That passage comes from Amelia Pang’s Made In China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2021, 278 pages).
For decades now, our corporations and our government have practiced globalism and “free trade.” Believing that closer economic connections with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) would lead to greater freedoms for the Chinese people, American politicians and corporate heads invested heavily in that nation, exporting manufacturing from our country to China and importing cheap goods into the United States.
It didn’t work out as planned.
In addition to destroying much of our manufacturing base, our China policies have enriched some American entrepreneurs while also giving rise to a major military and economic rival that laughs at us.
And that’s not the worst of our offensives.
By our consumerism we have not only increased the wealth of the CCP and its supporters, but we have also abetted a wicked system of oppression, torture, and murder.
In Made In China, Amelia Pang pulls the curtain back from these Chinese atrocities. She details the forced labor and the prison manufacturing of cheap goods in that country, the persecution of religious groups and minorities, the executions, the organ harvesting in which hearts, kidneys, and livers are forcibly removed from prisoners for sale to those needing organ replacements, the lies and deceptive practices that allow all these crimes against humanity to continue.
Throughout Made In China, we follow Sun Yi, a practitioner of Falun Gong, a spiritual group banned by the CCP, who spends years in prisons and labor camps. At one point, when he and others are manufacturing foam tombstones for American Halloween parties, Sun begins secretly inserting notes into this product just before it’s wrapped in cellophane, cries for help to anyone buying the product. In 2012, Julie Keith of Damascus, Oregon, found one of these notes and reported it to the press and the government.
As more evidence confirmed the existence of these labor camps, where inmates often work 15 hours a day in terrible conditions with little or no pay, the West also received credible reports of organ harvesting in these camps.
As Pang tells us, the CCP has changed some of its tactics in recent years, moving “from free labor and the silencing of dissent. But China’s Xinjiang camps have a new goal: to erase an entire racial identity.”
By this, Pang means the ongoing assault on the Muslim Uyghurs living in China. The CCP runs political reeducation camps, where Uyghur inmates are indoctrinated or even tortured until they reject their culture and religious beliefs. One rare survivor who managed to emigrate from China, Mihrigul Tursun, a mother of triplets, was only released because her children were not Chinese nationals. She reported her internment once she had reached the safety of the United States: “At night, they listened with fear. They could hear men screaming nearby and the rattling of chains, which made terrible grating noises when the guards dragged bodies away. ‘The thought that these men could be our fathers or brothers was unbearable,’ she said.”
Near the end of Made In China, Pang writes, “Mihrigul Tursun lives with the knowledge that she has more than likely killed her parents by testifying about the reeducation camps in Xinjiang. It is an unspeakable guilt that she carries with her every day.”
And what of our guilt?
What of all the Halloween and Christmas decorations made in China, the ceramics, the electronics, all those cheap products we can pick up for a song at our big box stores or from online companies? Were they manufactured by workers in regular factories or by forced laborers who worked endless hours, were tortured if they dissented, and lived in abysmal and dangerous conditions?
Pang ends her book with a chapter title “What We Can Do,” in which she makes suggestions for American companies and for individual consumers. As she writes, “… we can use our spending power to limit how much an authoritarian government will profit from the abuse of prisoners of conscience and ethnic minorities.”
Beside my desk is a standing lamp I bought years ago. Affixed to the lamp pole is a “Made in China” sticker. Though for years I have tried to avoid products manufactured overseas, that sticker will remind me every day of Pang’s book and the prisoners living in a Chinese hellhole. And every time I go shopping, I will continue to refuse to buy any product “Made in China.”