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Plenum Pledge Won't Make Scrapping China's Labour Camps Any Easier

Authors: Jerome A. Cohen, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Asia Studies, and Margaret K. Lewis
November 19, 2013
South China Morning Post


Last week's decisions of the Communist Party's Central Committee promise significant changes to many aspects of China's legal system. None may be more important and immediate than its announcement that the party is terminating "re-education through labour", the notorious administrative punishment to which the police alone can sentence anyone for as much as three years of detention in a labour camp, with a possible one-year extension. Police don't need the approval of any court or even the agreement of the prosecutor's office.

Is re-education through labour, which has been a mainstay of China's dictatorial power since 1957 and often attacked by law reformers, really to be abolished in substance as well as name?

Just two months ago, we published a book titled Challenge To China: How Taiwan Abolished Its Version Of Re-education Through Labor. It tells the story of how, in 2009, Taipei finally ended its equivalent of re-education through labour, an abiding hallmark of the Leninist-style party-state of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Party. This milestone was a triumph for the island's democracy and rule of law.

It took Taiwan over two decades to eliminate what it euphemistically called its "technical training institutes" for re-educating liumang, a term that can be loosely translated as "hooligans" but that had long been used to detain political offenders as well as petty hoods.

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