The Chinese Foreign Ministry called reports a British child found a note from a Chinese slave in a Christmas card a “farce” on Monday, accusing British reporter Peter Humphrey, who endured Chinese forced prison labor, of fabricating a “drama.”
The U.K.’s The Times revealed this weekend that a six-year-old girl in London found a note in a Christmas card purchased from the British supermarket Tesco that read, in part, “we are foreign prisoners in Shanghai Qingpu prison China. Forced to work against our will. Please help us and notify human rights organisation.” The letter specifically identified Humphrey and requested the finder contact him, given his experience writing about prison slave labor in China.
Humphrey spent 30 months in prison on charges of illegally spying on Chinese citizens, which were never proven in court. He later wrote an account of his life there in the Financial Times where he described Chinese prisons as “a business, doing manufacturing jobs for companies.”
Tesco suspended production at the Chinese factory manufacturing the Christmas cards following the report, issuing a statement saying the supermarket chain was “shocked by these allegations and immediately halted production at the factory where these cards are produced and launched an investigation.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang flatly denied the allegation of any slave labor occurring in Chinese prisons and claimed that Humphrey fabricated the card in a ploy for media attention.
“Peter Humphrey who is unable to bear loneliness and fears people might forget him has occasionally sought self-promotion, but this time the farce he created is so obsolete,” the state-run Global Times propaganda outlet quoted Geng as saying.
“It is just a drama choreographed by Mr. Peter Humphrey,” Geng said. “Mr. Humphrey isn’t one for a life far from the madding crowd. Every now and then he would pop out into the spotlight with a headline or two, as if worried that people might forget him. But his latest plot sounds all too familiar. My advice to him: if you want to grab more eyeballs, at least come up with some new tricks.”
“I can tell you that after verifying with relevant departments, we know for sure that there is no forced labor of foreign prisoners in Qingpu prison in Shanghai,” he concluded.
Humphrey responded to the discovery of the note by stating that he could not individually identify who wrote the note, but “I have no doubt they are Qingpu prisoners who knew me before my release in June 2015 from the suburban prison where I spent nine of my 23 months.”
Following the Christmas card revelation, Agence France-Presse (AFP) published a profile of Qingpu prison, which the writer of the note claims to be suffering in. The prison, the agency noted, “describes itself as a ‘first-class’ facility, where inmates can learn about jade sculptures and receive therapy.” Its website applauds the prison as a center for “cultural exchange.”
According to Humphrey’s 2018 Financial Times account, written after spending nine months at Qingpu, China uses “education through labor” to profit from imprisoning dissidents and allegedly indoctrinate them into a righteous communist life.
“Today, they pretend to be custody centres but they are still punishment centres. Untried prisoners are condemned from day one, starting with the dire conditions they face when they arrive. The aim is to isolate, crush the spirit, break the will. Many crumble quickly,” he wrote. Of the slave labor there, he wrote:
The prison was a business, doing manufacturing jobs for companies. Mornings, afternoons and often during the after-lunch nap, prisoners “laboured” in the common room. Our men made packaging parts. I recognised well-known brands — 3M, C&A, H&M. So much for corporate social responsibility, though the companies may well have been unaware that prison labour was part of their supply chain.
Prisoners from Chinese cell blocks worked in our factory making textiles and components. They marched there like soldiers before our breakfast and returned late in the evening. The foreigners who laboured in my cell block were Africans and Asians with no money from family, and no other way to buy toiletries and snacks. It was piece work; a hundred of this, a thousand of that. Full-time, they earned about Yn120 (£13.50) a month.
But it was also about points. There was a sentence-reduction system based on points earned through labour — work such as floor cleaning, food serving, teaching and approved study. Snitching also earned favourable treatment.
China is already embroiled in a slave labor scandal over the use of Uyghurs, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and other predominantly Muslim ethnic minorities in over a thousand concentration camps, many of which boast on-site factories for slave labors. At least one American apparel company traced its production line back to one of the camps, located in western Xinjiang province, and immediately halted production there. Evidence has also linked baby clothes sold at Costco to concentration camp slave labor.
Slave labor and abuse of workers has triggered a backlash against the Communist Party within China, among Maoists who believe that the modern party has deviated too much from Marx. In late 2018, Beijing disappeared at least one dozen Marxist campus activists agitating for labor rights against the Communist Party.