fan Shidong have produced some of the most famous and interesting accounts of their time in the camps, event organizers said.

Harry Wu wrote the West's first full-length scholarly study of the Chinese prison camp system: "Laogai: The Chinese Gulag" (1992), and has more recently authored "Bitter Winds: An Account of My Years in China's Gulag" (1994), and "Troublemaker: One Man's Crusade Against China's Cruelty" (1996). Liu Qing wrote "The Liu Qing Prison Memoirs" (1983), which he managed to smuggle out for publication abroad - an action that led to further punishment at the hands of the local prison authorities.

Perry Link, a professor from Princeton University has examined the popular and elite realms of twentieth-century Chinese culture with such books as "Unofficial China" (1988) and "Evening Chats in Beijing: Probing China's Predicament" (1992).

Professor James Seymour, from Columbia University, is a veteran scholar of human rights in China. He recently published "New Ghosts, Old Ghosts: Prisons and Labor Reform in China" (1998).

Professor Jeffrey Kinkley, of St. John's University in New York, is the West's leading authority on Chinese crime and detective fiction.

This conference is co-sponsored by the Center for Ideas and Society and the Presley Center for Crime and Justice Studies at the University of California, Riverside.


8:00AM Registration and Continental Breakfast

8:30AM Welcome

  • Moderator: Yenna Wu, UC Riverside
  • Opening Address: Dean Patricia O'Brien; College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; UC Riverside

9:00 AM Roundtable: Chinese Prison Camps and Human Rights

  • Chair:Theda Shapiro, UCR
  • Presenters:Perry Link, Princeton University; Harry Hongda Wu, Laogai Research Foundation;Liu Qing, Contributing Editor, China Rights Forum (Translator: Philip F. Williams)

10:45 AM Social-Science Perspectives on the Laogai

  • Chair: Michelle Yeh, UC Davis
  • Presenters: James Seymour, Columbia University Fan Shidong (Stone Fan), Visiting Scholar of UC Berkeley & University of Washington (Translator: Yenna Wu) Richard Madsen, UC San Diego

12:15PM Lunch

1:15 PM The Camps in Reportage and Fiction

  • Chair: Yvonne Chang, University of Texas, Austin
  • Presenters: Philip F. Williams, Arizona State University & Visiting Scholar, UCR; Jeffrey Kinkley, St. John's University; Yenna Wu, UC Riverside

3:00 PM Prisoners in Literature and Film

  • Chair: Perry Link, Princeton University
  • Presenters: Michelle Yeh, UC Davis; Yvonne Chang, University of Texas, Austin; Philip F. Williams, Arizona State University & Visiting Scholar, UCR

The University of California, Riverside ( is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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