Mike Daisey’s New China Labor Camp Monologue: A Preview

December 31, 2012

If you are convinced that China is some sort of neo-Orwellian, yellow peril shithole run by the Red Guard and their princeling overlords whose economy is driven by slave labor and black market kidneys, then you’re probably susceptible to all kinds of weak-ass propaganda about the Middle Kingdom.

So no surprise when an obvious hoax like this goes unchallenged by an otherwise well-educated and informed liberal blogger in the U.S.:

We tend not to see the connection between our consumption of cheap Chinese crap and human rights abuses, but after reading this story, I guarantee you: It’s going to be a lot harder to maintain that state of denial.

Julie Keith was unpacking some of last year’s Halloween decorations when she stumbled upon an upsetting letter wedged into the packaging. Tucked in between two novelty headstones that she had purchased at Kmart, she found what appeared to be a letter from the Chinese laborer, who had made the decoration, pleading for help.

I bet I’ve got your attention now. But before we turn to the content of the letter, I just wanted to throw out the following question: who the hell buys “novelty headstones”? Apparently the same schmuck who believes that this dreck is authentic:

Sir, if you occassionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization. Thousands people here who are under the persicution of the Chinese Communist Party Govermint will thank and remember you forever.

You can read the rest of it here. The agitprop language is fun to read. Someone went to the trouble to write it in poor English, but of course it doesn’t sound like standard Chinglish. The author bothered to misspell every other word, but apparently thought that not only do inmates of Chinese labor camps know how to write in English, but they also use words like “occasionally” and “persecution” and know how to use commas properly. Even with the included mistakes, it’s still better written than what you’d get out of most Americans with a high school education.

A swing and a miss. I do appreciate the effort, though. Made this a lot of fun to read.

A certain persecuted “religious” organization, whose practices include some sort of mystical heavy breathing meditation techniques (or something like that) was mentioned prominently, which suggests to me where this might have come from. The amusing part, though, is the reaction from the consumer, whose repeated attempts to contact Amnesty International went unanswered for some reason:

“I was so frustrated that this letter had been sitting in storage for over a year, that this person had written this plea for help and nothing had come of it.” Julie Keith told Yahoo! Shine. “Then I was shocked. This person had probably risked their life to get this letter in this package.”

Not sure what “Yahoo! Shine” is, assuming it’s a real thing, but this woman’s reaction is classic. “Oh please help me, white person who loves freedom and lives in the exceptional USofA. You’re my only hope! You and Obi Wan, and the white crippled guy who helped out all those tall blue people. Oh yeah, and Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai and Kevin Costner in that wolf movie. Other than them, though, I could really use your assistance.”

I think Mike Daisey could take this and run with it. Maybe he could go on an odyssey back to China to search for this letter writer and invent a bunch of labor camps that he could lie about visiting. I wonder if NPR would be interested? I’m gonna say probably not, and not just because Rob Schmitz reads this blog.

I’ll leave you with my favorite graph:

This is not the first time a letter like this has turned up. Just this week, another plea was found written in Chinese on a toilet seat and posted on Reddit. Commenters on the website have questioned the letters’ authenticity.

Ha ha ha. Well, maybe I’m being a bit unfair. I have sat on numerous Chinese toilet seats and have often felt the need to call for help. So maybe that one was real.

12 thoughts on “Mike Daisey’s New China Labor Camp Monologue: A Preview

  1. noel worthy

    So, you believe that there are NO labor camps in China?
    Also, I have seen many letters written just like that, meaning the style, good grammar, good and bad spelling in the same letter. These have and are been written by students of any English class through out China. So, sir, it is very possible that, that particular letter was written by an ex-student of an English class somewhere who has found themselves deemed “a Danger to the State” etc etc

    You on the other hand must be safe with the State with comments like this plainly written for your State type friends.

  2. Anna

    I’ve seen fake Chinglish and this is not it. Bad punctuation in the original, written letter (see the Chinese dot between Saturday · Sunday, random capitals here and there) and the characters that look like a native speaker wrote them. The paper is clearly torn from a Chinese notebook. I agree that the FLG is less than reliable, but the prominent mention here could easily be because the writer of the note is an FLG practitioner. Surely there are some of them in labour camps. And while most inmates of labour camps won’t know English, there are plenty of Chinese people who have decent English and it’s not that hard to believe that this includes some people in labour camps. RTL is not just for the uneducated.
    Although this is a crazy story that could have been an urban legend, that letter appears to be on a Chinese piece of paper written by a Chinese person. Whether the descriptions of the labour camp are true, well, the address is right there. Has anyone checked that place yet?

    1. Stan Post author

      I’ve been told that this is FLG propaganda. Apparently you can track this down by searching for references to the name of the “labor camp” that is cited in the letter, although I haven’t done this myself.

      1. Anna

        Ok, I checked, and you’re right, the FLG apparently has some beef with this camp (Masanjia 马三家). Googling in English turns up FLG stuff only (and of course this story); googling in Chinese turns up FLG and other not-too-reliable stuff, plus info on train schedules. So far I conclude that Masanjia is indeed a place and has a train station.
        But if it really is only or mostly FLG propaganda, it would be nice if Amnesty or the Labour department or whoever was contacted about this could have said so. It would have added some slightly more reliable information to the story.

    2. BobbyWong

      Yeah Anna, about the workbook paper – it looks like it’s from a Chinese school in US (note the printed “score”, “parent signature” at bottom) which would be completely out of place for an alleged Chinese gulag.

      1. Anna

        I would never have thought Chinese schools in the US have their own notebooks (why don’t they use regular American notebooks? Or import Chinese notebooks from China? There are enough Chinese schools in the US for a viable market for special notebooks?). It looks like a notebook for a Chinese school to me. But I’ve been wrong before, clearly.

        1. BobbyWong

          Yes they do. I volunteer at one and text book and workbook are from the old country. Chinese diaspora is heavy on education, Google and you’ll find about a dozen Chinese schools in Portland area, where the note was found.

          1. Anna

            I am aware of the existence of Chinese schools abroad, but I wouldn’t expect them to have their own special notebooks. But from your reply I understand that indeed they use notebooks (work books) imported from China. I agree that the paper used for this note looks like it was torn from a Chinese notebook, those are for sale in many shops in China itself as well.

  3. Ollumi

    The random mentioning of FLG is pretty conspicuous.

    Also, I must be living in a different China from the person saying students of any English class could’ve wrote this.

  4. Bob Walsh

    What ever happened to the little slips of paper you’d find in the cookie after your meal “HELP ME! I AM A PRISONER IN A CHINESE FORTUNE COOKIE FACTORY!”