“Laogai,” which means “reform through labor” in Chinese and is used to describe a system of labor camps in China that largely house political dissidents, has been included in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), according to the Laogai Research Foundation.

“After over a decade of hard work to expose the atrocities of the Chinese Laogai, its inclusion into the OED is recognition not only of the laogai’s existence, but also our success in informing the public,” said former dissident Harry Wu, Executive Director of the Laogai Research Foundation.

The current versions of the Concise and New American dictionaries include basic definitions of the word, while Phrases and Fables has a longer entry that mentions Wu, a prominient dissident:

“In 1996 the Chinese-born American activist Harry Wu, said, ‘I want to see the word laogai in every dictionary in the word. I want to see the laogai ended.’ He went on to draw a parallel with the word gulag, suggesting it was only as in the mid 1970s that the word became known that pressure for the system to end began to grow.”

Background information (from www.laogai.org):

The Laogai is the vast labor reform system in the People’s Republic of China. The Laogai was created by the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong, yet it still serves the one-party dictatorship as the primary instrument for detaining political dissidents and penal criminals. The two major aims of the Laogai are to use all prisoners as a source of cheap labor for the communist regime and to “reform criminals” through hard labor and compulsory political indoctrination. According to the official definition of the Laogai system, there are six main components.

The precise population and the number of camps in the Laogai are considered state secrets, so it is impossible to know with certainty how many inmates are imprisoned in the Laogai or how many camps exist. Additionally, camps often close or change their location depending on economic benefits, making it more difficult to track the number of camps inside China. The Laogai Research Foundation has documented over 1,000 Laogai camps in China. The exact numbers of prisoners in any particular camp is constantly changing according to varying shifts in the political climate.

Counting those imprisoned in five of the six categories listed above (the LRF does not count those in detention centers, as that number the most variable and difficult to ascertain), the Laogai Research Foundation estimates that the Laogai population is between 4 to 6 million prisoners.

The LRF estimates that since the inception of the Laogai, between 40 to 50 million people have been imprisoned. Almost everyone in China is related to someone or has known someone who has been forced to serve a lengthy sentence in the confines of the Laogai.

Harry Wu is the foremost U.S. campaigner against the human rights violations committed by the Laogai system, as well as one of the founders of the Laogai Research Foundation. Harry Wu personally experienced the horrors of the Laogai prison system. Beginning when he was 23 years old, Harry Wu served 19 years in the Laogai for simply criticizing the policies of the Chinese Communist Party. Since his release he has taken it upon himself to expose the human rights abuses of the Laogai. In research gathering trips across China, posing undercover as a U.S. businessman or police officer, Wu has documented innumerable Laogai camps, detention centers, and instances of Laogai produced goods being exported to the United States. Mr. Wu currently serves as the Executive Director of the Laogai Research Foundation. He has also authored three books on the Laogai including: the Chinese Gulag (1992), Bitter Winds – A Memoir of my years in China’s Gulag (1994), and Troublemaker – One Man’s Crusade against China’s Cruelty (1996).