Chinese word Laogai means reform labour. Modelled on the Soviet Gulags, the Laogai system was created in the early 1950s to control the Chinese population and stifle dissent. Between three and five million prisoners are currently incarcerated in over a thousand camps scattered across China. Laogai do more than detain and reform convicts and dissidents; the Chinese government profits handsomely from the system. Unpaid prisoners provide a free source of labour at prison-run factories, farms, workshops and mines, enabling these ‘businesses’ to reap huge profits.
Starting in the 1980s, the government began harvesting prisoners’ organs. Typically for a profit. This macabre practice has since become commonplace. The prisoners are now live organ donors who, when necessary, can be immediately executed and the organs removed. Involuntary organ donation is illegal under Chinese law, as it is against Chinese tradition and culture, which attaches symbolic, life-affirming importance to the kidney and heart.