Starts in Any Town
This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR. The book is “Made in China” by Amelia Pang.
“Made in China” starts in my home, and your home. It starts in Hays and in Garden City, and in Topeka and in Amarillo and in any town.
All of us have purchased items made in China. At one time Chinese-made items were relatively rare. Today it can be hard to not buy Chinese goods. It is almost impossible to know whether the products we buy are made by workers making a respectable wage under respectable conditions or whether the products are made by modern-day slaves.
One woman found a letter from one of those slaves. That discovery set in motion a change of events leading to this book and to a documentary film.
Any one of us might have found that stray piece of paper with a letter written on it from a prison camp, in China, asking for help. The chance is tiny. But thousands of miles away, in Oregon, Julie Keith found one of those letters. Keith was putting up Halloween decorations, some of which she had purchased two years before at K-Mart but not opened.
This is where Amelia Pang begins her book, Julie Keith’s discovery, a letter from the Masanjia prison camp in Northeast China in the city of Masanjia, located north of North Korea. Falun Gong members were sent here, forced to work as slave labor.
The letter Julie Keith found was one of at least 20 such letters, written in stealth, with great difficulty at night by Falun Gong member Sun Yi. He would then sneak the letters into the products they were making for market outside China.
“Made in China” takes us into the depths of China’s repression of a segment of its population through the personal story of Sun Yi. It is a true story. It is worth noting right off that Sun Yi filmed the documentary, “Letter from Masania” from which parts of the book are derived.
Amelia Pang was unable to interview Sun Yi before his death, under possibly mysterious circumstances, outside China. She was able to complete the book by using segments of video he was working on with his collaborator, documentary filmmaker Leon Lee who shared transcripts and video footage.
Julie Keith, however, was able to visit with Sun Yi in Jakarta, following his escape from China. We see that meeting in the “Letter from Masanjia” film. In March 2017 Keith flew from Portland, Oregon in the US to Jakarta, Indonesia. A 34 hour flight, then a drive through congested traffic, finally arriving at a set of small buildings in north Jakarta.
(From Page 194) – Amelia Pang writes:
He did not look withdrawn, on edge, or hardened—what she had imagined a gulag survivor would be like. “Hello,” she said, laughing.
“You come here so long distance,” Sun said slowly in English. Emotions swept over his face as they hugged. “It feels like you are my blood sister . . . I never imagined I would meet the person who received my letter. I wasn’t even sure if someone would receive my letter. I didn’t have a lot of hope.”
Over several days they talked and exchanged pictures of their families.
Seven months later, on October 1, 2017, Sun died from acute kidney failure and a lung infection.
The book and the movie form a strong combination. The book allows you to delve into the thoughts of the principals. The documentary allows you to be present visually in a combination of DSLR video and animated drawings.
Moving manufacturing jobs to China in the previous decades has had the dark side of using prison labor. In the book you will also get a set of steps for buying responsibly, to avoid buying from companies using slave labor. And a set of internet links to help you get involved directly as an activist.
This is Mike Strong, in Hays, for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.