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Spotlight on China's ‘Re-education Through Labour’

Ren Jiayu, a 25-year-old former village official in Chongqing became the focus of the media again after he was released from a labor camp on November 19, 2012 just a few days after the leadership handover at the 18th Party Congress.

Ren was sentenced to two years of “re-education through labour” in August 2011 after he posted messages on microblogs accusing former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai of bringing the Cultural Revolution back to China with his “red songs” campaign. Ren’s case triggered a campaign to end the “re-education through labour” system in Chinese social media.  CCTV English channel even ran a panel discussion on reform of the labor re-education system.

On his release, China’s official media Global Times and People’s Daily published commentaries criticizing the unconstitutional system, calling for more freedom of speech. Global Times called Ren’s release “an essential step toward more freedom of speech”. People’s Daily mentioned that the reform of the “re-education through labor” system is currently under discussion by the government.

Following his release, a CCTV documentary programme ran an interview with Ren Jianyu. During the interview, Ren described how the police arrested him and his life in the labor camp:

Thousands of people are posting complains about the government on microblogs everyday, there’s no reason to arrest me for this. I will not withdraw my lawsuits against the re-education through labor committee, I want them to restore my reputation.

In another interview with Beijing news, Ren explained that his confidence in the reform comes from the 18th Party Congress:

I studied the 18th Party Congress report, I found the fifth chapter particularly relevant to me, it says: Promoting political restructuring, promoting governance in accordance with the rule of law and further establishing and completing a system to monitor and supervise power. I was sent to the labor camp without trial mainly because there was no monitoring system to supervise power.

Screen grab from CCTV documentary programme “face to face” which ran an interview with Ren Jiayu.

News of Ren’s release together with the CCTV interview went viral on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, with over 1,578,125 comments. Netizens wonder if Ren’s release indicates the potential for a more free and just society.

The abolition of the “labor re-education” system?  

Commentator Zhu Wei [zh]wrote:


I hope the release is not only his own victory, but also brings the release of other innocent people. Those decision-makers should be responsible for all of these people. I hope that the case will push substantial reform of the system.

Veteran journalist Fu Jianfeng [zh] responded:

傅剑锋1984: 人民日报此文非同一般,第一次看到人民日报批劳教制度,这是废除劳教恶法的前奏吗?希望是!

The piece from the People’s Daily is a break from formality. It’s the first time I’ve seen the People’s Daily criticizing the system. Is this a prelude to the abolishment of this nasty law allowing re-education through labor? I hope it is!

“Zhangwen’s article” echoed [zh]:


Could the new leadership bring the abolition of the “labor re-education” system? Smart politicians wouldn’t miss this chance, let’s wait and see!

More freedom of speech?

Guole Yudan [zh], lecturer at Nankai University, wrote:


CCTV’s interview with Ren indicates their boldness in reporting sensitive news, which might bring real journalism to China. However, maybe it also has something to do with the current restructuring of Chongqing’s top officials. The dialogue format makes a good platform for the audience themselves to judge and to think. I hope it’s just the beginning of good journalism, not a flash in the pan.

Langlang Jianghu [zh] echoed:

郎郎江湖: 任建宇居然上了《面对面》,这是个令人欣喜的信号吗?CCTV也有正义的一面,言者无罪的时代真会到来吗?

Ren Jianyu is on CCTV, isn’t it a nice surprise? Looks like CCTV has shown some integrity, is the age of free speech really coming?

Laoma Shitu [zh] was also optimistic:


Ren was released due to an ‘improper charge'; a farmer was released after being arrested for kneeling to visit Prime Minister, and the police apologized; the news makes us full of hope for the new leadership.

While Ren’s release brings joy and hope for most netizens in China, some netizens remain skeptical. Xiaokai wrote:


I just saw the news about Ren Jianyu. It looks like he has been ‘harmonized’ by the government, just like a chess piece on the politician’s chess table. How scary!


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