CBC Digital Archives

Re-education camps or death camps?

They were prepared to risk everything. In the years following the Vietnam War, over one million refugees fled the war-ravaged countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Those Vietnamese who took to the ocean in tiny overcrowded ships were dubbed the "boat people." The survivors sometimes languished for years in refugee camps. The luckier ones were taken in by countries like Canada.

The new Vietnamese government decides to "re-educate" thousands of former American allies, government workers, intellectuals and merchants by transforming them into agricultural workers. They are forced from the cities to Vietnam's "new economic zones" -- isolated areas of the country which the government hopes to make fruitful.
Once there, they're treated as slave labour. As human rights leaders around the world hear about the atrocities, they begin to protest. Human Rights Committee president Joan Baez describes the camps to CBC Radio.

Vietnamese of Chinese origin are the worst off. Many merchants, most of whom are Chinese, are sent to camps. One and a half million are relocated to new economic zones. In 1978, Vietnam begins expelling 745,000 ethnic Chinese from the country on overcrowded boats. They are the bulk of the large second wave of refugees that begins leaving Vietnam in late 1978: they are the 'boat people,' and they become an international crisis.
• The Communist government took over Chinese businesses, fired Chinese workers, confiscated their ration cards and denied Chinese children schooling.
• Steadily worsening relations between Vietnam and China were one cause of the government's treatment of its Chinese citizens. In 1979, Vietnam invaded Cambodia, attacking the Chinese-backed Pol Pot regime. In retaliation, China began military action along Vietnam's northern border.

• Not only were Chinese forced out of Vietnam on dangerously overcrowded vessels, they had to pay to leave; roughly $3000 per adult.
• The concept of re-education was borrowed from the Chinese communists. Its purpose was to convince people to accept and conform to the new communist society.
• The re-education camps were not officially considered prisons, but rather places where individuals could be rehabilitated into society through education and socially-constructive labour.

• A camp inmate's day was spent doing hard, often dangerous, labour. Evenings consisted of political classes and forced confessions of anti-communist activities.
• There were two types of labour camps: one required a three-year stay and the second, five years. But many individuals were sentenced to consecutive terms.
• In 1987, at least 15,000 people remained in Vietnamese labour camps. Camp conditions continued to be poor, with little food, no medicine and a high death rate.
Medium: Radio
Program: Sunday Morning
Broadcast Date: July 1, 1979
Guest(s): Joan Baez
Host: Bronwyn Drainie
Reporter: Jay Boldizar
Duration: 4:57

Last updated: February 1, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

Revolution and Evolution in Modern China

"When the sleeping dragon awakes," Napoleon once said of China, "he will shake the world." In ...

'Comrade' Bethune: A Controversial Hero

In China, he's been a national hero since his death in 1939. But in his birthplace of Canada D...

1947: 'Don't be a sucker! Don't buy 8 cent ba...

Young people across Canada protest the chocolate bar price hike from five to eight cents.

Radio Canada International: Our Voice to the ...

In February 1945, the "Voice of Canada" spoke to the world for the first time. The CBC Interna...

1957: Canadian ambassador jumps to his death ...

Noted author E. Herbert Norman commits suicide after a U.S. Senate Committee accuses him of be...

1968: Sammy Davis Jr. talks to draft dodgers ...

During the Vietnam War, entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. speaks to U.S. draft dodgers about their e...