Inmates listen to a speech, Shanxi province, September 1, 2010.
Courtesy Reuters

Advocates for the rule of law in China won a victory two weeks ago when the most Kafkaesque aspect of the country’s penal system was officially slated for abolition. The system of laodong jiaoyang, or laojiao for short, translates, innocuously enough, to “re-education through labor.” In practice, laojiao is a system of punishment for misfits -- from drug addicts to political critics -- whose rehabilitation is deemed to require years of forced labor without the benefit of a trial or even a chance to hear formal charges. It is a remnant of Maoist Communism that is entirely at odds with the country’s

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