How a US mom found a desperate plea in a box of decorations — and blew the lid off China’s forced labor camps.
In 2012, Oregon mother Julie Keith opened a package of Halloween decorations from her local Kmart. Inside, she found something far more unsettling than a bunch of plastic skeletons and gravestones: an SOS letter from the prisoner who made them.
Written neatly with a blue pen, it read:
Please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right[s] Organization. Thousands [of] people here who are under the persecution of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.
“Is this a prank?” she thought.
The 42-year-old read on as the note detailed inhumane work conditions and the fact that many workers were imprisoned despite having committed no crimes. She Googled the name of the labor camp mentioned in the note: Masanjia. It was real. She tried contacting various human rights organizations and finally went to The Oregonian newspaper, which published a story about the SOS.
Then she waited.
“Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods” (Algonquin Books), out now, tells the story of the note and its author, religious dissident Sun Yi, who spent 2½ years at Masanjia Labor Camp in China.
“This SOS letter that Sun Yi wrote was not actually the first letter [from a labor camp] that ever arrived in the US,” the book’s author, Amelia Pang, told The Post. “But it was perhaps one of the more eye-catching.”
Sun was a mild-mannered engineer living in Beijing with his wife when he was sent to Masanjia in April 2008. He had been arrested at least 12 times before that — for practicing a meditation-based philosophy called Falun Gong — but had always managed to be released through hunger strikes. This time, he had been caught during a raid on an underground printing press that published critiques of the Communist Party.
At Masanjia, the slight 41-year-old worked 15-hour-plus shifts making holiday decorations for the brand Totally Ghoul. Guards tortured him continually over his last year there — prying his mouth open with a ball gag, force-feeding him with a tube, strapping his wrists to the top of a bunk bed and letting him dangle there for days until he renounced Falun Gong. He never did.
“He was so hardcore,” said Pang, who interviewed Sun several times via Skype after his release. “He cared so much about freedom in China, he sacrificed so much to what many would say was a futile cause.” [ … ]
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