China's Concentration Camps

Directed by Tania Rakhmanova

Since Mao, the laogai, China's gulag-style concentration camp system, has been at the heart of the power exercised by the Communist Party. Combining archive footage and testimonies from former prisoners, this two-part documentary traces the history of the camps, which were both tools of repression and key instruments in the economy of modern China.


Part 1 - Laogai: the Chinese Gulag

Established by Mao Zedong in the late 1940s, the laogai is China's concentration camp system. Like its Soviet model, it is a political space integrated into the economy and part of the social landscape. Unlike the Gulag, its aim is a "thought reform" of the deportees by using forced labour and physical and psychological torture. It was part of a system in which "enemies" were placed under surveillance in everyday life. Under the reign of Mao Zedong, campaigns of terror and repression followed one another for more than 25 years, culminating in the Cultural Revolution.

Part 2 - Total Surveillance

Many hoped that the system of terror would die with its creator. But the laogai may have changed its name, the techniques of imprisonment and torture are still there. Under the reign of Deng Xiaoping, each camp was transformed into a business and the laogai became a key instrument of the Chinese economy. Since Xi Jinping came to power, new categories have been sent to the laogai: ethnic or religious minorities, representatives of civil society. Black jails for illegal workers and political dissidents complete the system. The laogai is at the heart of Xi Jinping's power and he is using it on a scale not seen since Mao's great purges.

Directed by :
Tania Rakhmanova
Written by :
Jean-Philippe Béja and Tania Rakhmanova
Produced by :
YAMI 2 - Christophe Nick
Broadcast :
Year of broadcast :
Duration :
2 x 60 min

This relentless and brilliant chronology retraces the major stages of the policy of terror in China and the multiplication of these camps, instruments of mass repression. Its main strength lies in the chilling and shocking testimony of the victims of the laogai - Télérama (3T)

A gripping two-part documentary by Tania Rakhmanova and Jean-Philippe Béja, "China's Concentration Camps" looks back at the "laogai", created eighty years ago by Mao, in which 20 million citizens of the People's Republic died - L'Obs

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