That Letter From A Chinese Labor Camp Found In Portland Was Apparently Real After All

Masanjia Labor Camp

Back in October, a woman in Portland found a letter written in English by someone claiming to be a labor camp inmate in Shenyang. “If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization,” so it went. “Thousands people here who are under the persicution of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.”

The veracity was initially unverifiable. “We’re in no position to confirm the veracity or origin of this,” Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, told the Oregonian. But new details have emerged — specifically, a 47-year-old former inmate has come forward and claimed authorship of that and several other similar letters.

Reports New York Times:

Last month, though, during an interview to discuss China’s labor camps, a 47-year-old former inmate at the Masanjia camp said he was the letter’s author. The man, a Beijing resident and adherent of Falun Gong, the outlawed spiritual practice, said it was one of 20 such letters he secretly wrote over the course of two years. He then stashed them inside products whose English-language packaging, he said, made it likely they were destined for the West.

“For a long time I would fantasize about some of the letters being discovered overseas, but over time I just gave up hope and forgot about them,” said the man, who asked that only his surname, Zhang, be published for fear of reprisal.

The handwriting apparently matches.

The rest of the story documents the torture and abuse of prisoners, with Falun Gong practitioners getting the worst of it.

Zhang, who produced plastic foam headstones, tells the story of how he smuggled the letters out.

His letter-writing subterfuge was complicated and risky. Barred from having pens and paper, Mr. Zhang said he stole a set from a desk one day while cleaning a prison office. He worked while his cellmates slept, he said, taking care not to wake those inmates — often drug addicts or convicted thieves — whose job it was to keep the others in line. He would roll up the letter and hide it inside the hollow steel bars of his bunk bed, he said.

There it would remain, sometimes for weeks, until a product designated for export was ready for packing. “Too early and it could fall out, too late and there would be no way to get it inside the box,” said Mr. Zhang, a technology professional who studied English in college. His account of life in the camp matched those of other inmates who said they produced the same Halloween-themed items.

Quartz notes that “an estimated 190,000 Chinese citizens are imprisoned in about 350 ‘re-education through labor’ detainment centers across the country.” In January, the government announced proposals to reform and possibly end “re-education through labor,” but even then, many people expressed skepticism.

Here’s Kmart’s response via Twitter:

Behind Cry for Help From China Labor Camp (NY Times)

    11 Responses to “That Letter From A Chinese Labor Camp Found In Portland Was Apparently Real After All”

      • RhZ

        Some number of party members and connected families are getting rich by utilizing slave labor, but everything would be great if AWW would just shut up!

        But, of course you looove you some China. Common Chinese people, like these poor folk that live in bondage, not all that much. Amazing when a so-called patriot fails to speak up when his countrymen are being abused. Or maybe par for the course in China.

        • Matt

          Party officials may get rich of the labour system by utilizing slave labour, but thats corruption that would probably remain to some degree in any prison labour system. However, comparatively the Chinese labour system is no different from the US private jail systems. Actually despite US claims of heinous human right abuses I would describe the US system in some ways more corrupt, more discriminative and more extensive. Its just the crimes are different, in China its political crimes, while the US its economic crimes.

          Generally speaking I think the Chinese government has a willingness to reform the re-education system. Although the majority of the time is discouraged by the way in which the West props up Chinese dissidents.

          Nonetheless when you break it down the Chinese prison labour system is not much different to other prison systems, and corruption will be present as long as labour is used in the prison system.

          • narsfweasels

            Ah e ol’ tu quoque “it happens in the West and MIGHT EVEN BE WORSE!” argument of the paid astroturfers.

            Does anyone else get the impression that they’re just not trying any more? I mean, the arguments are all the same, the language is the same…. Have they run out of money for Trainng or something?

          • RhZ

            What an idiot. At least he didn’t provide 5 paragraphs of stupidity like last time he stopped by and graced us with his knowledge and analysis.

    1. Jill Godfrey

      Mr. Tao deserves some sort of prize for acting like an adult on the Falun Gong topic. Two cheers for giving this persecuted, peaceful religious group some dignity.

        • RhZ

          And you would stand by applauding while your government tried to exterminate them, wouldn’t you?

          Such a good Maoist you are. Always destroying some enemy or another.

        • Nathan Hazlett

          Talking of cults, how is Mao these days?

          Oh, wait, the fat, dead dictator is lying embalmed in Beijing…

    2. Nathan Hazlett

      When it comes to the CPC nothing regarding inhumanity would surprise me. They are professionals when it comes to cruelty.


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