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Troublemaker: One Man's Crusade against China's Cruelty

Troublemaker: One Man's Crusade against China's Cruelty

by George Vecsey
In 1995, Chinese-born American citizen Harry Wu touched off an international incident when he was arrested in China for spying. As rumors swirled that Hillary Clinton's long-planned trip to Beijing depended on Wu's release, the world wondered: Who was this troublemaker? According to Wu, he is just one of thousands of "nameless, faceless people" who


In 1995, Chinese-born American citizen Harry Wu touched off an international incident when he was arrested in China for spying. As rumors swirled that Hillary Clinton's long-planned trip to Beijing depended on Wu's release, the world wondered: Who was this troublemaker? According to Wu, he is just one of thousands of "nameless, faceless people" who needlessly suffer and often die in the vast prison-labor system that is China's dirty little secret--a secret that Wu has risked his life to reveal.

Now, Harry Wu takes us on a soul-searching odyssey as he traces his bold effort to reenter China and expose its atrocities. We join him on covert trips to labor camps and to the hospitals where organs of executed prisoners sell for top dollar, witness the emotionally wrenching pilgrimages to the graves of persecuted friends and family, and, finally, brave the long months before his arrest when he feared the Chinese government might once and for all make a martyr of their number one troublemaker.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
An important human rights document, Wu's dramatic memoir, written with New York Times reporter Vecsey, chronicles his recent campaign to expose China's slave-labor camp systemsix to eight million inmates in 1155 camps rife with beatings, torture, murders and near starvation conditions. He also presents shocking evidence that China is executing prisoners to harvest their organs for transplants, and that China's prison-made goodseverything from shoes to tea to toolsare exported to the U.S. Born in China in 1937, geologist Wu spent 19 years in forced-labor camps (1960-1979) after being officially branded a "troublemaker" for criticizing communist rule. He emigrated to the U.S. in 1985. While he wrote of his hellish camp experience in Bitter Winds, Wu does reflect here on his years in China. Mainly, however, he focuses on the three trips he made to China under an alias between 1991 and 1994, documenting camp conditions for CBS-TV's 60 Minutes and for the BBC, as well as an abortive 1995 trip, on which he was arrested at the border and sentenced to 15 years but expelled under pressure from Washington. Wu here aims to have the Chinese prison camp systemlaogaibecome as notorious as the Soviet gulag. Photos not seen by PW. Author tour. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Wu is a Chinese dissident who immigrated to the United States after enduring 19 years as a political prisoner (recounted in his Bitter Winds, LJ 6/1/92). He became well known for his efforts to criticize the Chinese "Laogai" (labor reform system) and to expose the abusive use of prisoner labor. In the summer of 1995, he was arrested at the Chinese border on his fourth secret trip to collect information on labor camps. Under international pressure, however, he was released and expelled from the country. Denounced in China as a "traitor" and "spy," he is hailed as a hero in the West and has received many human rights awards. This book meticulously unveils the dramatic story of his "crusade" against the Chinese government. It also contains a bitter and emotional account of the cruelty and unfairness of the Communist penal system, Wu's miserable years in numerous labor camps, and his unrequited teenage love. An interesting but disturbing book; recommended for public libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/96.] Mark Meng, St. John's Univ. Lib., Jamaica, N.Y.
David Futrelle
China's People's Daily called him "evil" and "morally corrupt," a con man and thief with a heart "full of hatred." But for Harry Wu, this sort of abuse comes as no surprise. After all, Wu first gained his reputation as a troublemaker back in a Shanghai grade school in the 1940s. In 1960, the Communists declared him a "counter-revolutionary rightist" and sent him into China's brutal forced labor camps for nearly two decades. (He emerged from the camps in 1979, and entered the U.S. some six years later.)

It's not only the Communists who've had trouble with Harry Wu. When the self-professed troublemaker was arrested last summer while attempting to enter China on a muckraking human rights mission — which momentarily held up Hillary Clinton's plans to attend the Beijing Conference on Women — he soon discovered he wasn't much appreciated by the capitalist running dogs either. A group of Silicon Valley professionals calling themselves Concerned Citizens for Rational Relations With China complained that the inconvenient activist was "dictating" American foreign policy and getting in the way of their business dealings.

If nothing else, this suggests something about Harry Wu's capacity to disturb the peace — not with incendiary rhetoric or terrorist threats but simply by putting forth the troublesome truth about China's forced labor camps, the laogai. In two previous books, Wu has offered up a harrowing insider's account of life in the Chinese gulag. In Troublemaker, which tells the story of his various secret fact-finding missions to China, Wu shows just how extensive the gulag system is even today.

The Chinese government says that 10 million people have been sent to the laogai camps since 1949. Wu estimates the real number is five times that — and that as many as five million of those people have been political prisoners. According to Wu, such camps account for a significant portion of the $30 billion worth of Chinese imports to the U.S., a fact that embarrasses the Chinese government and its business partners in this country.

As Wu cogently argues, the laogai system is effectively subsidized by Western acquiescence in Chinese abuses, "subsidized by corporations, subsidized by the World Bank, subsidized by all the governments that encourage trade with China." We're all implicated, as Wu proves by tracing the path of artificial flowers from slave labor camps to Ben Franklin Retail Stores.

An important book, Troublemaker is by no means a great one. It is rambling, unfocused and distressingly slight in its documentation. Wu himself comes across as impulsive, self-absorbed, petty — indeed, something of a pest. But whatever his personal flaws, Wu has, at great risk to himself, brought some distinctly uncomfortable facts to the attention of the world. We could use more pests like him. Salon

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
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6.45(w) x 9.61(h) x 1.13(d)

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