National Public Radio’s program “All Things Considered” reports on Stuart Foster, an American who spent seven months in a Chinese jail on charges of theft. He and other inmates were forced to make Christmas lights for the US market under terrible conditions with no pay.
“In the cell, there was an average of 30 men,”says Foster, an amiable 49-year-old who speaks with a Southern drawl. “There were no chairs, there were no beds. We slept on the concrete floor, and most people didn’t even have a sheet and certainly no pillows. It was so crowded that most inmates had to sleep on their side.”
In the morning, Foster says, he and his mostly Chinese cellmates would spend an hour marching in place and then begin work putting together Christmas lights.
“They would bring in large, industrial plastic bags that had the components that would be assembled,” Foster recalls. “Each prisoner would get their quota, and inmates would line the walls or they would sit in circles just on the floor, assembling lights to sockets.”
The detention center didn’t provide uniforms. So inmates worked in just their underwear during the hot summer months, he says. Foster was stunned that Chinese officials put him in a cell where he participated in and witnessed forced labor.
“I felt it was a major mistake,” says Foster. Some guards became worried. “Are you going to tell people about this when you go back to America?” they asked him. “Yes! Yes, I will,” he answered.
Foster says the Christmas lights he assembled are the type that look like icicles and hang from the rain gutters of many an American home during the holiday season. Over time, Foster befriended a guard, who said he helped sell the lights to unwitting U.S. companies at a famous trade fair in the city.
“I was on B block, because this was the only guard who spoke reasonable English. And he told me the reason he spoke reasonable English is because he was the individual who was involved with the selling at the Canton Trade Fair,” Foster says. “He would refer to them as his ‘American friends.’ ”
“Nobody got paid anything,” he says. “If you didn’t work, you didn’t get food.”
Or you got beaten.
Foster says a group of inmates ran the cell. They spurred workers with punches, kicks or worse.
“There was one particular leader during the month of July that was particularly sadistic,” says Foster. “Actually, he had braided a few of the Christmas light cords together. He would come up behind inmates that were working slow and slash them across the back. I can remember him very clearly, him doing it to this boy, who was in my estimation mentally retarded. And he would deliver blows that — right before my eyes — you would see the welts develop.”
Foster says the U.S. Consulate in Guangzhou took a keen interest in his case and checked on him regularly. Compared with most inmates, Foster says, he had it easy.
“They took mercy on me as an American,” he recalls. “I couldn’t work as fast as they could. I would assemble about 3,000 lights a day, and the Chinese would do double what I did,” he says. “I was, what I often say, the prize animal in a very bad zoo.”
I’ve posted before about a letter from a Chinese prisoner smuggled into a box of Halloween decorations sold in Oregon, which explained the horrible conditions under which they were made.
China’s use of prison labor to make products for export has one remarkable effect: it brings together in mutual denial or silence companies which depend on cheap or free labor for their low prices with “socialists” who still consider the Chinese regime worthy of support.