From Toothpicks to Chopsticks: Overview of Products Made in China's Labor Camps (Part 1)
(Minghui.org) Falun Gong (aka Falun Dafa) is a spiritual practice whose adherents follow the principles of Truthfulness, Compassion, and Forbearance. Since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) began to persecute Falun Gong in July 1999, many practitioners have been arrested and detained.
After arriving at the detention facilities and prisons, many practitioners were exploited as free labor, and had to work from 12 to 19 hours each day. The products they made include toothpicks, chopsticks, candies, cookies, and sanitary pads. Some of the products were exported overseas.
Apart from the high-quota assignments, the detainees, aged between 16 and 70, were often deprived of sleep and basic necessities. Many also became ill due to the unhygienic and toxic working environments.
Below is an overview of different products made in various labor camps in China, and how the guards persecute Falun Gong practitioners for remaining firm to their faith.
Part 1 covers facilities in Heilongjiang Province.Part 2 covers facilities in Liaoning Province and Jilin Province.Part 3 covers other regions.
Heilongjiang Women's Prison
Two underage girls were sentenced for practicing Falun Gong in 2003, and forced to perform long hours of labor.
Ms. Xu Zi'ao, then 17 years old, still a high school student, was tried at the Daoli District Court in Harbin City in March 2004. She was sentenced to a three-year term, and transferred to the Heilongjiang Women's Prison.
Ms. Sun Ruyan, then 16, from Shuangyashan City, was staying with another practitioner in April 2003, when local police broke in and arrested both of them. The officers slapped Ms. Sun's face and cursed her. She was later sentenced to three years, and transferred to Heilongjiang Women's Prison.
The Heilongjiang Women's Prison increases the production line for each division every year, which tripled between 2008 and 2010. The prison made products that would be profitable, including cotton swabs, ice cream sticks, packaging toothpicks, sewing sequins, hats, and car seat cushions. The prison also accepted work that included repairing linen and stringing beads.
The prison accepted a batch of toothpicks for packaging in July and August 2010. Due to long-term water shortage, the prisoners could not wash their bowls and cups after lunch, let alone wash their hands after using the restroom, before resuming their work with the toothpicks.
There is a five-person monitoring system, where four inmates were assigned to monitor a practitioner around the clock. Practitioners who did not admit guilt for practicing their faith were deprived of visits or any communication with their families.
Prisoners were forced to work every day for many years from 6 a.m. to around midnight, and those who did not finish their assignment were not allowed to rest.
Sometimes the prisoners were given toxic glue to make mooncake boxes, sew hats, as well as make cotton swabs, and toothpicks. The smell of the glue in the workshop was suffocating, but despite this, the packaging label states that the products are highly disinfected cotton swabs.
Due to the harsh working conditions, Falun Gong practitioner Ms. Zhang Yaqin’s had a relapse of her heart disease, and her feet became very swollen. She died at home after being released on medical parole.
Heilongjiang Drug Rehabilitation Center
A practitioner once detained at the Heilongjiang Drug Rehabilitation Center recalled how she and others had to pack a variety of toothpicks every day in December 2009. They had to either work overtime or take the products to their cell to continue working on them. Their performance would determine if their term would be reduced or extended.
In particular, a task that requires selecting toothpicks, was especially tiring for the eyes. Some detainees became nauseated after working, and the practitioner also felt dizzy, and their eyes were painful after working for some time.
During that period, many practitioners were arrested, and detained in the rehabilitation center. They would first be isolated during which they were pressured to renounce their faith. A practitioner learned later, after returning home, that Liu Shuling, a practitioner in her 60s, had died in the center after being shocked with electric batons.
Some guards pretended to care for the practitioners when they went on a hunger strike to protest the persecution. But when the guards’ “soft tactics” failed to persuade the practitioners to eat, their behavior turned violent.
Another practitioner recalled that there are no weekends at the Harbin Drug Rehabilitation Center. Practitioners, and some inmates, were ordered to perform labor, which included weaving flaxen cloth, sorting paper, picking soybeans, planting corn, packing chopsticks, packing toothpicks, and making handicrafts.
They also had to work in a basement without a ventilation system. In recent years they packaged a significant amount of toothpicks. If they could not meet their quota their terms would be extended.
Qianjin Forced Labor Camp in Heilongjiang Province
Qianjin Forced Labor Camp detained over 40 Falun Gong practitioners, who were transferred there from Wanjia Forced Labor Camp. They were forced to work for over 14 hours every day, including loading and unloading trucks. In the summer, they made ice cream sticks and toothpicks, planted trees, worked on farms, and so on. Many practitioners suffered from illnesses due to the harsh conditions.
The central heating in the labor camp was turned off in February 2009, while the weather was still cold. The guards all wore warm coats, while the inmates worked in the cold, sorting toothpicks. More than 30 inmates from two divisions suffered various degrees of frostbite.
The camp, which held nearly 70 people, provided scarce and rancid food to the detainees, leaving many malnourished. But the menus on the walls in the cafeteria made it appear to visitors that inmates were provided with rice, noodles, pork, chicken, vegetables, tofu, and other condiments every month.
Most of the detention centers, prisons and forced labor camps were restricting food given to the detainees.
Changlinzi Labor Camp in Heilongjiang Province
The No. 5 Division in Changlinzi Labor Camp of Harbin City started to accept assignments to select toothpicks in April and May 2004. The words on the packaging states “sterilized under high-temperature,” but a practitioner who was held in the labor camp said that she has not seen any toothpick being disinfected.
There was a woman in her 60s who often sent toothpicks to the division. Rumors had it that she had a factory in Harbin City. She would send a truckload of 500 to 800 boxes of toothpicks to the division, and asks that the labor camp finish it within a specific time.
In order to fulfill the woman's request, the cell leader of the division made everyone work from 5 a.m. until the next morning 3 a.m. every day for many days, with only two hours to sleep. Everyone was assigned to put four boxes of toothpicks (four boxes contain 40 cases, with more than 10,000 toothpicks in one case) into a plate before using a tweezer to sort them into first-class, second-class, and unusable toothpicks.
First-class toothpicks were used for teeth, second-class toothpicks were sold to restaurants for use with sausages or fruits. Toothpicks would be scattered on the ground and covered with dust, then placed on a plate, sorted and packed. Moreover, some of the prisoners suffered from scabies with pus and blood oozing from their wounds. Some toothpicks were also soiled with cat urine (the division kept cats and dogs).
Changlinzi Labor Camp also has a factory that produces basketballs and shoes. The glue used is primarily benzene and xylene, both poisonous. Benzene and xylene can cause numerous diseases, including cancer and leukemia. The labor camp never follows proper waste disposal practices, so these poisonous substances went directly into the sewage system, and maybe eventually into the Songhua River in the city.
Wanjia Forced Labor Camp of Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province
More than 100 practitioners were in the No. 7 Division in Wanjia Forced Labor Camp. This division was divided into three teams. Every day, the detainees did hard labor, and were only given corn flour cakes to eat and some cabbage soup. Even the elderly ladies, over 70 years old, had to pack soles for shoes, bag insecticide, as well as making lollipop sticks and toothpicks. They had to work from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m., and were not allowed to go to bed until they had met the assigned quota, even if it was past midnight.
In the Minghui.org article, “Ms. Gao Xunhong Recounts the Persecution She Suffered,” Ms. Gao wrote, “I was forced to pack shoe soles, and the tips of my fingers had blisters and my eyes were red due to lack of sleep. I was later assigned to pack toothpicks. I was exhausted, but was still forced to do hard labor. We had to load the delivery trucks once every few days for 2 to 3 hours each time. Each box weighed over 30 kgs. Elderly practitioners had to carry the boxes as well.”
In another article, a practitioner recalled that all Falun Gong practitioners held in the No. 13 Division were forced to pick toothpicks, and shell sunflower seeds. The labor camp also manufactures food such as pumpkin seeds and beans. They force prisoners to fold big rice bags, pack toothpicks and ice bars. The prisoners always suffer from scabies, and pus and blood oozes out of their wounds. However, there were no sanitation rules.
It is impossible for practitioners to meet the production quota assigned by the labor camp before the 10 p.m. bedtime. The tasks include sewing car seat cushions, gluing false lashes and slippers, patching up linen, selecting ice cream sticks and toothpicks, printing pirated books, knitting sweaters, and so on. Practitioner Zhao Fengyun in the No. 12 team was poisoned to death by phenol that was used when producing pirated books.
Harbin No. 2 Detention Center in Heilongjiang Province
The detainees at the Harbin No. 2 Detention Center were forced to decorate contraband toothpicks. Working in a dirty environment, they were not allowed to wash their hands. The detainees glued decorative pictures to the toothpicks that would be used as fruit picks, and were even packed in boxes to be exported. Criminal detainees with sexually transmitted diseases also were assigned such work, and did not wash their hands. At night, the detainees have to sleep cramped together, even lying on their sides due to no space. They were not allowed to use the restroom at night.
Shuanghe Labor Camp in Qiqihar City, Heilongjiang Province
The Shuanghe Labor Camp made practitioners and inmates sort toothpicks and chopsticks in their cell, or along the hallway under extremely poor sanitary conditions in the summer of 2005.
When there was no work, the authorities made everyone sweep the floor, pick up the toothpicks, and re-distribute them for re-selection, saying that this is to prevent waste. However, when these toothpicks were swept up, they were mixed with cigarette butts and trash.
The same goes for chopsticks. The chopsticks for packing were often stacked in the hallway where many inmates would spit on the floor, and one inmate with mental disorder even urinated there.
The labor camp re-grouped the teams in January 2006. and found a workshop to be used for production work. However, there was still a small number of people who worked in the hallway. Inmates who are sick were also forced to work despite the poor sanitary environment.
The detainees were forced to work every day overtime to select chopsticks and toothpicks, sew hats, scarves, and also put together pill boxes. Products of substandard quality were returned to be re-packed. Those who couldn't finish their quota were not allowed to sleep, and had to continue working in their cell. Some often worked until midnight or through the night.
A 56-year-old practitioner, Ms. Luu Xinsheng, was so tired that she vomited blood and couldn't get out of bed.
Practitioners who refused to write guarantee statements had their arms handcuffed to the iron chair, and ropes were used to tie their hands and arms before hanging them up. The guards then pulled the ropes, and then suddenly loosened them, making the practitioners fall down. Some were tortured until they fainted. The torture continued after the practitioners came to.
Practitioner Wang Yanxin was tortured to the point of being able to only exhale, but not inhale. Practitioner Gao Shuying's hands and legs turned black and purple. Practitioner Zhang Liqun's arms turned black, and she couldn't straighten her back. Practitioner Jiang Yuzhu was tortured until she was unrecognizable. Practitioner Sheng Yi had difficulty walking, and practitioner Wang Guofang was tortured to death. There were deep gouges on her wrists from the handcuffs, and the front of her chest was beaten in.
Jiamusi Labor Camp and Detention Center, Heilongjiang Province
The labor camps and detention centers in Jiamusi try to increase the output by forcing the detainees to work overtime. The prison had each practitioner and inmate produce at least 8,000 toothpicks, disposable chopsticks, and ice cream sticks every day, and sometimes up to 12,000. The detainees would be beaten if they did not meet the quota, and had to continue to produce the same amount of items the next day. Thus, some worked around the clock, and others worked until 3 a.m. It was said that these toothpicks and chopsticks were exported to the USA through South Korea.
It was a living hell for those who were detained at the Jiamusi Detention Center. The detention center forced everyone to produce more than 1,000 toothpicks with decorative pictures every day. One would be punished and not allowed to sleep if unable to complete the task. The detention center makes things difficult for practitioners by not giving them the bed covers and mattresses that had been bought by the practitioners' families, or intentionally misspelled the practitioners' names, so that those things could not reach them.
Practitioners who were detained at Jiamusi Detention Center had to complete a certain amount of products for exporting. After wrapping the toothpicks, they had to use poisonous adhesive to glue the cover together before the products were exported overseas.
It was impossible to complete the quotas stipulated by the center even if the practitioners worked around the clock. Moreover, the food in the detention center was very poor—everyone would only be given two plates of cornmeal every day. This kind of cornmeal was often used as animal food, thus it was mixed with a lot of sand.
Mudanjiang Prison in Heilongjiang Province
Mudanjiang Prison adjusted their work time from 6.30 a.m. to 8 p.m., with the work lasting 13 or 14 hours in early June 2010. To deal with inspection, inmates were forced to lie, saying that they only worked eight hours a day, and were given two days of rest every month.
Inmates who missed the grooming time after returning from work had to go without washing their hands and clothes for 10 to 20 days. Some of them, who developed scabies and psoriasis, would work with pus oozing from their hands and use their hands covered with scabies to pack chopsticks, ice cream sticks, toothpicks, insert false eyelashes, and make clothes. The scabies and psoriasis dirtied the clothes. The products carried a large amount of contagious diseases, bacteria, and sarcoptic mites that pose great harm to consumers' health. These products are not only supplied to the locals, but also exported overseas.
An inmate wrote a message on a piece of paper describing how chopsticks are produced in the prison in 2004, and tried to hide the note among the chopsticks, but it was discovered by the guards. The guards beat the inmate with electric batons and wooden clubs until he was on the brink of death. He was taken to the hospital but not given any treatment. He died a few days later.
The Mudanjiang Detention Center also holds many people who were suspected of murder, arson, and prostitution. Many of them were sick with various contagious diseases, including AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, Hepatitis B, open pulmonary tuberculosis, scabies, and pubic lice. They would scratch their bodies and many of them do not wash their hands after using the restroom. However, the detention center forced all inmates to use their hands to pack chopsticks and toothpicks into small plastic bags labeled “high-grade chopsticks” or into bags used specially by hotels. These hands held fecal matter and oozed blood from wounds and scabies, yet they were not allowed to wash their hands.
Suihua City Forced Labor Camp in Heilongjiang Province
Suihua City Forced Labor Camp in Heilongjiang Province started making toothpicks in 2008. Mr. Liu Gaofeng, a practitioner in his 40's from Mudanjiang City, Heilongjiang Province, was arrested by local police and taken to the forced labor camp in October 2008. Inmates Sun Lifeng, and Fan Zhizhong, beat Mr. Liu as ordered by guard Diao Xuesong. On one occasion, Sun beat Mr. Liu on the head with a chair until the chair broke into pieces, causing Mr. Liu to fall to the ground and lose consciousness.
The inmates also tortured practitioners in many ways, including hitting with electric batons and rubber sticks, and burning the body with cigarette butts. Practitioners are forced to do slave work for more than 16 hours a day and sometimes made to work overtime. After waking up at 5:30 a.m., they were given only 15 minutes to eat their meals that consisted of buns and rice that is sometimes half-cooked, before being called to the workshop to select toothpicks, sew cushions, and make clothes.
Hulan Prison in Heilongjiang Province
The detainees in Hulan Prison have to work 14 to 15 hours every day. Many people suffered from various diseases due to the harsh working environment and malnutrition. The prison holds about 3,000 people, and at least one-tenth of the people are diagnosed with tuberculosis. They were not isolated, but had to work.
The work includes braiding, making crafts, toothpicks, and clothes, and the products are either exported or sold locally. The toothpicks, packed by hand, are not sterilized or inspected before exported. With the harsh working conditions and messy workshops, and the lack of healthy detainees, one could imagine the hygiene of the products.
Moreover, the prisoners, including a large number of people with various contagious diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis, used their hands and mouths when opening and sealing the toothpick bags.
(To be continued)