The Hoover Summer Workshop on China and Russia hosted a talk and discussion on the Chinese Gulag under Mao by Klaus Mühlhahn.
Mühlhahn is a professor of Chinese history and culture at the Free University of Berlin who specializes in modern Chinese legal history. His Criminal Justice in China (Harvard University Press, 2009) won the American Historical Association’s Fairbank Prize and his PhD students are regular visitors to the Hoover Archive’s China collections.
Mühlhahn, describing a gulag system familiar to scholars who study the Soviet Gulag using Hoover’s “Main Camp Administration” archive, calculates that twenty million Chinese endured the Gulag. Unlike the Soviet Gulag, however, most Chinese entered without a set term (those were reserved for privileged Gulag inmates). Also, unlike the strictly centralized Soviet Gulag, the Chinese Gulag was operated by regional authorities; as the Chinese Gulag population swelled, inmates were put to work in agriculture and construction. As with the Soviet Gulag, however, the Chinese Gulag did not yield the surpluses expected by the Chinese authorities.
Mühlhahn’s presentation was followed by a lively discussion with experts on the Soviet Gulag and on the Ba’ath Party’s repression system. The participants agreed that work needs to be done to put gulags in a comparative perspective.