Farewell to Shanghai's 're-education' labour camps

  • 4 January 2014
Media captionFormer labour camp inmate Pei Fugui: "I was forced to sit on a small plastic stool for hours"

The Beijing News, a state-owned newspaper, reports this week that all detainees in the city's re-education through labour camps have now been released and the signboards have been taken down.

So I went to take a look at Shanghai's labour camps. With a bit of digging, all of their addresses can be found online.

For more than five decades, they have been part of a system used to imprison many hundreds of thousands of people without trial: political dissenters, petty criminals and anyone else the authorities found a nuisance. And, it seems, here too in Shanghai, this most controversial aspect of the Chinese justice system is now being consigned to history - almost.

As the pictures show, even though the characters on the signboards have been removed, you can still make out the names of the institutions. But despite this ghostly reminder of what they used to be, the camps are closed and all the inmates have gone.

Image caption Hundreds of thousands of people were imprisoned in labour camps without a trial
Image caption One can still make out what the signs used to say even if the signboards have been removed
Image caption The remaining silver writing is part of a sign that says "forced isolation drug rehab" unit

That said, both of the camps pictured, Shanghai's third and fourth labour camps, also serve as forced detention centres for drug addicts and the signs advertising this function remain firmly in place.

Elsewhere in China, the authorities are also retaining another extra-legal system, one used specifically for locking up prostitutes, known as "custody and education".

News reports have suggested that the re-education through labour centres have been winding down for months. The decision to close them was formally announced in November and signed into law last week.

Now it seems many of them have finally gone. Of course, justice will remain illusive in China because of the Communist Party's strict control of the courts.

But it is living up to its promise to abolish one of the most repressive and controversial parts of the system.