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.
The 400 fathers of the enslaved children, of course, are left to wonder where, precisely, respect for life is in President Hu Jintao’s so-called “harmonious society. How many more Chinese children will become slaves in the maw of our capitalist-communist system? Who is responsible when such crimes happen?
These men simply want their children back, but all the government is doing is watching these anxious fathers with suspicion. Moreover, these fathers are allowed to demand only their children, not compensation. After all, the brick factory bosses paid 400 Yuan for each child, so their property rights are at stake.
China is now a society rotten to the core. For slavery is not confined to Hongdong’s brick plants. There are such dark spots everywhere in the country. What makes matters worse is that the state authorities, particularly the police, patrol these slave operations to keep them running.
Four years ago, a college graduate named Sun Zhigang was arrested for walking on the streets of the city of Guangzhou. He was beaten to death while in custody. This incident revealed the extent to which the police cooperated in turning ordinary Chinese into slaves. Media coverage fueled a backlash of overwhelming public revulsion.
But change went only skin-deep. Human trafficking was transferred from the police to job agencies and the Ministry of Labor Supervision. State officials themselves are among the worst human traffickers. And the grimmest statistic of all is that many child slaves who are rescued are resold by officials to another slave-labor plant.
Seven years ago, a lawmaker from Hunan province went to Shanxi province to rescue slave workers from brick plants. At that time, the rescued workers knelt down and wept. Fortunately, they were not beaten or buried alive for not showing up for their shift, as has happened to others.
Today, however, that legislator would not be able to rescue a single worker, because the local government and police have learned from past experience how to keep busybodies away. There are more than 1,000 brick plants and coalmines around China, and most are under the protection of corrupt officials.
Hu Wenhai, a brave man from Shanxi who killed two corrupt officials, said before his execution, “Officials are forcing people to rebel. I can’t let these assholes squeeze people any more. I know I’m going to die, but my death will get the attention of those officials.
So, instead of China being convulsed with rage at news that children are being turned into slaves, the media are censored and the 400 parents of the Hongdong children are blacklisted by the government. They cannot leave their homes to find their children. It seems today that in China the daily work of government is to keep people from protecting themselves and their families in an attempt to gloss over the crimes of a “harmonious society.
The socialism established by Mao Zedong has been replaced by a thoroughly cynical creed. Organized criminals lead much of the country’s economic development. The former paradise of the poor has become a living hell for them. And the corrupt officials? You can be sure that, this time next year, they will be paying homage to their ancestors, as they tramp over the ground where child slaves were buried alive for daring to proclaim their humanity. Ma Jianis the author of “Red Dust and “The Noodlemaker. DAILY NEWS EGYPT publishes this commentary in collaboration with Project Syndicate © (www.project-syndicate.org).