Film Review: ‘Letter From Masanjia’: Quiet Hero Blows the Whistle on China’s Gruesome Labor Camp System

By Mark Jackson, Epoch Times
September 10, 2018 Updated: September 12, 2018

| Documentary | 14 September 2018 (USA)

“Letter From Masanjia” is a documentary about a handwritten letter discovered in a Kmart Halloween toy box, in Oregon a few years ago.

It came from a Chinese labor camp, specializing in slave labor and torture. The letter was from a tortured toymaker, Sun Yi.

His “crime” was that he practiced Falun Gong, which is an energy-enhancing practice.

Sun Yi and the deadly Masanjia labor camp in the background, in “Letter From Masanjia.” (Flying Cloud Productions)

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) despises the peaceful practice of Falun Gong because 70 to 100 million people were practicing it, more than members in the CCP.

It’s an ancient, super-powerful form of qigong, consisting of five meditative exercises. A peaceful spiritual practice, adherents focus inward instead of blaming others, and work hard on living their lives by the tenets of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance.

Why was something this harmless banned, especially since qigong originated in China 5,000 years ago? When Falun Gong first went public in the 1990s, it spread like wildfire because of its traditional Chinese moral values and healing ability. China’s leader at the time, Jiang Zemin, feared the independent, peaceful health movement was becoming too popular and was overshadowing his own communist legacy, so he vowed to eradicate it. Falun Gong (also known as Falun Dafa) has been brutally persecuted in China since 1999.

What’s worse is a gruesome practice of forced organ harvesting from these prisoners of conscience. With state support, Chinese hospitals steal organs from practitioners, while they are often still alive, and are making a huge profit from trafficking. A heart or a lung can go for a six-figure sum.

The Chinese regime is literally engaged in a rapidly expanding genocide, and most people have not even heard about it. Most media have been careful not to upset the Chinese regime (though this is now slowly changing). Since the rest of the world is generally not aware of just how bad things are, Falun Gong practitioners worldwide have been trying to raise awareness on this issue.

This was Mr. Sun’s “crime.”

The Punishment Hardly Fits the ‘Crime’

In prison, Sun Yi dyed so many Halloween Styrofoam tombstones from 4 a.m. till 11 p.m. every day that his hands continued to do the repetitive dye-rinsing movements in his sleep.

To send an SOS message to the world, he’d write letters on his prison cot by the light of the moon, risking untold horrors if he were caught. He managed to write about 20 of them.

Sun Yi in “Letter From Masanjia.” (Flying Cloud Productions)

Only one was found that we know of. In Damascus, Oregon, Julie Keith found the note, handwritten in English and Chinese, in 2012. Her 5-year-old had asked for a Halloween-themed birthday party.

Sun Yi’s letter goes like this: “Sir: If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Rights Organization. Thousands people here who are under the persecution of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.”

Julie Keith contacted The Oregonian newspaper, which soon resulted in the SOS letter’s creating a worldwide media frenzy.

Eventually, international pressure was brought to bear, which led to the closing of China’s labor camps, along with the hellish Masanjia. “Black” prisons (extralegal detention centers) have since sprung up to replace them, and the horror continues as I write this.

Leon Lee

Peabody Award-winning, 37-year-old Chinese-Canadian filmmaker Leon Lee won the 2014 Peabody for his documentary “Human Harvest.” In his new doc, “Letter From Masanjia,” Lee was able to collaborate with the writer of the letter, Sun Yi, as well as an anonymous filmmaking partner in China, to tell the story.

In 2016, with help from members of the Chinese underground, Lee tracked down Sun Yi in Jakarta, Indonesia, after Sun’s release from prison; Lee set up a Skype call. Sun was up for making a film but didn’t have the skills or equipment.

Lee gave Sun filmmaking lessons via Skype. Then Sun sent back to Lee compressed, encrypted footage, and Lee, as director, provided feedback. They set up a system whereby Lee would get an encrypted hard drive, and once he got it, Sun would send the password. The wrong password would lock and wipe the hard drive. Thus the story could be told.

Eventually, the two filmmakers were able to meet in person. Lee said, of Sun, that he wondered how such a quiet, gentle man was capable of so much strength.

Sun Yi (L) and Leon Lee in “Letter From Masanjia.” (Flying Cloud Productions)

This is something I’ve wondered myself, and you’ll wonder too when you wrap your mind around this: At the height of his misery, Sun was tortured thusly—prison guards hung him from his wrists off a metal bunk bed in such a manner that, when he became too fatigued and his legs gave out, the metal handcuffs would cut into his wrists, causing intense pain and waking him up again.

He didn’t hang there for a week. He didn’t hang there for a month. Poor, kindhearted, soft-spoken Mr. Sun hung there for a year. His feet were swollen to the size of elephant’s feet. That’s 73 back-to-back Navy SEAL Hell Weeks.

“Why not renounce your faith and be done with it?” one might ask. Well, it stands to reason that living one’s life by truthfulness, compassion, and forbearance—living it with integrity and authenticity—is something worth dying for.

Julie Keith visits Sun Yi in Jakarta, Indonesia, in “Letter From Masanjia.” (Flying Cloud Productions)

Two of Sun Yi’s former guards are interviewed in the film. Sun wanted them included, although director Lee feared putting their lives at risk. Sun felt it would help the film as well as reduce the guards’ karma. He knew they had deep regrets. One of them sheds tears in the film, and later they admitted they felt their contribution was the first right thing they’d ever done in their lives.

Mr. Lee says it’s been difficult to get his films distributed due to the clout China now wields in the film industry, but he hopes “Letter from Masanjia” will eventually find a wide audience.

One out of 20 letters reached one woman who cared, and because of her actions, many, many thousands of prisoners of conscience no longer have to endure labor camps. But as mentioned, the injustice continues.

If you’re wondering how you can make a difference in the face of the things you care about, be it the plight of overworked, underfed, abused carriage-horses in Manhattan, or that stinking-to-high-heaven “Cowschwitz” out on the interstate between Los Angeles and San Francisco, after seeing Sun Yi’s story, you may feel more empowered to make a change. Miraculous things can happen.

The tragic end of the film is that it would seem this quiet hero, Mr. Sun, has mysteriously gone missing.

Sun Yi in “Letter From Masanjia.” (Flying Cloud Productions)

‘Letter From Masanjia’
Director: Leon Lee
Starring: Sun Yi, Anonymous, Fu Ning, Julie Keith, Leon Lee
Rated: Not Rated
Running Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Release Date: Sept. 14
Rated 4 stars out of 5

Follow Mark on Twitter: @FilmCriticEpoch
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