Americans love their cheap goods. We are super fans of the dollar stores, and never really glance at a label to see where the product comes from. We are proud of ourselves because we “save” money and tend to purchase throwaway goods because it guarantees us an easier lifestyle. In reading Made in China, we learn of the human toll it takes on the people who put together our goods. It is a harrowing tale and one that both Jan and I have resolved to try and do our part with by buying less and making sure we buy products produced under the auspices that might govern fair and equitable employment.
“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 persicuton of the Chinese Communist Party“
In our quest to read more non-fiction, Marialyce and I settled on this book, and it was one that opened our eyes and caused us to examine our consumer habits.
In 2012 a woman in Oregon opened up a Halloween decoration purchased at K-Mart when a slip of paper fell to the floor. On it was written an appeal for help from Soon-Yi, a prisoner in China. The woman contacted various human rights agencies as well as the press and went public.
The author followed Sun Yi, an educated man imprisoned for his religious beliefs. It was difficult to read a first-hand account of what happened to him and his fellow inmates. Most of us know of the human rights abuses in China but few of us know how truly horrific they are. The inmates endure unspeakable torture worse than we can imagine, and forced to work 15-20 hours a day. Why? So we can buy cheap décor, toys, clothing, and other consumer goods.
As horrendous as this is, China also sells the organs of prisoners for a tidy profit. Their execution dates eerily match up to when an organ is needed.
China’s Communist Party is to blame, of course, but so are we every time we choose to buy, and buy cheap. I’m fortunate in that, when possible, I can choose to spend my money wisely in small businesses with ethical purchasing practices. But for most, if not all, Americans it’s nearly impossible to avoid items made in China, and impossible to know if what we buy is made in the labor camps.
No U.S. company who has manufacturing plants in China, including well-known brands, can ensure their goods are made without prison labor. Manufactures believe they have little choice in using forced labor in order to keep up with consumer demand.
There are U.S. laws enacted to stop the flow of goods made by forced labor, but they are worthless words on paper. The only thing that will stop it is for us to stop demanding cheap goods. Having independent 3rd party inspections would help but it’s doubtful it would have a lasting impact because of China’s lack of transparency and a company’s habit of simply changing their name when sanctioned.
The author ends the book with a list of questions to ask before we purchase something which basically boils down to: do I truly need this, or would something I own work just as well? Do I need it enough to be willing to pay more for it? If I buy it how often would I use it? Would I be willing to get rid of three things if I do buy it?
If we are honest with ourselves, we all have our weaknesses, whether it’s electronics, home décor, fashion, small cheap toys /stocking stuffers, and the like. My husband and I have made a conscious effort to not buy more STUFF, and if we do, something needs to leave our house. Our primary motivation was to simplify our lives, but now we have an even more compelling reason to buy less and buy responsibly.
According to one study, consumers wouldn’t buy something if told it was made in a labor camp. But the effect went away in thirty minutes. Our brain’s pleasure center lights up when we see something on sale or for less money than we would expect to pay. The solution is to not shop for entertainment or buy simply because something is cheap.
Our consumerist society is causing untold suffering and torture worse than anything we can imagine. We can no longer claim innocence and ignorance as an excuse.
Imagine receiving a note from a Chinese labor camp prisoner in a bag of Halloween tombstone decorations. Such a thing did happen to Julie Keith which started her on a journey to discover if this could possible real. Sadly, it was written by Sun Yi. Later the author, Amalia Pang followed Sun, a prisoner jailed under horrific conditions for believing in the tenets of a faith he refused to give up.
Imagine a race being systematically wiped out by a country. Yes, indeed the thoughts of of Nazi Germany might enter your mind, but then we realize that this is happening to the Uyghur group in Northwest China.
Imagine a country that looks at you are a group of salable organs and indeed this is exactly what China is doing.
Many of us look to save money when buying products. From the electronics to decorations during holidays, we are constantly searching out bargains never really thinking about where or how these things were made.
In the Made in China book, we certainly get an eye opening and appalling look into the methods China uses to bring us those cheap bargains.
The settings where they are constructed are mainly labor camps where the poor workers are treated worse than animals, where they arrive in these places on trumped up charges, or be found to do something the government considers punishable. There they labor hour after hour for despicable companies, in deplorable circumstances, eighteen hours a day seven days a week. Medical care is nonexistent and family is prohibited at times from seeing their loved ones.
It is even a fact that some are mined as organ givers, and there is a brisk trade for kidneys, lungs, etc.
Although the United States government is aware of these practices, it is a struggle to try and find definitive proof for there always seems to be ways in which companies wiggle out of being fined and exposed. Not much can be done for as we know, China is a communist country where every part of one’s life is watched and monitored.
One can be held in prison, never having a trial, for practicing the wrong religion, saying a word against the regime, or even looking to gain a bit of respect for your fellow man. Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals are imprisoned and sentences for all last years, if indeed they survive.
There is a viable option for we consumers and that is to stop buying products that are made in China. Money seems to be the only way to hit them and the only thing they care about.
This book might just make you reevaluate how you purchase products. What comes cheaply to we consumers bears a devastating price paid by countless millions. Amalia Pang wrote a wonderful exhaustive book after much research into the fact that many our goods are made at the detriment and death of others.
and here’s the author:
Amelia is an award-winning, investigative journalist of Uyghur and Chinese descent. Her work has been published in The New Republic, Mother Jones, and The New York Times Sunday Review, among other publications. She is currently an editor at EdTech Magazine.
She is the author of Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods. It was shortlisted for the 2019 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, co-administered by Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.
In 2016, the New York Press Association awarded Amelia first place in feature writing for her article on the devastation of an immigrant taxi driver as he fell behind on his mortgage.
In 2017, the LA Press Club awarded her first place in investigative journalism for her undercover reporting on the exploitation of smuggled immigrants who are recruited to work in Chinese restaurants.
In 2018, the LA Press Club awarded Amelia first place in Gender/LGBTQ Reporting for her coverage of sexual violence in Native American communities.
Amelia has given interviews about her work on NPR and C-SPAN. She received her BA in Literary Studies from the New School.
6 thoughts on “Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods by Amalia Pang #amaliapang @AlgonquinBooks @JanBelisle @absltmom”
Wonderful review Marialyce. The author is doing important work in her writing and I’m grateful we read this one!
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Glad we read this one and can add another good nonfiction book to our library. Excellent review, my friend!
Thank you Jan & Marialyce for broadening my awareness about consumer products and spending. I’ll take more care and thought in how I choose my products. This story is a punch to my heart. Excellent reviews💜
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What a fine way to express exactly how we all should feel reading this book. Thanks, Jo!
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This is deep and thought-provoking.
I have heard rumuors about the prisoners. We have Chinese companies contracted to build roads here and the workers are rumuored to be prisoners. I have never really thought about this whole issue or why they were imprisoned but reading your reviews of this book has opened my eyes to other sad possibilities.
This book already has me thinking about these labourers and also the ‘Made in China’ products. Definitely adding it to my TBR.
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It is truly an eye opening book, Diana. I, too, never thought for a moment that this was being don.