Harry Wu: Forced Labor

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Harry Wu

Harry Wu, ©2000 Eddie Adams


  • 9-12


  • Forced Labor

Additional Resources


  • Article 5: Freedom from Torture and Degrading Treatment
  • Article 9: Freedom from Arbitrary Arrest and Exile.
  • Article 19: Freedom of Opinion and Information


  • 80 minutes


After this lesson, students will be able to

  • Define and provide examples of dehumanization.
  • Explain how labor camps in China deny human rights.
  • Become a defender of human rights by helping Harry Wu and his fight against forced labor camps in China.


  • What is dehumanization?
  • How are labor camps a violation of human rights?


  • Comparing and contrasting ideas
  • Drawing inferences and making conclusions
  • Evaluating
  • Getting information
  • Organizing information
  • Interpreting information
  • Analyzing information
  • Synthesizing information
  • Participating in group planning and discussion
  • Cooperating to accomplish goals
  • Assuming responsibility for carrying out tasks


  • Human rights
  • Forced labor
  • Labor reform
  • Censorship


  • Social Studies Standard 2: World History
    • Commencement KI 1 PI 1, 3; KI 2 PI 3, 5; KI 3 PI 1; KI 4 PI 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Social Studies Standard 3: Geography
    • Commencement KI 1 PI 4, 5
  • Social Studies Standard 4: Economics
  • Commencement KI 1 PI 1, 2, 6; KI 2 PI 1, 2, 3, 4
  • Social Studies Standard 5: Civics, Citizenship, and Government
    • Commencement KI 1 PI 1, 4; KI 4 PI 4, 5, 6
  • English Language Arts Standard 1: Language for Information and Understanding
    • Commencement Reading PI 1, 2, 3; Writing PI 1, 2, 4
  • English Language Arts Standard 3: Language for Critical Analysis and Evaluation
    • Commencement Reading PI 1, 3; Writing PI 1, 2
  • English Language Arts Standard 4: Language for Social Interaction
    • Commencement Reading PI 1, 2; Writing PI 1, 2

NYS P-12 COMMON CORE LEARNING STANDARDS for ELA/Literacy in History/Social Studies 6-12

  • RH/SS.9-10.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
  • RH/SS.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary describing political, social, or economic aspects of history/ social studies.
  • WH/SS.9-10.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • WH/SS.9-10.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • RH/SS.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
  • WH/SS.11-12.1 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • WH/SS.11-12.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.


  • Laogai
  • Dissent
  • Exile
  • Communist Party
  • Dehumanization
  • Counterrevolutionary


The vocabulary terms and concepts pertinent to this lesson should have been taught throughout the core curriculum in order to provide students with the prior knowledge necessary to comprehend the material. As a refresher, teachers may review these terms/concepts with students prior to distributing the materials. Teachers can also prepare a vocabulary list to give to students as a reference guide.


  • Computers with Internet access
  • Microsoft programs


Your students must have an understanding of Communist ideology and the rise of the Communist Party in China before conducting this unit. For Global History and Geography II students, this lesson can be delivered after studying the Cultural Revolution and the rise of Mao Zedong in China. For U.S. History and Government students, this lesson can be implemented after students study the Cold War and begin to learn about foreign policy and U.S. economic involvement with China during the 1960s – present day.


Student Activities


  • Instruct students to take about three minutes to write a response to the following prompts:
    • Have you ever been blamed for something you didn’t do?
    • Has someone else ever been blamed for something you did?
    • Have you ever spoken up to stop someone else from being unfairly blamed?
    • Think of a time when you stood up for something even when doing so would make you unpopular or get you in trouble. Write a brief description of the event and list the qualities you needed at that moment to take a stand.
  • After students complete these responses, facilitate a discussion, using student responses to generate a list of common qualities individuals must have in order to stand up for something they believe in.
  • Write the responses on the board or interactive whiteboard
  • Conclude this activity by asking students:
    • Why is it important to stand up for what you believe in?
    • What are your human rights?
    • What does it mean to be dehumanized?
    • How might you help others stand up for their human rights?


  • The teacher introduces the group activity and distributes materials as follows:
  • The teacher will briefly introduce Harry Wu’s fight for human rights to students by showing the video clip of Harry Wu from “Speak Truth to Power: Public Service Announcements.” (Symbol for link)
  • Divide the class into four groups.
  • Assign each group one of the following aspects of Harry’s experiences:
    • “Early Life and Imprisonment,”
    • “Freedom in the USA?”
    • “The Others in Laogai,”
    • “The Goals of Harry Wu.”
  • Students will read together the Speak Truth to Power excerpt on Harry Wu. Students will take turns reading paragraphs of the article to learn more about Harry Wu, taking notes and circling unknown vocabulary as they read. (See “materials” for a selection of documents. Teachers should use their discretion in selecting documents that are the appropriate length and level of difficulty for students).
  • Instruct the groups to research important information on their topic and create a short presentation for the class. In order to serve the different learning styles and needs of the class, the presentation may be in the form of a poster/collage, role-play, poem, PowerPoint slide presentation, or a song/rap.
    • Monitor student progress by walking around the room to discuss new vocabulary and answer any questions each group may have.
    • Each group will be responsible to present to the class by the end of the second class session.

Become a Defender

  • Students will work in groups to write letters to U.S. senators and the United States International Trade Commission, urging our leaders and federal agencies to increase private investigations of suspected Laogai factories in China that are interested in trading with the United States. In addition to increased investigations, students can also urge the United States to expand its definition of “prisoner” and “forced labor” to include those detained in administrative detention, who are not considered convicts by either the Chinese or U.S. and thus are allowed to produce goods that are traded between these two nations.
  • Students can present their research and suggestions on how to help Harry Wu to the school board or a local member of Congress. For example, students can encourage community members to join Amnesty International and add their names to the ‘Actions’ to increase the pressure on governments and human rights violators to eliminate human rights abuses. http://www.amnesty.org/en/join
  • Students can hold fundraisers to donate to the Laogai Research Foundation (https://ssl.4agoodcause.com/laogai/donation1.aspx?id=1). The foundation provides contributors options as to how they would like to make a donation. For example, students will be able to make a general donation to support the Laogai Research Foundation’s programs and mission, purchase an honor gift to commemorate a special occasion or person, or donate a memorial gift to remember someone. Invite local leaders and the media to your school to raise more awareness and support for human rights in China.


  • Students can debate whether the United States should contribute to China’s economic wealth even when there is evidence of ongoing human rights violations. How should the rest of the world respond to China’s actions? For example, should China have been allowed to host the Olympic Games in 2008?
  • Students can present their research at a PTA/Board of Education meeting to rally community support for human rights defenders such as Harry Wu. As a community, they can take action to help Harry Wu.
  • Students can advocate with the school to be certified “sweatshop free.” http://www.sweatfree.org/join_us
  • Students can use the Prisoner Database on the Laogai Research Foundation’s website to research more about the lives of the detained. In response to their research, students can develop a website/Facebook page to raise awareness/support for some of the current prisoners in the Laogai.
    • Organize an art competition asking students to illustrate articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or organize a writing competition on a theme such as “What ‘human rights’ mean to me” or “What human right do I value most?” Winning entries from writing or art competitions could be featured in an exhibit, offered for publication in local newspapers or featured on your website. See http://www.un.org/events/humanrights/2008/plan.shtml for more ideas.


The Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights is sponsoring an annual contest honoring a student who submits the best advocacy activity based upon the lesson studied. A goal of the lesson is to instill into each student that one voice, one person can make monumental changes in the lives of many. Tell us how you “Became a Defender”!


  • A one-page summary of the advocacy activity
  • Digitized copies of materials that can be sent electronically
  • Photos of the activity (please include parental consent form)
  • A one-page summary of how the activity made a change in the lives of one person or many


  • A week long “virtual” internship at RFK Center
  • An opportunity to meet the defender through a SKYPE visit,
  • A visit from Kerry Kennedy or a defender to your school
  • A poster of a Speak Truth to Power Human Rights Defender
  • A donation of a signed copy of Speak Truth to Power for the school library

The application and instructions for entry can be downloaded here (link for materials)

The deadline for all applications is the third week in November.

The winning student and teacher will be notified by the last week of January.

Additional Resources

Laogai: The Chinese Gulag (1991)
Harry Wu’s first full account of the Chinese labor camp system.

Bitter Winds (1994)
Harry Wu’s memoir of his time in the camps.

Troublemaker (1996)
Wu’s account of trips to China and his detention in 1995.

New Ghosts, Old Ghosts, Prisons and Labor Reform Camps in China (1999)
by James Seymour and Richard Anderson

Timeline of Human Rights

Laogai Research Foundation
The Laogai Research Foundation works to publicize and document systemic human rights abuses in China including executions, organ harvesting, coercive population control and Internet censorship and surveillance.

Youth for Human Rights video documentary (10 minutes) on the Birth of Human Rights
A documentary made by Youth for Human Rights that explains the history of human rights.

Student-Friendly Universal Declaration of Human Rights
A student-friendly version of the Universal Declaration of Human rights.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.