"I Felt It Was A Fairly Small Thing"

(CCTV via Wenxue City)  June 15, 2007.

[in translation]

On May 27, during a routine inspection, the Shanxi province Hongdong county police successfully liberated 31 migrant laborers who had been illegally detained and forced to work.  For more than a year, these migrant laborers worked overtime without a cent in wages under the supervision of the foreman.  They had no freedom of movement and they were frequently beaten.  Where did these migrant laborers come from?  How did they end up here?  What is the truth behind the illegal brick kilns?  The CCTV program <Time Space Connection> sent its reporter to Shanxi to investigate.

The 31 people in the photograph are workers at a certain brick kiln in Caosheng village, Hongdong county, Linfen city, Shanxi province.  From their looks and clothes, we can see how hard their lives had been.  Actually, this photograph was taken at the police station after they had been rescued.

According to Shanxi province, Hongdong county, Guangshengsi police station director Liu Linzhong: These workers were wearing rags and their long hair were unwashed.  They looked like street beggars and they had various wounds on their bodies.

One particular worker who has leaning on a wooden stick drew the attention of the police.

Liu Linzhong: There was a man with a broken leg who used the stick to pick up the bricks.  He also worked there.

Some of the people were mentally confused and talking to themselves.  This increased the suspicion of the police.

Liu Linzhong: We took them all back to the police station and reported the situation to the bureau party committee.  The bureau party committee immediately established a criminal case squad.

This is the place where the migrant laborers slept.  The 31 workers slept on the floor made up of bricks.

Most of these were tricked into coming here.  They had no personal freedom, they were not paid and they were frequently beaten and cursed at.  The police took 31 workers and two foremen back to the police station.  The sub-contractor Heng Tinghan and two other foremen fled.  The owner of the factory is Wang Binging.  In March of last  year, he sub-contracted the labor to the Henan subcontractor Heng Tinghan.

According to Hongdong county public security bureau major crime squad captain Feng Yingui: Heng Tinghan was responsible for production.  After he took over the production, he hired five henchmen.

Heng Mingyang is the son of the subcontractor Heng Tinghan.  He is also a foreman at the brick kiln.

Reporter: How many people have you beaten?
Heng Mingyang: Four or five persons.

Reporter: Why did you beat them?
Heng Mingyang: They were loathing on the job or else they worked too slow.

Reporter: How did you beat them?
Heng Mingyang: With bricks.  With sticks.

Reporter: When you beat them, what did they do?  Did they resist?
Heng Mingyang: Some did, some did not.  We were not beating them viciously.  We were told not to injure them, because they have to keep working.

Reporter: But they still let you beat them?
Heng Mingyang: Some of them got beaten but some were not beaten.  Those who work hard and obey orders were not beaten.  Those who don't work will be beaten.

Feng Yingui: Right now, we have one serious injury case and five mild injury cases.  The other twenty-five people suffered various degrees of injuries.

Compared to these 31 migrant laborers, the Kansu migrant laborer named Liu Bao was the most unfortunate.

Feng Yingui: In November last year, Zhao Yanbing beat a worker to death.

Zhao Yanbing: There was this worker who was 57 or 58 years old.  He did not do his work well.  I only wanted to scare him a bit.  But as soon as I raised the shovel, he rushed over to me.  I raised the shovel and it hit him on the head.  He fell down.

Heng Mingyang: The next day, Wang Ximing called him to eat but he was already dead.

Zhao Yanbing: After he died, the godson Chen Zhiming of the subcontractor got me a cart and he arranged for a few workers to help me bury the dead man somewhere between midnight and after 1am.

The foreman Zhao Yanbing is suspected of beating Liu Bao to death.  He was arrested after fleeing a few months ago.  Actually, when Zhao Yanbing first arrived, he was also beaten.

Zhao Yanbing: He told me to do his job.  I refused.  So he hit me on the head at this spot where I received seven stitches.  He forced me to beat the workers.

Zhao Yanbing had been hit by Heng Tinghan with an air bottle but he became a henchman later on.

Reporter: The bricks from this kiln usually takes several dozens of hours before cooling down.  But the foreman here force the migrant laborers to move the bricks out before they were completely cooled.  Therefore, three people were burned.

Feng Yingui: Before the temperature even came down, he was forcing the workers to go into the kiln.  If they refused to go in, he would beat them with a pool.  As soon as the workers step in, the blast of heat from the kiln caused burns in their faces.  Before we came, they were never sent to hospitals.

Beatings, detention, injuries and extended labor are one thing, but none of these migrant laborers have ever been paid.

Reporter: Did the boss pay the workers?
Zhao Yanbing: Some of them got paid.

Reporter: Were those the ones who watched the others, like yourself?
Zhao Yanbing: Yes.

Reporter: But were the people who actually worked paid?
Zhao Yanbing: No.

Under these inhumane conditions, the workers find it insufferable.  But they found it hard to escape.  In order to prevent the workers from fleeing, the windows of the work shed are nailed shut.

Liu Linzhong: They get up just after 5am.  They have 20 minutes for lunch.  At night, they enter the work sheds and then the doors are locked from the outside.  They use the bathrooms inside.

Reporter: I am now standing on the top of a brick kiln in the brick factory.  This is just over 100 meters away from where the workers sleep.  Every day, the 31 workers toiled from 5am to after midnight.  Their movement space is within these 100 meters.
Worker: Nobody can run away.  The guards watch very closely.  They get up every morning and there is someone here, there and everywhere.  When you are ready to work, they escort you to the work place.  If someone so much as move away a bit, they would know.  Each foreman watches over several people.  They can see who is missing.

Reporter: Apart from the people, do they use other methods to watch people?
Liu Linzhong: Six guard dogs.

Reporter: There are six guard dogs.
Liu Linzhong: Fright.

Reporter: When you arrived, were the six guard dogs present?
Liu Linzhong: They were.

Reporter: Where were the dogs leashed?
Liu Linzhong: They were not leashed.  Two of them were there, there were three or four over there.

Worker: We plotted.  We can't get away.  There is no chance of getting away.  I tried once, but I failed.

Many of the migrant workers came here right after the Lunar New Year last year.  Some of them came in February and March of this year.  During this period, two persons escaped.  But most of the other escapees were recaptured quickly.

Worker: They carry mobile phones.  When someone flees, they immediately assemble everybody in one place and then they go out to search.

Feng Yingui: There was one person named Sun Haijun who was recaptured all three escape attempts.  When they got him back the last time, they broke his left leg.  He has not seen a doctor yet.

Zhao Yanbing: They found him and when they brought him back, they assaulted him.

Feng Yingui: How did they assault him?

Zhao Yanbing: With an iron spade and an iron hoe.

Feng Yingui: After the bone was broken, Sun Haijun was forced to work the next day.  If he refused, he would be beaten further.

As soon as the Hongdong county public security bureau and the county party/government learned about the situation, they established a committee to sent six of the injured workers to the Shanjiao Hospital for treatment.  The other 15 workers who had been previously injured were given full physical examinations.  Among the 31 migrant laborers, 8 of them have low intelligence and the doctors also tested them.

Shanjiao Hospital Doctor: The physical examinations showed various kinds of injuries, some of them were healed scars by now.  There were also burns or the result of beatings.  There were also some infections.

The suspected criminal subcontractor Heng Tinghan and two other foremen are fugitives.  According to the Hongdong county leaders, the 31 migrant laborers have almost all returned home.  This affair seemed to have come to a close, but there are still some questions: One of the questions is, How did these ever get tricked to come here?  Of the 31 migrant laborers, the oldest is 58 years old and the youngest is 14 years old.  They came from 12 provinces and cities and most of them were lured from the Xian train station in Zhengzhou.

Worker: he told me that there was a brick factory in the suburbs of Zhengzhou.  I asked what the wages were.  He said 1,300 yuan per month.  He told me to wait fro him to pick me up the next day.  At just past 10 am, he came to pick me up.  I asked him whether the brick factory was.  He said that it was in suburban Zhengzhou.  Then I got into the van.  This agent picked up more people from various agencies.  There were eight people in total.  But as we traveled, I sensed something was wrong.  He said that it was in the suburbs of Zhengzhou, but we were not in the suburbs of Zhengzhou.  He said that we were going to Sanmen Gorge.

Reporter: Were you suspicious at the time?
Worker: Yes.

Reporter: If you were suspicious, why didn't you get out of the car?  Or else you can say that you are not going?
Worker: That won't do.

Reporter: Why not?
Worker: Once you get on the car, you cannot come down.  They have steel bars on the car.  You cannot get off.

Hongdong county public security bureau major crimes squad vice-captain Geng Chengfu: They hired a car to go to the Hongdong brick factory.  Upon arrival, if a migrant worker wants to leave, they won't let him.  They say, "If you leave, you have to pay us 1,000 yuan."  How is the migrant worker going to have that kind of money.  They can't leave.  They have to stay and work.  They are given food and drink, but they are not paid.

There is another question: Was this brick factory legal?

Reporter: Has your brick factory ever gone through any procedures? Do you have a business permit?
Brick factory owner Wang Bingbing: No.

Reporter: Nothing whatsoever?
Wang Bingbing: Hmm.

Reporter: So how can you start production here?
Wang Bingbing: I am not the only small brick factory that operates without any procedures.

Reporter: Are there others?
Wang Bingbing: There are many small brick factories.  But I used outside workers.  I don't know about the others.


According to the local police, the owner of the illegal brick kiln Wang Bingbing has been placed under criminal detention.  The subcontractor Heng Tinghan is a Class B fugitive wanted by the public security bureau.  This has been a shocking affair to find there are still slave-labor factories in our society today.  Even more shocking is the fact that this brick kiln is not an isolated case.  Right before the police succeeded in rescuing these migrant workers, many more parents of missing children in Henan have been going to these small brick kilns because they suspect that their children had been kidnapped and sent to work at these types of illegal brick kilns.

Chai Wei is a Zhengzhou citizen.  A month ago, his 16-year-old son went missing near the Zhengzhou train station.  After many inquiries, Chai Wei learned that his son had been sold by slave-traders to work as a laborer at illegal Shanxi brick kilns.  During the search, he got acquainted with the parents of five other families which lost their children just like hi.  So these parents have joined together to search for their children.  After almost two months of searching, they were able to find the child of only one of the families.  During the process, they liberated more than 50 other child laborers.  The following three children were rescued from Shanxi.

Reporter:  How many children of your age were there?  How many did you see?
Xiao Lei: I saw about ten or more.

Reporter: Ten or so.  How long were they there?
Xiao Lei:  They disappear after a few days.  They were taken away to who knows where.

From these children, the parents learned that most of the missing children were boys around 16 years old.  Most of them were kidnapped and forcibly taken to the illegal black kilns.  The illegal brick kilns in Shanxi Jincheng and Yuncheng cities are where they are more likely to be found.  On May 9, the parents decided to go to Jincheng to search for their children.  Henan TV's reporter recorded their journey.

These illegal brick kilns only have one entrance with guard dogs at the gates.  There are henchmen acting as sentries.  Nobody can enter without the permission of the owner.  After some negotiations with the owner, the reporters and the parents were allowed to enter.  The scene was shocking to see.  The kiln workers were beaten if they were too slow.  The owner did not beat anyone personally, because he let the older workers teach lessons to the new arrivals.

Xiao Lei: There were about a dozen people working there.  The children come here to work for a week or so.  But he is afraid of inspection and so he shipped away to some unknown place.

At the illegal brick kiln, Xiao Lei tried to escape unsuccessfully.

Xiao Lei: There are hills on all sides.  They watch very closely.  They check on you every minute.  This means that you go missing for one minute and they will be looking for you.


(Southern Weekend)  The Road of Illegal Labor is Paved by the Blood and Tears of Youngsters.  By Zhu Hongjun (朱红军).  June 14, 2007.


The letter for urgent assistance was sent directly to Premier Wen Jiabao.  In the letter, a 46-year-old mother pleaded: "Save our children who were tempted by the devil, kidnapped and forced to live in hell!"

Behind this mother, there are almost 1,000 Henan parents whose children are missing as well.

On June 11, 2007, the mother Yang Aizhi sent this letter out.  For almost two months, the news that many Shanxi illegal brick kilns are using children as slave laborers circulated among the 1,000 families with missing children in Henan.  Including Yang Aizhi, several hundred parents organized themselves to visit several hundred illegal brick kilns in Yuncheng, Jincheng and Linfen in Shanxi.  Thus, the secret of the "Road of Illegal Labor" paved by the blood and tears is gradually unveiled.

Among the six parents who started the original project, two of them were lucky enough to find their children.  One of the children was taken out on a stretcher -- this 17-year-old young man had severe burns and his feet are bent out of shape.

In May 2007, Henan TV's Metro Channel exposed the case.  More than 1,000 parents showed up at Henan TV to ask for help.

Although the 39-year-old TV reporter Fu Zhenzhong tried to hold himself back, he still used the headline "Too many to count, too tragic to contemplate (罄竹难书,惨绝人寰)."  "Unless you were there in person, you can never imagine how shocking this was," he said.


On March 8, 2007, the 16-year-old son Wang Xinlei of Zhengzhou (Henan) resident Yang Aizhi went missing without explanation.  At the end of March, a parent in Mengxian (Henan) called her up at the telephone number in the missing person poster and it rekindled Yang's hopes of finding her son -- the two children of this parent were lucky to escape from an illegal brick kiln in Shanxi province.

In early April, Yang Aizhi began the journey to seek her son in Shanxi.  In Yuncheng, Jincheng and Linfen, this pitiable mother even knelt in front of the gates of the brick kilns to seek information about her son.  Although nobody had seen Wang Xinlei, she found out that there were shocking secrets behind these isolated brick kilns.

"I visited no less than 100 brick kilns," she said.  "There were forced child laborers in almost all of them."  Some of the children even wore school uniforms with insignias such as "middle school XXX in Zhengzhou."  The scenes that she witnessed herself broke her heart: "They were disheveled; their hands and feet were uncovered; when they could not move the cart loaded with bricks, the foremen whipped them from behind ..."

Some of the children skirted around the supervisors and knelt in front of her to beg her to take them away; or they slipped her pieces of paper with their home addresses and telephone numbers.

Yang Aizhi tried to take them away, but she failed.  The foremen raised their big sticks against her.

When she returned to Zhengzhou, she recognized that her personal efforts may be insufficient to find her son.  Through missing person advertisements in <Dahe News>, she quickly found allies: Gongyi's Zhang Shanlin, Zhengzhou's Chai Wei and others for six families altogether.  On April 20, the parents went to Shanxi again.  At the various public security bureaus in Gaoping city (Jincheng), Hongdong county (Linfen) and other places, Yang Aizhi knelt in front of the office of the director and cried until they got a letter that asked the local public security bureaus to cooperate.  With the letters, they were able to rescue several dozen child laborers.

The mother Xiao Tao who works at the Zhengzhou train station is the most fortunate among these parents.  On early morning of the March 6, her 15-year-old son Zhao Haiyang was going to school when a stranger asked him to help move a carton.  He was dragged inside a van and subsequently sent to a brick kiln in Jiaozuo (Henan).  He was there for one week.  He attempted to flee unsuccessfully.  That night, the subcontractor sold him off to Shanxi.

In early May, Xiao Tao was lucky enough to find her son at a brick kiln in Luchun, Jincheng, Shanxi.  When his mother embraced him, Zhao Haiyang looked lost.

But very few parents are as lucky as Xiao Tao.  There are so many illegal brick kilns out there, and they frequently come across resistance.  The parents were then forced to seek the help of the media.

On May 9, Henan TV's Metro Channel reporter Fu Zhenzhong went with the parents to Shanxi.  His eyewitness report with the videos taken by his hidden camera made all the viewers angry --

At the four brick kilns near Lumu village in Wanyong county (Shanxi), every kiln had ten to twenty children (the youngest being an 8-year-old) working like robots in front of the brick kilns.  When asked about their places of origin, the children glanced in terror at the foremen with the shovels in their hands and shook their heads stiffly.

The brick kiln owners are telling each other about the Henan parents looking for their children.  Some of the kilns have moved the children away.  When the kiln foremen see people approaching, they would sound the warning klaxons.  Even so, Fu Zhenzheng had seen at least 200 children.

This spontaneously organized rescue effort encountered numerous hardships even though the media were with them.

A parent with the Henan provincial tobacco bureau recognized his own son on television.  But when he got to the brick kiln, the child had been moved away.  In front of the police, the kiln owner said loudly: "We don't have him here.  You produce the proof!"

16-year-old Liu Yifeng from Yuzhou was liberated after 48 days in an illegal brick kiln.  Upon the insistence of the local police station, the kiln owner gave him 700 yuan in wages.

On April 27, 16-year-old Zhu Guangfei was liberated.  Upon pressure, the kiln owner paid 600 yuan in wages and sent him to the Chengbei police station in Yongji city (Shanxi).  The next day, Zhu Guangfei took a bus by himself to return to Zhengzhou.  During the trip, an inspector of the local Department of Labor made him get off the car and sent him off to another brick kiln.  This inspector even charged the child 300 yuan as "agent fee."  A month later, the red-faced inspector was confronted by the parents and experienced the embarrassment of trying to return the money while being filmed on camera.

Zhu Guangfei had promised the parents that he would testify against the evil kiln owner who tortured him.  But on that afternoon, the child disappeared again without any explanation.  At the time, his father was hurrying over to pick him up.  As for now, the whereabouts of the child are still unknown.  Fu Zhenzhong is justifiably concerned: "Could he have been kidnapped again?"

When the films of the children were shown, an unexpected scene occurred -- since the end of May, more than 2,000 calls were made to the television station's hotline for assistance.  Almost 1,000 parents came to the television station with photographs of their missing children.  Several hundred parents went by themselves to Yuncheng (Shanxi) to follow the examples of the reporters and Yang Aizhi to cover the brick kilns.

But since the kiln owners had moved the children already, only more than 40 children have been rescued so far.

The escaped children described the conditions at the illegal brick kilns -- most of them are built with hills on three sides and one entrance blocked by guard dogs.  The supervisors and the subcontractor stay by the entrance.  Usually, they just lock the gates and watch the workers from high up.  Everything in the brick kiln could be seen from above.

17-year-old Zhang Wenlong finally made it back to this home in Gongyi (Henan) on June 8.  In early March, he had been drugged by a slave trader at the Zhengzhou train station.

Over the next three months, he was imprisoned at the Santiaogou brick factory in Caosheng village, Hongdong county, Shanxi province.  On April 26, he and three other illegal workers were taking out the imperfectly cooled bricks from the kiln and he was seriously burned by the hot bricks.

The subcontractor did not take him to the hospital.  Even the anti-burn medication were past expiry date.  The subcontractor encouraged the child to use the native method -- rub yellow earth onto his wounds.  "If infection occurs as a result, it could be fatal," said a doctor.

At the end of May, the local police went to register outside residents at the brick kiln and uncovered the tragic scene.  That was how Zhang Wenlong managed to escape.  He was given emergency treatment at the Jiaohua Professional Workers Hospital.  He asked the hospital worker for a mobile telephone and called his father who was looking for him in Yongji.

According to Zhang Wenlong's father, the child has slow reactions and is often incoherent.  When the Southern Weekend reporter asked him about the brick kiln, the child managed to utter the word "prison."

From piecing the bits of recollections from the child, the reporter was able to construct the frightening secret at this brick kiln --

The laborers wake up at 5:00 am and they quit work at midnight.  Every day, they had three meals consisting of cold cabbage or radish with a cold steamed bun.  They had not eaten meat for three months.  They can only watch the supervisors eat dog meat and drink beer.  Due to the lack of water, the workers did not wash their hair or bathe for three months.  They didn't even wash their faces and their bodies were covered with fleas.

They slept in the work shed at night and their beds are just cotton wadding on the floor.  To prevent the workers from escaping in the middle of the night, the foreman locked up the door to the work shed at night.  They had to eat, sleep, urinate and defecate in this dark shed.  The stench from the place made some of the visiting parents wretch.

They were originally promised wages of 800 yuan per month.  But until they were liberated, they had not received a cent.

Six vicious dogs guarded the gate.  This made escape impossible.  Zhang Wenlong claimed that he personally saw that a person of the same age from Shaanxi being crippled after a failed escape attempt.

When the police made the rescue, they found 8 persons who were slow in action.  They suspected that these people were mentally and physically handicapped.

Around the Lunar New Year of 2007, two workers at the brick factory were beaten to death by the foremen.  When the Metro TV reporter was making the undercover investigation, the workers who helped to bury the bodies said that the two people were apparently still breathing when they were put into the ground.

The local police only announced that a Kansu young man named Liu Bao was beaten to death by a foreman with an iron spade.  The latest information is that on the morning of June 6, the henchman named Zhao Yanbing who caused the deaths has been arrested by the police and brought back to Hongdong.

The Southern Weekend reporter contacted a large number of parents and their liberated children.  With the cooperation of the local police, a picture of the transportation route was constructed.

More than ten years ago, there were already similar cases of children being sold to work in hard labor in Shanxi.  Most of those were individual cases.  The huge profits drove the growth of this underground industry, and the networking and scale are astounding.  These 16- and 17-year-old boys are productive and they are also easy to intimidate and control.  Therefore, they have become the preys.

The slave traders and the middlemen usually search for their targets near train stations and long-distance bus stations.  When they encounter a suitable target, they usually use methods such as "high-paying jobs" to get the children to go to a rented house nearby.

But now, the slave traders are even resorting to straight kidnapping.  Yang Aizhi and the rescued Zhao Haiyang were all snatched into vans around 6am under the pretext of helping to move a box for the slave traders.

With information provided by a rescued child, the Southern Weekend reporter went to a rental house near the Zhengzhou city train station.  This is a standalone two-storey building with one iron staircase leading up and all the windows are bricked up.  The house is located in an area inside the old city wall where outsiders congregate.  The security situation is bad.

Zhang Wenlong was kept there for twenty-four hours.  Once they got enough people (such as 5 or 6, or even more), the slave traders will get a van and start transporting. the people.  The following transportation route has been verified: from Zhengzhou first to Xinxiang and Jiaozuo -- that is still inside Henan province but there are some illegal brick kilns there; cross over the Henan border to the areas of Jincheng and then to Yucheng and Linfen in Shanxi province, and the other counties within those districts.

To minimize problems, the children in a single bus are often split up so that they cannot bond on the basis of a common place of origin.

Once at the brick kiln, the owner will take away the possessions and identification and make up a new name for the child in order to deal with registration records and the parents who come searching.

Between the slave traders and the kiln owner, there is another important character -- the subcontractor.  After a while (or when the relevant departments come around to inspect), they are responsible for moving the children away.  Many children told the reporter that they remembered the subcontractor moving them out immediately upon receiving one telephone call.

In Linyi county, a kiln owner unintentionally disclosed that the illegal workers have been moved to Yongji county due to the crackdown.  Zhao Haiyang was originally sold to the Wangchun village in Jiaozuo (Henan).  After his unsuccessful escape attempt, he was transferred overnight to the brick factory in Luchun in Jincheng (Shanxi).  It is clear that a professionalized transportation network has been quietly formed.

Behind the road to illegal labor, there lies the temptation of immense profiteering.

According to the investigation, a slave trader receives an introduction fee of 400 to 500 yuan for each child laborer.  According to the young man Liu Yigeng, he personally witnessed the kiln owner counting out money to pay the trader.  In May, the Zhengzhou railroad authorities arrested a slave trader.  When they called the telephone in his mobile phone, a kiln owner was openly negotiating prices with him.

This is the least important part of the food chain of financial interests.  A much bigger space exists between the kiln owner and the labor subcontractor.

In Shanxi, sticky earth is available almost everywhere.  Compared to a coal mine, the costs for a brick kiln are much lower -- there are only labor costs, operating expenses and taxes.  Most illegal brick kilns have no official standing.  The kiln owners are mostly local residents who use their local connections to deal with the procedures and inspections.  They subcontract the production to outside subcontractors, who hire people to do the production.

Such was the situation at the recently closed Santiaogou brick factory in Hongdong county, Shanxi.  The kiln owner was the son of the village party secretary.  Because of that connection, the kiln did not need to have any permits and it could still produce.  The production was subcontracted to the Henan person Heng Tinghan who was paid 360 yuan for every 10,000 bricks produced.  The market price for 10,000 bricks is between 2,000 and 3,000 yuan right now.

It is easy to see that the kiln owner was squeezing profits of about ten times the costs, leaving behind only a small profit for the subcontractor.

At the low end of the "food chain," the subcontractor has only limited profits.  He must hold back wages or find even cheaper labor.  It is natural that he would be seeking out child laborers or adults with mental or physical handicaps, because they are easier to control.

The search experiences of the parents also made them wonder: "It is easy to imagine that there is a protective umbrella behind the illegal brick kilns," said one parent.


"I Felt It Was A Fairly Small Thing"

(Southern Metropolis Daily)  374 Persons Rescued in Shanxi; Illegal Brick Kiln Owner: "I Felt It Was A Fairly Small Thing."  By Zhou Wenfeng (周文峰).  June 18, 2007.

[in translation]

The Shanxi illegal brick kiln affair is gradually being solved with the attention from the central government.  As of 16:00 on June 17, 6,256 small brick kilns, mines and smelteries have been inspected, 374 migrant laborers were freed, 30 persons were under criminal detention, 24 persons were under administrative detention and 38 other people fined.

According to the statistics between 16:00 June 16 to 16:00 June 17, the Shanxi public security bureau made 9,832 police visits and 2,026 car trips to inspect 1,309 small brick kilns, 658 small mines, 115 small smelteries, registered 29,133 laborers, rescued 23 migrant laborers who were kidnapped, established 2 criminal cases and 5 security cases, placed 5 persons under criminal detention and 1 person under administrative detention, fined four other persons and helped relocate 21 persons.

But at the same time, there were questions about the work.  The reporter's investigation shows that certain physically handicapped persons who were freed from the brick kilns were returned to the villages for settlement, but their whereabouts are presently unknown.

Certain parents who have yet to see their own children raise these questions:

1. What is happening to the children that have not yet been found?

Henan residents Yuan Cheng and Chai Wei have been looking for their son in the brick kilns of southern Shanxi province.  They have searched almost 1,000 brick kilns but have not yet found their son.  But what they observed frightened them.  They saw child laborers everywhere.  At some brick kilns, half of the laborers were children and the remaining ones were mentally and physically handicapped people.  According to some of the parents who are seeking their relatives in Shanxi, the incomplete tally shows that there must be at least 1,000 children working at the illegal brick kilns.  Many parents said that there must be at least 400 or 500 parents just from Zhengzhou alone, with at least more 1,000 parents from the outside.

But the mystery is that these children have disappeared after the broad media coverage appeared.  Yuan Cheng said that they liberated more than 100 children the first two times, but they then saw fewer and fewer child laborers at the illegal brick kilns.  Now they seemed to have all disappeared.  Rather, it should probably be said that the children have been moved away.  They are presently seeking information.

There is information that many illegal brick kiln owners attempted to destroy the evidence by moving the victims to nearby provinces and then sending them away.

2. How many more freed workers have not yet contacted their families?

According to the information that this reporter has, very few of the families of the first 31 victims freed from the illegal brick kiln in Hongdong, Shanxi have been notified.

Li Yaokai of Zhengzhou called his family when he got back to Henan province.  The Sichuan and Anhui boys have also gone to Zhengzhou and their families know nothing about what happened to them.

"Have the families of the freed child laborers been notified?  Where do they come from?  Have they gone home yet?  We do not have those information," said one parent.  There are many more parents waiting for news.  The authorities should release the names of the freed persons so that their parents can contact them.

3. Where have all the physically and mentally handicapped people gone?

According to the official data, there are at least several dozen physically and mentally handicapped persons among the several hundred who were rescued.  But there are questions.  The responsible departments are the Public Security Bureau and the Civil Affairs Bureau.  From the date when the case broke open to June 17, this reporter has not seen any victim matching that description at the Hongdong aid station.  The aid station people also said that they have not received any request for help from such victims, nor have the authorities sent any such victims to them.

According to the experience of the victims from the Bingbing illegal brick kiln, they seemed to have made their rounds among various departments before being returned to Caosheng village where Wang Bingbing's father serves as the village party secretary.  Then the village arranged for them to depart to unknown destinations.

The parents who are looking for their children believes that the government departments should arrange for the physically and mentally handicapped victims to stay at the aid station, publish the information and wait for the parents to come and find them.

4. Who is paying the bill for the physical and mental health of the victims?

According to the investigation, the victims who were kidnapped to work at the illegal brick kilns have suffered double damage in physical and mental health.  The less serious cases were threatened and physically assaulted lightly.  The more serious cases had their legs broken, or even killed.

Many of the children do not want to go home after being rescued, because they did not want to let people know about their nightmarish experiences.

Legal people said that the situation implies that they should receive their wages as well as compensation money.  But the problem is about who is going to pay for their medical bills?  Who is going to pay for them to recover their mental health?

On June 16, the illegal brick kiln foreman (and Class B wanted criminal) Heng Tinghan was arrested in Danhoujiang (Hubei).  Before he was extradited to Shanxi, a local reporter interviewed him.

He said: "I did not run away to Danhoujiang city.  I was going back to Shigu, which is next to my hometown."  The reason why he fled was because he was afraid of going to jail.

When the reporter asked him about what he thought, he said, "I feel it was a fairly small thing.  I was only hitting and cursing at the workers and not paying them.  I am not responsible for the dead man.  Zhao Yanbing beat him to death.  At the time, I was in my hometown in Yunxian.  I only found out after I came back after the Lunar New Year.  I told them, 'Why didn't you settle this through the official channels?'"

Yesterday, Wang Dongji, the Caosheng village party secretary and father of illegal brick kiln owner Wang Bingbing, was interviewed by our reporter.  He said with tears in his eyes: "For this disaster, I am willing to ram my head against the wall and die!"

He said that he seldom came to visit his home.  "When I went back, everything seemed normal.  I did not see any beatings."

"The contractor said that all the 'mentally handicapped' workers came from his own village.  They would starve if they stayed home.  By coming here to work, they received food and lodgings.  I did not pay too attention.  I did not know that the workers had been tricked into coming."

Wang Dongji said that the first time that he heard at the police station that someone had been beaten to death, he collapsed on the sofa.  After clearing up many of the "dirty spots" about himself, he admitted that, as the village party secretary, he was guilty of dereliction of duty by failing to notice the problem at the illegal brick kilns.

(The Wall Street Journal)  Finally Rescued, China's 'Slaves' Detail Their Plight.  By Gordon Fairclough.  June 19, 2007.

In early March, Li Yaokai, a skinny 18-year-old from this small mountainside village in central China, embarked on his first trip to the provincial capital. It didn't take long for him to get dragged into a huge forced-labor scandal whose gruesome details are now coming to light.

Mr. Li had set out in search of work to help support his family. Instead, the teenager ended up being sold into bondage at a brick factory.

Moments after he stepped off the train in Zhengzhou's cavernous rail station, he says, a middle-aged man appeared and asked if he was interested in a job. Mr. Li followed the stranger outside where two others emerged from the shadows, grabbing him and shoving him into a white minivan.

"I screamed, but no one heard me," says Mr. Li, one of the first victims to give an extended interview to the foreign press.

At dawn the next day, his abductors dumped him at an isolated brick kiln -- an operation, he later learned, that was set up by the local Communist Party boss. For nearly three months, he says, he spent 17 or more hours a day hauling bricks, surrounded by guard dogs and menaced by overseers wielding iron bars.

Mr. Li is one of hundreds of former captives dubbed "slave workers" by the Chinese media. Many of them are children and disabled people rescued by police as part of a broad assault on a vast underworld of brick factories and coal mines in two of China's 31 provinces and regions. With more details emerging -- including the alleged complicity of government and Communist Party officials -- the scandal threatens to sully the country's international image as it prepares to host the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

News of the abuses has hit hard among Chinese people disillusioned by the social and economic inequities that have often gone hand in hand with the country's shift to capitalism. But the recent events show how China's citizens and media are increasingly willing to exert pressure on political leaders.

"In the end, the government had to pay attention and find our boys," says Mr. Li's father, Li Runzhi.

His son returned home last week, his hands burned by scorching hot bricks pulled from the kilns. His body was infested with lice. "Now, I just want to sleep all the time," the younger Mr. Li quietly said Sunday during an interview at his parents' tiny, spartan home. He wore a loose-fitting orange T-shirt decorated with cartoon panda bears. His hair was newly cropped.

"I feel happy he is back...but he doesn't talk to us," says Zhang Yuqin, the teen's mother. "He used to be a very lively boy....We are not going to send him to work anywhere for a while."

Much of Mr. Li's account has been corroborated by reports carried by China's official Xinhua News Agency and the Communist Party's own flagship newspaper, People's Daily. China's state-controlled press has been filled with graphic photos of injured slave laborers in tattered clothing and detailed accounts of their Dickensian plight. More than 500 people have been freed by the police so far.

The brick factory where Li Yaokai and 30 others toiled was set up by the Communist Party chief of the village and run by his son, according to authorities. Last week, Xinhua and People's Daily both ran stories trumpeting the arrest of the son and several employees. Yesterday, Xinhua reported that the party chief had been sacked.

The police raid that freed Mr. Li was one of the first in a sweep of hundreds of brick factories and mines. The operation was prompted in large part by a grass-roots movement driven by people like Mr. Li's father and other parents of abducted children. Another catalyst: a May report, broadcast on the Henan provincial television station in Zhengzhou, that detailed the abduction of workers and featured a videotape of laborers at one of the brickyards.

After the story aired, parents of missing children gathered at the TV station's offices, swapped stories and began working together to find their children. Hundreds ended up traveling to Shanxi to search brick kilns, prodding the police to act.

The campaign spread to the Internet and sparked a media outcry that forced the government to tackle a long-ignored problem. So far 168 factory operators and others have been arrested in Henan and Shanxi provinces, according to Xinhua.

Forced labor appears to have become a widespread problem in China over the past decade, activists say, as more than 120 million people have left the security of their villages and hometowns to hunt for work. Many go to the distant and unfamiliar reaches of the country's big cities.

Traffickers either abduct people or lure them to work with false promises of good pay. Their targets are often the young and disabled, since they are the least likely to escape. China's vast, migrant work force plays to their advantage. Families may go for months without realizing their loved ones are missing. Most have no practical way to look for them if they do disappear.

The U.S. State Department, which recently published its annual report on human trafficking and forced labor, estimates that a minimum of 10,000 to 20,000 people fall prey to human traffickers each year. China remains on the State Department's "watch list," in part, the report says, because the country hasn't made "concerted efforts to investigate and punish government officials specifically for complicity in trafficking."

Mr. Li and his wife are part of a group of six families working together to find their missing sons. So far, they are the only ones whose boy has been found. "I think it's very common," Mr. Li says. "I hope we can solve this problem once and for all and recover all of our lost boys."

Li Yaokai's odyssey began at the Zhengzhou rail station, one of the largest in China. Nearly 150,000 people pass through the station every day, and it has become a notorious hub for human traffickers, according to a report on China Central Television last year.

After the kidnappers grabbed Mr. Li, he says he was thrown into a small room with barred windows that served as a holding cell. In time, he was joined by four other abductees ranging in age from 17 to 59.

The five of them were crammed into the back of a van with darkened windows and guarded by two men armed with crowbars. They were ordered to remain silent. The van drove all night and they were delivered to the brickyard early the next morning.

Mr. Li, who is 5-feet-6-inches tall and at the time weighed about 112 pounds, says he was immediately put to work carting heavy loads of bricks. He was forbidden to talk to the other workers and initially didn't even know where he was -- in a remote county in Shanxi Province, more than 300 miles from his home in Henan Province.

His father says that he initially had no idea that his son was in trouble. He had left home in high spirits, determined to earn money and gain experience outside the village, the elder Mr. Li recalls.

But as time dragged on with no word from his son, Mr. Li, 49, says he grew concerned. Last year, another boy from the village had been kidnapped and taken to a brick factory in Shanxi province, but managed to escape after a few days, Mr. Li says. He began to wonder if his son had met a similar fate.

Other parents whose children went missing from the Zhengzhou train station worried, too, prompting local TV reporters to search for clues. On May 19, the Zhengzhou television station aired the first of its stories about children being sold into bondage.

Mr. Li saw the news and called the station, looking for information. More than 1,000 different families also called, according to the TV station. Groups of parents banded together and went to the authorities calling for action. Initially, the response was tepid. The police advised Mr. Li to file a missing-persons report and suggested that he and the other parents should look for their sons themselves. "I was very unhappy and disappointed," Mr. Li says.

Mr. Li spent weeks traveling to brick kilns in Henan and Shanxi, discovering what he believes were hundreds of children and adults being forced to work against their will. He was still searching when he received a call saying the police had found his son.

Scores of other parents launched their own rescue efforts, reporting what they found to the police and the media. Early this month, 400 fathers signed a letter demanding that the government take action and posted it online. All the attention appears to have finally resonated with the government, which called for sweeping police action.

On May 27, police raided the brick kiln where Mr. Li was working, freeing 31 people and arresting three, including the son of the party boss. The foreman and his wife fled but were apprehended over the weekend in another province.

Government propaganda officials, meanwhile, sought to rein in media coverage. Web sites were ordered to block discussion of the events. But coverage in the Chinese press -- all of which is ultimately controlled by the state in China -- has continued unabated.

Some Chinese government officials had financial interests in the mostly illegal operations, authorities say. The younger Mr. Li recalls that once, while being held captive, he saw government figures visit the kiln to collect bribe money from the foreman.

Mr. Li says that he did his best to avoid invoking the ire of the overseers. "I worked hard. When I was ordered to do something, I did it," says Mr. Li. He subsisted on a diet of bread, noodles and water. He says he was beaten twice when he became too exhausted and weak to work quickly.

"I was always looking for some way to escape," Mr. Li says. But he knew such an effort was fraught with risk. One boy who tried to run away was captured and beaten by the guards. They broke the boy's leg with iron bars, Mr. Li says.

As Mr. Li told his story of captivity, Liu Yunqi, the mother of a missing deaf boy, sat on a stool hugging herself. Her 17-year-old son, Cheng Xiaopeng, was abducted at the end of February after traveling to Zhengzhou with some classmates for vacation. His friends said two older men seized Mr. Cheng in the train station and dragged him off.

Ms. Liu has crisscrossed Shanxi looking for her son. After another parent reported seeing a deaf boy who resembled Mr. Cheng at a brickyard, she rushed there, only to find that the boy had been sent elsewhere.

"He's had such a hard life," Ms. Liu says of her son. Last year, he was hospitalized for months with a kidney disease, and she worries that he may be sick again since he doesn't have his medicine.

"These people have no mercy. He can't even hear," she sobbed. "Please help me find my son."

Related Links

(Wenxue City罪恶的山西黑窑事件的系列视频报导(1-13)(视频).  (Note: The critical Henan TV Metro Channel program that turned the whole case around)