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The GULag and Laogai: A Comparative Study of Forced Labor Through Camp Literature

Stepanic, Stanley Joseph
Thesis/Dissertation; Online
Stepanic, Stanley Joseph
Dianina, Ekaterina
Dimberg, Ronald
Tolczyk, Dariusz
Elson, Mark
This is the first comparative study ever undertaken in an investigation of the history of forced labor in the Soviet Union and China. It makes no claims to be exhaustive, and serves mainly as a foundation to further work in this subject in the near future. Various historical works and documents have been utilized to create, firstly, an acceptable overview of the history of the practice of forced labor in both countries, followed by a short history of so - called ‘camp literature', or memoirs written by survivors of forced labor, generally speaking. The main focus is to analyze several key similarities and differences as they are found in examples from both countries. Differences lead to several interesting points, discovered by observing the narrative persona in Soviet and Chinese examples. On the Chinese side, one can find a much more accepting narrator, who seems to view his situation as somehow necessary, whereas in the Soviet context the prisoner almost always condemns the government. Even when he does not, he at least suggests that some sort of mistake was made and rarely suggests his imprisonment is truly for his own good. This work aims to investigate the reason for this phenomenon and poses several reasons for its existence. It does not provide answers, only possibilities. Further research will be required, if it is even at all possible to answer a question that may, in fact, be impossible to prove. Namely, does one's culture shape the way one tends to think? If not, why, in the Chinese context, does the prisoner seem to so willingly accept their situation? W4 ‘mz "...make use of the labor of those persons under arrest,‘ for those gentlemen who live without any occupation,‘ and for those who are unable to work without being forced to do so. Such punishment ought to be applied to those working in Soviet institutions who demonstrate unconscientious attitudes to work, tardiness, etc. ...In this way we will create schools of labor. "1 - Dzerzhinsky's public speech in 1919 concerning the reeducation of the bourgeois. "You will say, perhaps, that all this is too stupid to be true. But, unfortunately, it is true. And is it not stupid that 160, 000,000 people have for eighteen years past been resident in a vast territory of good soil and starving most of the time? Is it not stupid that three families have to be crowded into a single room in Moscow, while the millions needed for housing are lavished on projects like the ‘Palace ofSoviets' (The Communist Tower of Babel), the ‘Dynamo ', etc. ? Is it not stupid that the construction of the Dniepostroi Water Plant went on day and night, winter and summer, at enormous sacrifice oflives and money for years, and now functions at only twelve per cent of its capacity? Is it not stupid to let horses, cows, and pigs starve for lack of fodder while spending tens of millions importing and trying to breed rabbits, which are certain to succumb from unsuitable food and climate? Is it not stupid to try to domesticate Karelian elks and Kamchatka bears instead? Is it not stupid to import, in the vicinity of the Arctic Circle, for the purpose ofbuilding the White Sea - Baltic Canal, 60,000 Usbeks and Khirghizians from southern Russia who will probably perish within six months? All this is revoltingly stupid, but this stupidity is armed to the teeth. "2 - Ivan Solonevich in The Soviet Paradise Lost. "China 's basic goals in criminal reform are to turn ojfenders into a dijferent kind of person, one who abides by the law and supports himself or herself with his or her own labor, and to reestablish these people as free citizens in society. "3 - Beijing's official political statement concerning the existence of Laogai. "If the reader finds it preposterous or exaggerated, he has never been inside a Chinese prison, and he is lucky. It is utterly typical ofthat country, even today...The first times I encountered prisoners actually thanking the government and their jailers for the sentences they had been given, I regarded them with a mixture of astonishment and scorn. Later, as with my Ideological Reviews in Prison Number One, I went through the same sort of motions, but maintained the small mental reserve that I was onbz protecting my skin: That was the form expected and the way to go through a sentence without trouble. Before I left the Chinese jails, though, I was writing those phrases and believing them. "4 - Bao Ruo-Wang in Prisoner of Mao.
University of Virginia, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, PhD, 2012
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