Made In China

The Book of the Week is “Made in China, A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Costs of America’s Cheap Goods” by Amelia Pang, published in 2021.

“A guard grabbed a prisoner by his hair, twisted his head, and smashed his face into a heater… They beat him with electric batons until his body convulsed, then hung him by his wrists for two weeks– with his toes barely touching the ground.”

No, the above describes not the Holocaust, not a lynching, but a forced-labor camp in China in 2008 (!)

In the last few decades, the Chinese government has committed human rights abuses against its own citizens– not only dissidents, but also against a group called the Falun Gong (a group that practices exercises, meditation, and espouses certain lifestyle choices). Such citizens are sent to slave-labor camps, where they are tortured and starved but kept alive long enough to serve their sentences by making consumer goods (for export) for no pay amid extremely squalid conditions; they are charged with crimes and punished through what would be considered a complete violation of American-style due process.

In China, as of 2013, the camps numbered an estimated one thousand, at minimum. The author wrote that in all her research, she found only one American company that was ever prosecuted for importing consumer goods from such a camp in China, in the course of twenty years. The camps are bad enough, but to add more shock value to the already unspeakable horrors, the camps are a source of black-market transplant-organs in China, estimated to be worth $1 billion. In December 2013, China said it would be converting its reeducation (brainwashing) camps to ones that imposed labor for drug rehabilitation instead. However, the lipstick on the pig didn’t change the pig.

The main focus of the book was the true story of a man named Sun– a Falun Gong member who was sentenced to two and a half years to an aforementioned camp. He risked his life to hand-write a note containing a desperate plea for help, that ended up in the package of a Halloween product purchased by a woman in Oregon in the United States.

In 2016, Big Brother was growing ever more intrusive in China, as Turkic Muslims (the Uyghur tribe and Kazhaks), were targeted for “blood tests, fingerprints, voice recordings, and facial scans.” An estimated three million of twelve million of them are detained in the camps. They live in a location where China borders more than a few strategically located nations on the Silk Road– still a crucial trade route. The Chinese government doesn’t want any rebellious behavior from them. Reeducation is the goal, besides the economic benefits for China. All of them are forced to speak Mandarin, or else.

The author wrote with some alarm, that the torture chambers for victimized ethnic groups are arguably genocidal. She suggested that China’s atrocities might become comparable to the Holocaust all over again. But– this is not a Hitler situation, and is unlikely to become one. This, because Hitler had grand designs to take over the world through arming a military that committed imperialism, and creating a master race through eliminating the Jews and others he deemed genetically inferior– through genocide.

Matters will eventually come to a head when a significant proportion of the two minority populations are in the camps, and the export market is oversaturated with goods made by them, sold through big-name companies like Nike, Apple, BMW, Amazon, etc. An economic slowdown will mean a reduction in the need for the camps. (That’s NOT to say that the camps should exist, or that nothing should be done to stop the atrocities.)

International outcry will eventually reach critical mass, so that pressure will be brought to bear on China to reduce its human rights abuses, through economic punishments. Unlike most of the rest of the world, –like clockwork every two years– the United States holds elections for some powerful federal and state offices during which, a significant number of Chinese voters can influence political candidates to take a stand on this issue.

Anyway, read the book to learn additional details about Sun’s fate, and how the situation can be changed for the better.