Missing Man Found Enslaved After 15 Years

August 20, 2007 Updated: August 20, 2007

After the media unveiled child slavery in illegal brick factories in Shanxi Province, China, another slave labor case was reported in Wuhan City—the enslavement of a man who had been reported missing by his family.

Fifteen years ago, Huang Benwu went missing from work in Wuhan City, Henan Province. Huang's family went through an ordeal trying to find him but in vain. Recently, Huang was rescued from a brick factory in Wuhan. He was mentally ill and couldn't recognize anyone in his family.

According to Dahe Daily in an Aug. 16, 2007, report, Huang went to work in the Tianhe Airport in Wuhan in 1992 with a person from his hometown. Three months later, Huang disappeared from work. His family was unable to find him.

“My father disappeared when he was 38. My mother was 35 at the time. My sister and I were teenagers,” said Huang's youngest daughter, Baixiu. After Huang went missing, his wife raised the two sisters alone with little income. Later his wife remarried.

On Aug. 2, 2007, Bian Ku, who is from the same town as Huang, contacted Huang's family to report that he might have found Huang. A friend of Bian's went to the Nanhu Brick Factory in Niekou Town, Huangpo District, Wuhan City, on Aug. 1. He saw a worker there speaking with the same accent as his friend Bian. He asked the worker where he was from and learned that his name was Huang Benwu and he was also from Huangchuan County. But the man was mentally vague, so Bian called Huang's family and had them go to Wuhan to confirm.

Huang's brothers immediately went to Wuhan to see Huang at the brick factory. Huang's younger brother said, “As soon as I got to the factory, I saw my brother loading coal onto a cart. He looked so dirty and skinny, but I recognized him immediately. I asked what his name was. He told me it was Huang Benwu. He said he didn't recognize me.”

Huang's younger brother later brought his oldest brother to the factory and confirmed that the worker was Huang Benwu. They went to see the owner of the factory in order to take Huang home. “It's during working hours now, you can't take him away. I spend 400 yuan [approximately US$ 52] each month to keep him,” the owner said.

On Aug. 4, Yang Guoxi, from the Labor Protection and Supervision Brigade, and officers from the Niekou Police Station went to the Nanhu Brick Factory and rescued Huang.

On Aug. 15, Baixiu went to the Wuhan City Shelter. When the shelter staff brought out her father, a hunch-backed man with grey hair, she almost couldn't recognize him. When Baixiu introduced herself, Huang made some random sounds and said, “Good, good,” but without looking her in the eye.

Huang didn't remember anything about the past. “He couldn't recognize anyone, not even me,” said Huang's brother, “The owner of the brick factory must explain this to us!”

Huang displayed mental instability and loss of memory. He couldn't accurately relate what had happened to him for the past 15 years.

Huang's younger brother said he met a young man from Sichuan Province when he went to the Nanhu Brick Factory. The young man said he had worked with Huang for five years in another brick factory. The young man and Huang were recently transferred to the Nanhu Factory.

According to local residents, the brick factory mostly hires workers from out of town. The residents heard stories about the owner of the factory torturing the workers who want to leave. The factory closely monitors the workers and doesn't have much contact with anyone in town. People in town hardly know what happens inside the factory.

Huang's family is glad that he will soon be back home. However, Huang's wife finds herself in an embarrassing situation—she didn't divorce Huang before she remarried. Once Huang returns, she won't know what to do with two husbands.