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China’s Slave Power

When a government-run brick plant in Hongdong County of Shanxi Province was revealed to be using slave labor, a famous episode from a Beijing opera flashed through my mind. In that opera, a prostitute named Su San, after being sentenced to death, pleads for mercy to unconcerned passersby as she is marched down the main roads of Hongdong County in shackles.

As I click on the Web site of the county government, there is no mention of slave labor or child workers at the brick factory. All you can find are newsreaders from national television covering the smiling faces of people who come back to Hongdong to seek their roots and pay homage to their ancestors. There are also reports of visits by high officials to Hongdong.

Indeed, were it not for the 400 fathers who petitioned for the rescue of their kidnapped children who had been sold into slavery, Hongdong County would still remain a tourism hot spot for Chinese people seeking their roots. As a result of the slave-labor brick plants, as well as reports of an eight-year-old child worker being buried alive and migrant workers killed, Hongdong’s name has become infamous.

Yet despite the scandal, migrant workers and children in school uniforms are still being abducted from other provinces and pushed into monstrous brick plants and coalmines. Girls are forced into prostitution at a mere $5 a session.