Announcing Peace, Enforcing Violence: Xi Jinping's V-Day Speech


Last week's V-Day anniversary parade was a shock-and-awe display of China’s military power, featuring over 12,000 troops, 200 types of aircraft, and 500 pieces of military hardware. Yet Xi Jinping’s speech sang a different tune. Xi Jinping stated that “War is the sword of Damocles that still hangs over mankind... We must learn the lessons of history and dedicate ourselves to peace.” Xi Jinping closed with the surprising declaration that China would cut 300,000 soldiers from its armed forces population of over 2 million soldiers. That the V-Day anniversary parade was meant to send a clear signal of strength and unity towards not just an international community (in particular, Japan and the United States), but also the domestic population is unmistakable. This article will focus on the implications of two key aspects of the V Day parade: its historical revisionism and the proposed military scaleback.

Historical Revisionism

The festivities followed the state agenda, with the problematic issues that might incur international scrutiny swept under the rug. The sky for the parade remained blue (sarcastically dubbed by netizens as ‘Anti-Fascist Blue’) despite mounting evidence that Beijing’s air pollution has only worsened in the past few years. The recent Tianjin explosion, the recent crackdown on human rights lawyers and government officials, and the recent stock market crash were all ignored in lieu of an edited historical narrative about a decades-old military victory.

What was that historical narrative? The Ministry of National Defense’s website claims that “CCP-led forces pinned down 60 percent of the invading Japanese army” during the second World War. State-sanctioned media such as Xinhua have diminished Nationalist participation in the war, arguing that the People's Liberation Army was the first to resist Japanese occupation in 1931 and further arguing that the People's Liberation Army's efforts were the deciding factor in attaining victory. The Ministry of National Defense's press release even cites Mao's 1938 'On Protracted War' speech, mistaking Mao's prescriptive call for communist resistance with objective historical evidence that communist resistance was central to the war at large. Within popular culture, the same narrative permeates, with this movie poster causing domestic uproar by replacing Chiang Kai-Shek with Mao at the Cairo Conference of 1943. This revisionist interpretation of the second Sino-Japanese War does not merely reflect national amnesia. It also legitimates the CCP's 1950's-1960's neglect and persecution of Kuomintang veterans. Kuomintang veterans received minimal veterans benefits . Even worse, 91-year-old Kuomintang veteran Lu Chunshan recalled in an interview being 'dragged before baying crowds during political campaigns in the 1950s and 1960s and denounced as an enemy of the Communist cause.' Lu survived being beaten by Red Guards, but two fellow veterans did not. By continuing this narrative, the CCP can deny reparations to formerly persecuted Kuomintang veterans while consolidating nationalistic sentiment towards itself.

A short study of the numbers of soldiers involved in Japanese resistance, as published last week by the Laogai Research Foundation, defies this revisionist interpretation. Historical consensus acknowledges contributions made by both the Kuomintang and the Communist troops, although the Communist troops overwhelmingly made contributions in the rear. Moreover, Chiang Kai-shek's 14 million soldiers received support from over 3 million American soldiers in the Pacific Theater and over $200 million in aid through the American Lend-Lease Act. This American support has largely been ignored in the CCP narrative.

Some recent developments indicate grassroots pushback against this historical re-write. For example, both Chinese comics and online videogames have familiarized millions of young players with the Kuomintang's generals, battles, and victories during World War II. Even the party line has begun to accommodate greater historical accuracy; state-run tributes and memorials are carefully phrased to acknowledge the 'Chinese' war effort rather than the 'Communist' war effort. Additionally, last week's parade was the first Chinese V Day celebration in which Kuomintang veterans marched alongside Communist veterans. This reconciliation was applauded by some as an attempt to correct past erasures. Others viewed it as a gesture towards pulling Taiwan back into the Chinese government, a fear that was only further reinforced by a recent video stimulating a Chinese military takeover of an island similar to Taiwan.

Apart from diminishing Nationalist participation in the war, the party-sanctioned narrative emphasized Japanese atrocities under occupation. The official government-run online memorial includes reports of Japanese soldiers admitting to corpse mutilation, burning and murdering civilians (including "crying infants"), raping women, and testing bacteria and poison gas on Chinese civilians, among various other atrocities. It is indisputable that Chinese civilians suffered some of the most severe wartime atrocities in World War II. After all, of the Allied Powers, China suffered the most civilian casualties due to military activity and crimes against humanity. The distribution and proliferation of such wartime atrocity reports by Chinese party mouthpieces, however, implies that the historical narrative has been employed in order to reinforce associations of the Chinese as victimized people, rather than aggressors.

At the same time, the narrative reinforces associations of the Japanese as aggressors and violators of international protocol. One Chinese Foreign Ministry official responded to Japanese complaints about the parade by suggesting that "[Japanese politicians] read the United Nations Charter carefully, to face up to and reflect upon their country's history of aggression and work to win trust from neighboring countries and the international community." An internal irony exists in the fact that a Chinese official, from a country that frequently claims exceptionalism to "Western" ideals of human rights as set forth by the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights, might ask another non-Western country to follow United Nations protocol. The CCP attempt to represent China as a peaceful nonaggressor defending only when attacked then dovetailed with Xi Jinping's declaration of military scaleback.

Proposed Military Scaleback

Xi Jinping's announcement that China would never wage war on another country in the midst of a smorgasbord of military machinery on parade appeared, in a word, jarring. The proposed scaleback of cutting 300,000 soldiers from its 2-million-strong armed forces (an approximately 15% troop reduction) has since been confirmed by various state-sanctioned mouthpieces. The supposed purpose of the announcement, according to the Ministry of Natonal Defense's press release, is to "fully show China's sincerity to join hands with the rest of the world to maintain peace."

Yet China watchers both domestic and foreign have expressed skepticism of this peaceful purpose. The Phillippine defense department issued a statement saying China should drop "deceitful rhetoric" in claiming peace while it attempts to expand in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, Chinese ships have been spotted in the Bering Sea, coming the closest to United States territory than ever before. At the same time, the on-going Chinese dispute with Japan over the Senkaku Islands continues to sour relations between the two countries (this dispute explains some of the CCP's eagerness to malign the Japanese as aggressors).

Furthermore, others have observed that this military scaleback will allow the Xi Jinping to further consolidate his power: first, by continuing the Xi's anti-corruption campaign that some have observed is a power move to "weed out the elements in the military that are closely associated with Xi's predecessor Jiang Zemin." Second, it allows Xi to restructure the military and in fact accelerate modernization of the military. The Chinese military can cut down on its exorbitant personnel budget in order to direct resources towards better technology. The Chinese government's increased investment in hiring hackers suggests a new emerging battlefield that would not necessitate more soldiers to physically fight wars.

Such on-going observations are correct in noticing a discrepancy between Xi Jinping's words and Chinese power moves on an international level. Yet the dialogue should also shift to the discrepancy between Xi Jinping's announcement of peace and harmony in the light of state-sanctioned force used against Chinese civilians at the domestic level.

The June crackdown on over 200 human rights lawyers and their associates was condemned by non-governmental organizations and United States government commissions alike as a large step backwards for the advancement of Chinese human rights. The People's Armed Police (PAP) of China was established in 1982 by branching off from the People's Liberation Army and units of the Ministry of Public Security. Since then, the PAP continues to be a gendarmarie, or military police force, with its policemen granted significant discretion in arresting, interrogating, and torturing potential dissidents. The recent amendments to the Criminal Law will only expand police powers by letting authorities broadly define what constitutes "insulting, threatening, or disruptive speech" in court, "disruptions to social order", and "terrorism." Rule of law subsequently takes a backseat to the CCP's need to maintain supremacy and cohesion.

Additionally, the PAP is estimated to comprise anywhere between 660,000 policemen (according to government statistics) to 1.5 million policemen (according to non-governmental watchdogs). China's police force, the largest in the world, is certainly commensurate with China's large population. Yet the fact that its police force is almost as large as its standing military demonstrates where the CCP prioritizes its use of force: against Chinese civilians, in the name of maintaining order. Xi Jinping mentioned that the Chinese government had no plans for hegemonic expansion, but he did not mention that the Chinese government would stop detaining activists, political dissidents, journalists, and lawyers. Xi Jinping's speech about peace is disingenuous so long as his regime and its police apparatus continue to enforce violence on civilians. Dialogue surrounding Xi's speech should thus focus on this omission to point out the need for peace not just between countries but also between governments and their own civilians.


Last week's V Day parade was a spectacular display. But the most surprising aspect of the parade was what was not shown, what was deliberately left out of the state-issued agenda. What Tiananmen Massacre? Tanks were rolling triumphantly through Tiananmen Square once again. What pollution? The sky was an unerring clear blue. What internal divisions? Hundreds of volunteers and soldiers marched, with observers surprised by how uniform the heights of each marcher was. What economic crisis? The government spared no expense in lavishly welcoming state leaders. As Susan Shirk, former Clinton Secretary of State observed, "It was all about World War II, but it was also not about World War II at all." Or as professor of East Asian studies John Delury notes, "A military parade is a display not only of state power, but also of social order."

The V Day parade was an enactment of Xi Jinping's power. It was also a strategic presentation, with Xi Jinping's historical revisionism to bolster his claims of Chinese peace. Yet one must wonder, what kind of peace is Xi's police apparatus enforcing on dissidents such as Wang Yu and Zhao Guangjun, Yao Lifa and Zhang Cai, Pu Zhiqiang and Shen Liangqing? Is this what the Chinese government would call peace, then, that eerie radio silence that follows after all activists, political dissidents, and lawyers have been placed behind bars?



Censorship is the suppression of speech or other public communication which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, politically incorrect or inconvenient as determined by a government, media outlet or other controlling body. It can be done by governments and private organizations or by individuals who engage in self-censorship.
In addition to China’s vast system of government sanctioned jails and reform-through-labor camps, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) also imprisons large numbers of people without trial in secret jails. These secretive detention facilities usually fall into two categories - black jails and the Ankang . The Ankang are a network of high security mental institutions where sane individuals are often incarcerated on the basis of phony diagnoses; black jails are secret prison facilities housed in regular buildings such as hotels or nursing homes.
Laogai Research Foundation
The Laogai Research Foundation (LRF) was established in 1992 by Laogai survivor, Harry Wu, to gather information on and raise public awareness of the Laogai—China's extensive system of forced-labor prison camps. LRF also works to document and publicize other systemic human rights violations in China, including executions and the harvesting of organs from executed prisoners, the coercive enforcement of China's "one-child" population control policy, and Internet censorship and surveillance. LRF serves as an authoritative source for journalists, researchers, politicians, and other human rights organizations on human rights in China generally and the Laogai and forced labor in China specifically.
Harry Wu, Founder
Laogai Museum Front Desk

Harry Wu knows firsthand the atrocious conditions of the Laogai. In 1960, Wu was imprisoned at the age of 23 for criticizing the Communist Party, and subsequently spent 19 years toiling in the factories, mines, and fields of the Laogai.

He was released in 1979 and came to the US in 1985 with just $40 in his pocket. Since then, he has traveled back to China multiple times to further invesitgate Laogai camps and continue his call for human rights in China.

Wu founded the Laogai Research Foundation in 1992 to gather information on and raise public awareness of the Chinese Laogai.

LRF's mission is to document and expose the Laogai, China's vast and brutal system of forced labor prison camps, and to promote education, advocacy, and dialogue about China's human rights issues.
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Laogai Museum Front Desk

The Laogai Museum is the first museum in the U.S. to directly address human rights in China. It is the hope of the Laogai Research Foundation that the Laogai Museum will preserve the memory of the Laogai's countless victims and serve to educate the public about the atrocities committed by China's Communist regime. First founded in 2008 with the support of the Yahoo! Human rights Fund, the museum reopened in its present location in 2011, becoming a place for human rights victims and advocates to reach out to a larger audience.

The Laogai Research Foundation
1734 20th Street, Northwest
Washington, DC 20009

We are two blocks north of Dupont Circle Metro's North Exit on the Red Line (corner of 20th and S Streets).

Free 2-hour and metered street parking is available throughout the neighborhood.

Hours of Operation

Monday – Friday 10:00 AM – 06:00 PM
Saturday 10:00 AM – 05:00 PM

(202) 730-9308


The Laogai Archives are in the offices of the Laogai Research Foundation in Washington, DC.

Due to the suppression of free speech within China, much of the material housed within the Laogai Archives is not available to researchers in mainland China. Thus, the Laogai Archives are in a unique position to support academics, journalists, students, and activists in freely conducting research on human rights in China.

  1. What is the Laogai?
    The Laogai is the People’s Republic of China’s prison system. The name of the system is derived from the Chinese expression, laodong gaizao (勞動改造) meaning “reform through labor”. Generally referred to as labor reform camps (勞改隊), the prison system’s structure was developed by the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong. Modeled on the Soviet Gulag, the prison forces prisoners to do hard labor and gives them “political reeducation” to reform their thoughts and behaviors. The PRC also uses the Laogai as a source of free labor for various work, from infrastructure construction and mining, to farming and manufacturing. Through a variety of prison enterprises, the Chinese government earns income off the backs of Laogai prisoners.
    The Chinese definition of the Laogai entails six components.
      “Reform through labor camps or brigades” house officially convicted and sentenced criminals.

      In 1994, the Chinese government stopped using the word of “laogai,” instead it restored the traditional name of jianyu (prison). But the nature of the laogai system as a tool of rerpression remains the same.

      “Reeducation through labor facilities” house prisoners under “administrative discipline,” meaning that they may be sentenced to up to three years of forced labor without ever having been charged or tried.

      Detention centers house prisoners who are awaiting trial or have gone through a trial but the sentenced prison term is less than one year. They too can be forced to labor.

      Juvenile offender facilities house adolescent convicts or reeducation through labor detainees. In 1983, a regulation was issued that decreased the age from 16 to 14 years old at which children can be sent to reeducation through labor camps.

      These facilities were for prisoners who had served out their sentences but were deemed “not completely reformed.” Such prisoners had to stay in the same prison facility, facing the same conditions, and performing the same work just as when they were formal prisoners. The CCP ceased the forced job placement system in the early 1980s.
  2. How is the Laogai different from other prison systems?

    Because of international attention to human rights violations in the Laogai in the early 1990s, the Chinese Communist Party has attempted to create the impression that the Laogai is only a prison system for detaining, punishing, and reforming criminals. It was for this reason that in 1994, the CCP ordered that Laogai, meaning “reform through labor,” no longer be used in government documents. Instead, the system’s institutions were to be called jianyu, “prison.” However, contrary to CCP propaganda, the Laogai is different from prison systems in other countries. Laogai inmates are forced to labor and forced to do brain wash. What is more, they are unprotected by law, including laws against torture and abuse, as can be seen in the following section “Difference in Conditions.” The Laogai system also strengthens the CCP’S control by suppressing dissent among the Chinese people. The Laogai is an integral part of China’s economy, providing an abundance of free labor for manufacturing goods sold in both domestic and international markets.
    The conditions that persist in the Laogai constitute an additional distinction between it and other prison systems, with the Laogai perpetuating many of China’s most serious human rights abuses.

  3. Who has suffered in the Laogai?
  4. What is the political function of the Laogai system?
    Besides punishing criminals, the Laogai serves as a tool of political repression. China sentences outspoken critics of CCP policy to imprisonment in the Laogai to quell dissent. Suspects punishable by means of laogai or prison terms include the previous “anti-revolutionaries” and present-day “endangering state security” according to the Criminal Law. Suspects punishable by means of Re-education Through Labor according to the CCP’S “Measures for Reeducation through Labor (1957)” include, “counterrevolutionary and anti-socialist reactionaries, whose crimes are minor and not subject to criminal prosecution, and who have been dismissed by government offices, organizations, and enterprises, educational institutions or other units and have no way to make a living.”
    Fear and submission to CCP rule are also perpetuated by recurring “strike hard” campaigns. During these campaigns Chinese authorities implement various penalties, public trials, and previously, public executions, to intimidate its citizens and clamp down on political “crimes”. Trials and sentencing occur rapidly, and those accused of a crime are deemed guilty even before trial. It is under these circumstances that the CCP has continually silenced dissidents.
  5. What is the economic significance of the Laogai?
    Besides being important to China’s communist regime as a tool of repression, the Laogai is also an integral part of China’s economy. Chinese authorities use the millions locked in the Laogai as free labor. Totaling an estimated three to five million, they make up the world’s largest forced labor population. The CCP seeks to use the Laogai for profit.
    Forced labor is seen as another input for economic output. The deliberate application of forced labor by the Chinese government is codified in the Ministry of Justice Criminal Reform Handbook: “Laogai facilities…organize criminals in labor and production, thus creating wealth for society. Our Laogai units are both facilities of dictatorship and special enterprise.” The CCP hopes that by being forced to labor in the Laogai, prisoners will be molded into “new socialist persons.”
  6. Are Laogai goods exported?
    While much of what is produced in the Laogai is consumed domestically, Laogai-made goods also filter into foreign markets by way of third-party trading companies. Recently, rather than attempting to do business directly with foreign companies, Laogai prisons will find a government-owned trading company to act as a middleman and conceal the forced-labor origins of products from importers. Many Laogai prisons also have a second enterprise name; for example, Jinzhou Prison, where Nobel Laureate and democracy activist Liu Xiaobo is believed to be held, also operates under the name “Jinzhou Xinsheng Switch, Co.”, which it uses to market its products to foreign companies over the internet. LRF has evidence that shows Laogai goods repeatedly find their way onto American shelves, despite laws forbidding their importation. Notwithstanding the Chinese government’s claims to the contrary, the CCP encourages exporting Laogai goods.
  7. What is existing U.S. law regarding the importation of Laogai goods?
    Importing forced-labor goods to the U.S. is illegal according to section 1307 of the Tariff Act of 1930. In 1992, the need to confront China about this problem led to the signing of the “Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China on Prohibiting Import and Export Trade in Prison Labor Products.” However, China still exports prison labor goods to the U.S. To promote compliance with MOU’s terms, in 1994, the U.S. and China negotiated another agreement: the “Statement of Cooperation on the 1992 MOU between the U.S. and the PRC on Prohibiting Import and Export Trade in Prison Labor Products” (SOC). The SOC defines a mechanism to ensure that China promptly cooperates with U.S. Customs on forced labor inquiries. However, China has done nothing to ensure compliance, and the U.S. never committed resources to enforce the agreement. According to the 1997 “State Department Country Reports on Human Rights,” U.S. Customs unsuccessfully pursued eight standing visitation requests, seven of which dated back to 1995. In all cases, visitation requests were refused or ignored, and allegations were denied without explanation. Cooperation was judged as “inadequate.” In State Department reports from 1999, authorities admit that the MOU has been “nearly impossible” to enforce because China has been “uncooperative.” Throughout the 1990s, only around 20 cases of forced-labor product importation were pursued under the U.S. customs ban. Since 2000, the U.S. government has not attempted to restrict the flow of Laogai goods into the country.
  8. How can I avoid buying products made in the laogai?
    Identifying goods that are made entirely or in part in the Laogai is increasingly difficult. Sub-contracting and complicated global supply chains make discerning the origins of a product daunting. For example, a U.S. clothing maker may contact a Chinese import-export company to find a Chinese plant to cheaply make its clothing. That company may then contract the account to a legitimate Chinese textile firm, which will further sub-contract a portion of the production process to a Laogai camp, where prisoners must fill quotas to earn their food rations, rather than money. Laogai prisoners, toiling in horrible conditions, may also have grown the cotton the clothes are made from. If a product is “made in China” then it is possible it could have been produced in a Laogai.
  9. Should consumers boycott goods made in China?
  10. Are organs harvested from executed prisoners in the Laogai?
  11. What is the "One Child Policy"?
  12. Why do so few know about the Laogai?
  13. What does international law say about the Laogai?
  14. Who is Harry Wu?
  15. What is the Laogai Research Foundation?