04 September 2012

Translation: "Taking the Pulse of Re-Education Through Labor" (UPDATED)

Last week there was a post making the rounds of Weibo and Twitter that purported to come from the most recent issue of the Guangzhou magazine Window on the South (南风窗). Attributed to Ye Zhusheng (叶竹盛), the post lists 10 facts about the controversial practice of "re-education through labor" (RTL), a practice that has been much in the news lately following renewed efforts to push forward long-delayed reform plans.

I cannot yet confirm that Window on the South actually published this item. (The magazine's website—perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not—has been down basically since the item was published.) The post doesn't appear on Ye's Weibo, and his last post says that he's taking a one-month Weibo holiday to write an article.

But for now, I thought the content was interesting enough to translate and share here, even though I cannot entirely vouch for its authenticity. For what it's worth, the content rings true to me. I've inserted a few comments of my own to provide explanation or to express uncertainty. I'll update if and when the situation becomes clearer.

UPDATE: It has come to my attention that the post I've translated below is a compilation of facts drawn from Ye's full article, which he has posted on his blog here. Having compared the article to the posting, I've made some amendments to the translation and my comments. The magazine's website is still down, but this appears to be unrelated to this particular article.

* * *

Taking the Pulse of Re-Education Through Labor
Ye Zhusheng

1. Of 180,000 people in RTL, about 2 percent qualify as "three illegals": illegal propaganda, endangering state security, etc.
Siweiluozi: I'm not sure what the third component in this "three illegals" category is. My first guess would be "cult" members, but that's unlikely since there are bound to be more than a few thousand of them in RTL nationwide. UPDATE: The original article just mentions "three illegals" without defining it; what's been given here seems to be an interpolation by whoever compiled the post. As far as I can see, the article doesn't seem to mention the figure 180,000, which is interesting because the most widely circulated number is the 160,000 figure that the Ministry of Justice posted on its website for year-end 2008. UPDATED UPDATE: Okay, I now see that "three illegals" is defined in the article as those engaging in "illegal propaganda, disturbing social order, and endangering state security."
2. More than 60 offenses are covered by RTL.

3. There are 350 RTL facilities nationwide, with one in every prefecture-level city.
Siweiluozi: The article says "nearly one in every prefectural-level administrative unit" (emphasis added).
4. The re-offending rate for people sent to RTL is over 40 percent.

5. Under a strict reading of the RTL regulations, nearly 50 percent of people sent to RTL despite being innocent.
Siweiluozi: This is a literal translation, but I'm not entirely clear whether the author means that people are being sent to RTL despite not having committed any offense, not having committed an offense that meets the standards for RTL, or not being an appropriate target for RTL (more on that below). UPDATE: What the article actually says is that if RTL were strictly applied according to the State Council’s Trial Measures on Re-Education Through Labor, the number of people in RTL would drop by 40 to 50 percent. I think "innocent" is a misleading interpretation.
6. In some RTL facilities, they work for more than 10 hours each day.

7. RTL only applies to mainland residents, not people from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, or foreign countries.

8. A public security bureau issued rules stipulating that the revocation rate for RTL administrative reconsiderations and administrative litigation should not exceed 5 percent.
Siweiluozi: There are two options for appealing an RTL decision: pursuing administrative reconsideration with the local people's government or a higher-level RTL management committee OR filing an administrative lawsuit in court against the RTL management committee. This 5 percent figure seems likely to be a standard against which to measure performance, rather than a hard quota (considering that public security rules don't apply directly to courts). UPDATE: According to the article, this was a target set by a local public security bureau in Jiangsu, not a nationwide standard or quota. But ...
9. The Ministry of Public Security once issued a direct request to courts not to rule too easily against RTL approval units in RTL cases involving rural people.
Siweiluozi: According to Article 9 of the State Council’s Trial Measures on Re-Education Through Labor: “RTL is for detaining those individuals who live in medium-to-large cities and require re-education through labor. Those who reside in rural areas but commit offenses in cities, along rail lines, or at large factories or mines and meet the conditions for RTL may also be detained for RTL.” This means that under certain conditions, RTL cannot be used against people with rural household registrations (hukou). In the name of "maintaining stability," however, police sometimes ignore this restriction, and courts have been known to revoke RTL decisions because they were improperly applied against rural residents.
10. Regulations stipulate that RTL management committees should be comprised of members from public security, judicial administration, civil affairs, and labor departments, but in practice public security enjoys an arbitrary monopoly over this power.


  1. It's worth mentioning, perhaps, that regarding #8, the options for appealing RTL are not always feasible in practice. We once tried to help a person file an administrative lawsuit, but the lawyer was told that the province in question had an internal regulation (neibu guiding) that no lawsuits related to RTL or petitioning would be accepted. In other words, there was no way for the paperwork to be submitted.


  2. Point 7 above is that RTL doesn't apply to foreigners. But see this account from Human Rights Watch about foreigners subject to RTL in Yunnan: http://lawandborder.com/?p=1570.

  3. Thank you for bringing this to my attention. MPS regulations clearly prohibit foreigners from being sent to RTL. (See: http://florasapio.blogspot.hk/2009/11/blog-post_3064.html) However, as far as I can tell, there are no restrictions concerning compulsory drug treatment. Because compulsory drug treatment centers are frequently located within RTL facilities, this may give the impression that a foreigner is being sent to RTL, when in fact, technically, they are being sent to compulsory drug treatment. That's my hypothesis, at least.