The Story of Chen Chenggong

(Yanzhao Metropolis Daily)  A 16-year-old boy explained how he was deceived: he was forced to work under the threat of steel pipes and long knives.  June 18, 2006.

16-year-old Chen Chenggong

Letter of apology from the Hongdong county government

The father of Chen Chenggong

Within the list of the names of the 31 illegal brick kiln workers liberated by the Shanxi Hongdong county public security bureau, there was a "14-year-old" boy named Chen Chenggong from Yangliu town, Ruzhou city, Henan province.  On June 17, our reporter traveled from Zhengzhou and eventually arrived at Chen Chenggong's home.  Throughout the entire interview, Chen Chenggong did not show a single hint of a smile.  He had wounds on his body for which the medications did not seem to be healing.  Periodically he would scratch his wounds.  In recalling his sorrowful three-month-long ordeal, he became emotionally excited and unable to speak several times.

Chen Chenggong is actually 16 years old, not the 14 as published in the list.  "Everybody thinks that I am only 13 or 14, because I am so small in stature," Chen Chenggong said with some embarrassment.

Like many of the children who were deceived, Chen Chenggong had dropped out of school.  He quit after the second year in elementary school.  His mother said that his school results were actually not bad and he had scored more than 90 points in mathematics.  "There are many children like him who drop out of school and hang out at the Internet cafes to while away the time."

After dropping out of school, Chen Chenggong wanted to find a job outside.  At around 8pm on March 8, he went to the Zhengzhou train station.  At that moment, "a fat man" came over and said that he had a job to fill that paid 800 to 900 yuan per month.  The unwary Chen Chenggong asked a few simple questions and took the offer.  Afterwards, the "fat man" arranged for him to stay at a nameless small hotel close to the train station.

On the next day, Chen Chenggong got on a van which went to a number of different locations.  The small van carried twelve persons including Heng Tinghan and the driver.  Among the 10 people going out to "work" were a 50-something-year-old man and a mentally impaired person.  Underneath the seats were many steel pipes and long knives.

The van got out of Zhengzhou and went to Sanmenxia.  Then it turned in the direction of Shanxi.  The people on the van sensed that something was wrong and began to look for opportunities to escape.  In order to avoid questions from the traffic police, Heng Tinghan and three others got out of the van.  The three of them immediately ran away.  Another 20-something-year-old man opened the car door and leapt out of the van which was traveling at 60 kilometers per hour.  On the expressway, the people got off the van to relieve themselves and Chen Chenggong and three others sprinted away in different directions.  The other three escaped successfully but Chen Chenggong was captured.

Chen Chenggong said: "I was too nervous.  I raced along the direction of the front of the van.  Heng Tinghan and the driver chased after me.  I tried to scale the iron wire fence by the expressway.  Before I got up there, they reached me with their steel pipes and knifes.  They grabbed my foot and pulled me down ..."

By this time, there were only three people left on the van: the 16-year-old Chen Chenggong, the 50-something-year-old man and the mentally impaired person.

Chen Chenggong was first brought to an illegal brick kiln in Yuncheng city, Shanxi province.  He worked for three days and then he was sent to the illegal brick kiln in Caosheng village, Guangshengsi town, Hongdong county.  At present, many of the crimes that occurred at this illegal brick kiln have been exposed by the media.  But many of the details from Chen Chenggong's narrative were incredible because the extent of the evil was so shocking.

Chen Chenggong told the reporter that this brick kiln was a lot bigger than the one in Yuncheng city.  There were dozens of people there, including the foreman and the henchmen, plus a few wolfhounds.  Not a single worker was spared from being beaten.

Chen Chenggong worked on stacking the bricks.  He began work every morning at 4am and he worked until 8pm at night.  He frequently worked overtime until midnight.  Every day, he ate moldy steamed buns and he drank plain water or mashed vegetable soup.  He slept inside a damp kiln at night.  When Chen Chenggong first arrived there, he could neither eat nor sleep.  But it was not up to him, because Chen Chenggong said that one would not have strength to work without food or sleep, and if one didn't work fast enough, one got beaten.  The various kinds of torture put people into a stupor.  Such people are easier for the boss to "control."

Even worse, the boss had taken him over to another kiln to witness the process of a "murder."

Chen Chenggong said that there was a mixing machine at the kiln that stood more than 2 meters tall.  The machine spun very quickly and anything put inside was grinded into tiny pieces within seconds.  At that kiln, if some workers failed to work properly, the kiln would call in some people who specialized in "murdering."  One time, he was taken to that kiln.  The strong and powerful "executioner" knocked a worker unconscious and then tossed the body into the rapidly spinning mixing machine ...

This scene frightened him.  The kiln boss wanted him to witness the process and tell the other workers.

During their sorrowful days at the brick kiln in Caosheng village, Guangshengsi town, Hongdong county, Chen Chenggong and his fellow cellmates dreamed every day about how to escape and call the police.  But Heng Tinghan and his henchmen kept threatening them: "Even if you report to the police, they will only sent you right back here.  The consequence of you returning here is that you won't even know how you died."

Chen Chenggong said that the kiln worker who reported to the public security bureau was Zhang Qiang, who was the kiln worker most trusted by Heng Tinghan and his henchman.  Zhang Qiang is from Yunnan and he was taken along with Chen Chenggong from the Yuncheng city brick kiln.  During the daily work, Zhang Qiang got friendly with a henchman named Cheng Zhiming and he was therefore beaten less frequently.

Once Zhang Qiang gained the trust of Heng Tinghan and his henchmen, his job function changed.  He was not just a kiln worker, but he was also entrusted to drive the tricycle +.  Thus, Zhang Qiang had the opportunity to go out.  Old Yao (a member of the kiln workers who was supposedly kidnapped after he passed out from too much drinking) and others pressured Zhang Qiang to call the police and save everybody.

But Zhang Qiang lacked the courage and kept saying that the moment was not ripe yet.

The turning point came when Zhang Qiang was beaten again.

On that day, Zhang Qiang returned from dumping garbage on his tricycle.  He happened to touch the pocket of Cheng Zhiming, who got angry and slapped Zhang Qiang twice on the head.  His face was covered immediately with blood.

This particular beating wounded Zhang Qiang deeply in his heart.  That night, Zhang Qiang solemnly said: "Old Yao, I will punctured the tricycle tire tomorrow.  While they are fixing it, I will have the opportunity to run away and report to the police."

The next day, Zhang Qiang punctured the car tire but he did not manage to report to the police.  On the morning of the ensuing day, Zhang told Heng Tinghan that he wanted to go out to get a haircut and Heng Tinghan even generously gave him 20 yuan.

On May 26, Zhang Qiang went out in the morning.  By 2pm, he had not returned yet.  Heng Tinghan began to get nervous and he came over to ask Chen Chenggong: "Little Chen, did Zhang Qiang say anything special to you the last couple of days?"

"He did not say anything.  You check with the others!"

Chen Chenggong said that because they were checking the electrical wiring that day, there was not much work to do and people at least got a chance to rest up.  Around this time, a man came into the brick kiln and approached Heng Tinghan.  Later on, they found out that this was a militia policeman from the Guangshengsi town public security bureau and he sent there to investigate.

"Are you hiring people here?  I'm looking for work."

"We are not hiring people."  Heng Tinghan was very wary and he felt that this man did not look like as if he was really seeking a job.

Then the man began to check with some older kiln workers: "How is the work here?"

"They beat people.  You shouldn't come here."  An old kiln worker whispered to the man.

These signs made Chen Chenggong and old Yao become vaguely aware: "Zhang Qiang has reported to the police.  We may be rescued."

At this moment, the imprisoned kiln workers did not know that there was already national media coverage about the illegal brick kilns in Shanxi.

On May 27, the cars from the Hongdong county government arrived at the gates of the brick kiln.  When the henchmen saw their arrival, they immediately fled.

Another four vehicles from the police station also arrived.  Those four cars pursued the henchmen, but the mountain roads were narrow and bumpy and the cars were not very useful for that purpose.  The henchmen quickly vanished.

"At that moment, Heng Tinghan received a telephone call from Wang Bingbing's father (who is the village party secretary) Wang Dongji to say that someone has reported to the police and Heng had better flee."  Chen Chenggong said that Heng Tinghan and the village party secretary were in the same interest chain.  They form a powerful local force that most people cannot challenge.  Together, they used the blood and sweat of the kiln workers to make money, and they beat and tortured the kiln workers as they pleased.

Afterwards, the 30 plus kiln workers and Wang Bingbing were all brought over to the Guangshengsi town police station.  From 10am in the morning to 7pm in the evening, there were almost 10 hours of registration and interrogations.  Then everybody was taken back to the kiln.

"Wang Bingbing was given special treatment at the police station.  He even took a bath in the police station bathroom.  He thought that he would be able to go home as usual without any problems."  Chen Chenggong said.  Wang Bingbing was arrested on the same day.  The police detained three persons in total.

When they got back to the brick kiln, Wang Bingbing's wife came around on a motorcycle and said: "Work will resume tomorrow."

"No money, no work!"  The kiln workers were getting more courageous now.

"My father-in-law has gone to deliver gift money.  There won't be any problems.  You will work tomorrow."

"We would rather be beggars than stay here."

That night, even the mentally impaired person ran away.  A total of ten persons ran away.

Chen Chenggong said that he did not escape on the advice of old Yao.  The "experienced" old Yao said: "We cannot leave.  We are likely to be rescued.  If we leave, we won't get any money, and all our pains and sorrows would be worthless."

So that was how only 17 kiln workers were left at the Caosheng village kiln in Guangshengsi town.  On the next day, they signed and they obtained 200 yuan.  "Afterwards, the brick kiln found some local idlers to take ten people down to the bus station and sent them off with bus tickets."

But seven other people including Chen Chenggong and old Yao did not want to leave this way.  "These idlers brought the kiln workers to the bus station and purchased the tickets.  Then they kept the rest of the money for themselves."  So the seven people walked fourteen kilometers to the bus station and took the bus to Hongdong county.  They contacted the public security bureau, the civil affairs bureau and the aid station.  Finally, with the help of the aid station, the seven went from Hongdong county to Guangzhou where they were going to find work with old Yao.

On June 5, Chen Chenggong decided to go home and then he telephoned his family to tell them about how he was deceived to go to the Shanxi brick kiln.  "The family television set can receive only two channels and the signal is unstable.  If the child did not tell us, we would never know about his sufferings at the Shanxi brick kiln."  When Chen's mother Guo Qingxia talked about this, her eyes were wet.

Chen Chenggong said that when he arrived in Guangzhou, he quickly found a job as a courier.  "I took my work seriously and the manager approved.  But since my face was covered with inflamed wounds, I was dismissed after three days."  For those three days of work, he earned 200 yuan.  "It seems that I must still return home to get medical treatment before anyone will hire me."

Since he did not a lot of money with him, Chen Chenggong thought about using the aid stations.  "Each aid station was a relay point.  Each time, I used their aid to buy the bus ticket for the next section."  He went to a total of eleven aid stations in order to go from Guangzhou to Zhengzhou.

"When he arrived in Zhengzhou, he did not even have money to come home.  On the evening of June 15, he called me and asked me to pick him up."  Chen Chenggong's older brother Chen Leilei said that he went on the afternoon of June 16 to pick up his brother  at Shibalihe in Zhengzhou and he could not believe what he saw: his younger brother was holding his head and curled up in a corner.  He had not eaten for one day.  His face was filled with inflamed wounds and he was dressed in rags.  The shoes with a piece missing in the bottom had been given to him by a rag-picker ...

On that afternoon, the Ruzhou city civil affairs bureau and the Hongdong government workers met with Chen Chenggong in Zhengzhou.  The Hongdong government workers handed a letter of apology to Chen Chenggong and gave him compensation at three times the minimum monthly wage of 470 yuan.  There was also another 1,000 yuan in condolence money, for a total of more than 5,000 yuan.

The reporter asked Chen Chenggong: "Are you satisfied with having received 5,000 yuan."

"Not satisfied.  The torture that we suffered and the amount of labor that we performed were worth far more than 5,000 yuan!"  Chen Chenggong responded that these experiences were unforgettable and frightening.  He also said that he plans to attend the computer training class recommended by the Ruzhou city labor bureau.  He wanted to learn a skill so that he could survive in the future.