In 2010, Sun Yi was a 41-year-old engineer from Beijing, forced to work 15-hour (or longer) shifts, making cheap Halloween decorations at the brutal Masanjia Labor Camp in China’s eastern Liaoning Province. A vocal member of the banned Falun Gong spiritual exercise group, Sun noticed that some of the boxes were affixed with English-language labels.
Sun decided to take a chance by writing an SOS letter describing the torture and forced labor being inflicted at Masanjia.
It read in part:
“Please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right[s] Organization. Thousands [of] people here who are under the persecution of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.”
One evening while packing plastic gravestones, Sun slipped this note and others like it into outgoing boxes. Two years later, an Oregon mother, Julie Keith, opened an old box of holiday decorations she had purchased from Kmart. There was Sun’s note. Shocked, Keith Googled the name of the camp and discovered Masanjia was real. The Oregonian newspaper picked up the story, highlighting a scandal that too few in the West have bothered to notice.
Amelia Pang, author of the just-released “Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods,” told The New York Post that China has at least a thousand “re-education” camps in which forced labor makes products for scores of well-known Western brands, including Walmart, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nike, Apple, and BMW.
The UK’s The Guardian published a map delineating where these camps may be found. Many of them hold mainly Muslim Uighurs as part of what the U.S. government has labeled a genocide. Around 1 million of Xinjiang Province’s 11 million Uighurs are believed to be imprisoned by the Chinese communists as part of an ongoing crackdown against the far-western separatist region bordering Kazakhstan.
The BBC reports credible evidence of a systematic campaign of rape, sterilization, and torture against Uighur women. The goal is to break them—mentally, culturally, and physically.
The BBC interviewed “a Kazakh woman from Xinjiang who was detained for 18 months in the camp system, who said she was forced to strip Uighur women naked and handcuff them, before leaving them alone with Chinese men. Afterwards, she cleaned the rooms, she said.”
The Chinese Communists, working at the behest of hardline leader Xi Jinping, have not exempted the country’s estimated 100 million Christians from the growing specter of persecution. Open Doors says that over the last three years China has risen an astounding 26 places on its annual World Watch List of the worst-persecuting nations—“reflecting a rapidly deteriorating situation for Christians in the country. It is getting increasingly difficult to avoid having to fall in line with official socialist ideology, even for state-affiliated churches.”
China’s stated goal is to “Sinicize” the churches and other religious groups—make them more Chinese. In theory, this would mean making them indigenous and more compatible with Chinese culture—a worthy missionary goal. In practice, it means making them subservient to the Chinese Communist Party.
While Christians differ with other religious groups on how to get to heaven and what constitutes the good life, we can and must stand with them on bedrock issues such as religious freedom—which after all, is an important part of gospel proclamation. The Chinese government knows this and is responding accordingly.
“New restrictions on the internet, social media and non-governmental organizations—along with a revision of religious regulation in 2018 which was enhanced again last year—are strictly applied and seriously limit freedom,” Open Doors reports. “Churches are being monitored and closed, be they independent or affiliated to the state (e.g. Three-Self Patriotic Movement).”
The Chinese government has gone on an alarming surveillance binge, using sophisticated new technologies such as facial-recognition software to keep tabs on, reward, and punish its citizens. Some churches report being pressured to install surveillance cameras or face closure.
Beijing is not only using technology to oppress to its own people, of course. The regime’s “Made in China 2025” plan aims to make China a world leader in technology. Critics, however, say the plan is a security threat that relies on discriminatory treatment of foreign investment, forced technology transfers, intellectual property theft, and cyber espionage. Warns John Ratcliffe, former director of national intelligence, “The intelligence is clear: Beijing intends to dominate the U.S. and the rest of the planet economically, militarily and technologically.”
This regime has been allowed by otherwise reasonable and largely respectable nations to weave itself deeply into the fabric of international trade, gaining the resources and credibility it craves to pay for all this injustice. Yet China, under its current masters, is neither respectable nor reasonable. The fond hope that democracy and trade will tame the Chinese tiger, and that new technologies will lead to more freedoms for its people, is officially dead.
Someone needs to take a stand for all these oppressed image-bearers. That someone is us. As God says in His Word, “If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” No one can say that we don’t know.
Some may see wisdom in one response and some in another, and people of good faith can differ. But business as usual with the Chinese government is no longer an option. That’s why Christians should carefully consider our spending and investing choices, speak clearly to our representatives about religious liberty and human rights, and make China a prayer priority.
Our 100 million Christian brothers and sisters in China would approve. So would Sun Yi.
Stan Guthrie’s latest book is Victorious: Corrie ten Boom and The Hiding Place.