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Messages and Chinese Prisons

Mihrigul Tursun, a Uighur woman who was detained in China, testifies at the National Press Club in Washington about the mass internment camps in China and the abuses she suffered.
D.A. Peterson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Mihrigul Tursun, a Uighur woman who was detained in China, testifies at the National Press Club in Washington about the mass internment camps in China and the abuses she suffered.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The book is “Made in China” by Amelia Pang.

Damacus, Oregon is a suburb forming a Southeast corner to Portland, Oregon. (45.4N 122.6W)

Masanjia, China is a city in the Northeast of China, north of the North Korean border. (41.9N 123.2E)

Roughly: 4491 miles apart by the great-circle route.


With surface transportation routes just call it more than 5,000 miles between Masanji and the Portland suburb where in October 2012 a letter was found inside a Halloween decorative tombstone made of plastic foam, purchased in 2010 at a local Kmart, on clearance.

As Julie Keith and her daughter Katie opened the package, an onionskin paper, folded in eighths, dropped to the floor with the discarded packaging. It was daughter Katie who noticed the paper. Katie handed it to her mother, asking what it was.

Her mother read: (page 3 in book)

If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization. Thousands people here who are under the persecution of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.

Was this a prank? Julie Keith read further.

This product produced by Unit 8, Department 2, Mashanjia Labour Camp, Shenyang, Liaoning, China. (中國,遼寧,瀋陽,馬 三家勞動教養院二所八大隊) People who work here, have to work 15 hours a day without Saturday, Sunday break and any holidays, otherwise, they will suffer torturement (酷刑折磨), beat and rude remark (打罵體罰虐待), no nearly no payment (10 yuan/1 month). People who work here, suffer punishment nearly 1~3 years veragely, but without Court Sentence (unlaw punishment) (非法勞教). Many of them are Falun gong practitioner, who are totally innocent people only because they have different believe to CCPG (中共政府), they often suffer more punishment than others.

In terror and disbelief Julie understood that this paper held an SOS from someone who had made her plastic foam tombstone decoration.

Someone in a prison in China had created the letter, hidden it in a product package moving it past armed guards and made its way in a supply chain landing in Portland, Oregon to Julie Keith’s house.

Who should she alert? She tried posting to Facebook. Her husband Chris thought it might be fake. She called Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, United Nations Human Rights Council and Anti-Slavery International.

It was her PR manager at Goodwill who took one look at the letter and made arrangements to contact a reporter on the Oregonian.

Four years before Julie and Katie found the letter, Sun Yi, imprisoned in Masanjia labor camp, decided to send out letters to the world. This was after receiving the divorce letter from his wife. Even though he desperately wanted to leave he would take the chance. If caught he could die.

He was on a top bunk. The lights were never out at night. Sun had carefully torn out pages from his political reeducation workbook. He would write a few lines at a time, listening for his cellmates’ breathing patterns. The first letter took two nights but was a template for the rest. In two weeks, Sun Yi managed to write 20 letters.

It took another month before his team finished another set of the plastic gravestone decorations and a truck was scheduled to pick up the production. Taking all of them out at once from where he had hidden them in the bars of the bed, he inserted the letters into the gravestone packages.

When no one had raised an alarm, Sun wanted to do more letters. Then an escape attempt triggered a lockdown and intense search. One letter was found. The prisoner with the letter was beaten but didn’t name Sun and they shelved the letter investigation. It would require tracking down the product boxes already shipped, opening all the boxes to check. If the manufacturer finds out they might not get paid. And so, the existing letters slipped through, including the one Julie Keith found.

This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.

Selected References

Above the Ghosts’ Heads: The Women of Masanjia Labor Camp Amelia Pang lists this film on page 105 of “Made in China”; Edited version: Oct 2, 2013 https://www.nchrd.org/2013/10/videoabove-the-ghosts-heads-the-women-of-masanjia-labor-camp/

Falun Gong descriptions


“How I Survived A Chinese 'Re-education' Camp: A Uyghur Woman’s Story” - Canbury Press. By Gulbahar Haitiwaji and Rozenn Morgat, Translated by Edward Gauvin


A Uyghur’s Story: What It’s Like Inside a Xinjiang 'Reeducation' Facility – 7 Sep 2022 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozA5UE0n600

Spring Read 2023: In Touch with the World 2023 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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