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Jiabiangou Labor Camp (Chinese: ; pinyin: Jiābiāngōu; literally: "wedged between ditches") is a former farm labor camp (laogai) located in the area under the administration of Jiuquan City in the northwestern desert region of Gansu Province.[1] The camp was in use during the Anti-Rightist Movement in the years from 1957 to 1961.[1] During its operation, it held approximately 3,000 political prisoners, of whom about 2,500 died at Jiabianguo, mostly of starvation.[1][2][3][4]

Jiabiangou was a camp for "re-education through labor"[1][2] that was used to imprison intellectuals and former government officials that were declared to be "rightist" in the Anti-Rightist Movement of the Communist Party.[1][2] Some inmates were sent to Jiabiangou on the grounds that they had relatives who had owned a business or held a position in the Kuomintang government.[3] Originally designed as a prison to hold 40 to 50 criminals, the camp was overcrowded with 3,000 political prisoners.[1][2] The camp is located 27 kilometres (17 mi) to the northeast of Jiuquan City,[5] on the edge of the Badain Jaran Desert. As a consequence, agriculture in the camp area was limited to small patches of grassland in an oasis surrounded by salt marshes and desert.[2] Yet, no external food supplies were offered to the prisoners. The result was a famine that started in the fall of 1960.[2] In order to survive, prisoners ate leaves,[2][6] tree barks,[2][6] worms and rats,[2][6] human and animal waste,[3] and flesh from dead inmates.[1][2][6] The bodies of the dead were left unburied on the sand dunes surrounding the camp[2][5] as the surviving prisoners were too weak to bury them.[2] The starvation at Jiabianguo took place during the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) and the Great Chinese Famine (1959-1962), which is estimated to have caused many millions of excess deaths.[7]

In December 1960, senior officials of the Communist Party learned of the situation in the camp and launched an investigation. As a result, amnesties were issued to the survivors and the camp's remaining population evacuated early in 1961.[2] In October 1961, the government ordered the closure of Jiabiangou as well as a cover-up.[1] Authorities in Gansu[6] assigned a doctor to the fabrication of medical records for every dead inmate stating various natural causes of death, but never mentioning starvation.[1]

Partially fictionalized accounts of firsthand recollections from 13 survivors of the camp have been presented in the book Woman from Shanghai: Tales of Survival From a Chinese Labor Camp by Yang Xianhui[8] (originally published as "Farewell to Jiabiangou", Chinese: ; pinyin: Gàobié Jiābiāngōu, translated into English by Wen Huang with support from a 2007 PEN Translation Fund Grant. The book was adapted into Wang Bing's 2010 film The Ditch.[9] Another account based on interviews with survivors is given in The Tragedy at Jiabiangou by Xu Zhao (2008), Laogai Research Foundation Publications (in Chinese).[4]

Remains of the camp, including the graveyards, are unmaintained and heavily guarded to prevent people from visiting. In November 2013, a new monument dictated by families and social workers was quickly destroyed by local authorities. Ai Xiaoming, a professor of Sun Yat-sen University, was briefly detained before released and prevented from photographing in May 2014.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Howard W. French (2009): Survivors' Stories From China, New York Times, New York Edition, August 25, 2009, page C1
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Wen Huang (2009): I hope to be remembered as a writer who speaks the truth, guest post at Three Percent - a resource for international literature at the University of Rochester
  3. ^ a b c Sarah Halzack (2009): Surviving Jiabiangou, The Washington Post, August 23, 2009
  4. ^ a b Xu Zhao (2008). The Tragedy at Jiabiangou. Laogai Research Foundation Publications.
  5. ^ a b James D. Seymour, Richard Anderson (1998): New ghosts, old ghosts: prisons and labor reform camps in China, And East Gate Book, p. 179, footnote B
  6. ^ a b c d e N.N. (2007): The Unknown Gulag, PRI's The World, December 4, 2007
  7. ^ D. Gale Johnson (1998). "China's Great Famine: Introductory Remarks". China Economic Review. 9: 103–109. doi:10.1016/S1043-951X(99)80008-X.
  8. ^ Xianhui Yang (2009): Woman from Shanghai, published by Pantheon, a division of Random House, Inc.
  9. ^ La Biennale di Venezia: The Ditch by Chinese director Wang Bing is the Surprise Film
  10. ^ 艾晓明:夹边沟遗址遭破坏令人痛心

Further reading[edit]