Hidden inside a sealed decorations package from K-Mart was a handwritten letter in broken English, telling a story of 15-hour workdays, beatings, and torture. But where did it come from?
Julie Keith from Oregon was shocked when she found the letter in a Halloween kit that she had bought that had been laying around for years, and she posted it on Facebook in late 2012.
I am going to do as they asked, I will turn this over to a Human Rights Organization,” she wrote.
The letter made international news, but the incredible story behind the letter was not fully revealed until several years later in the book “Roar of Masanjia” about a notorious Chinese labor camp. The writer of the letter was a man named Sun Yi from Beijing and a friend of the book’s author, Du Bin.
“I have written many books exposing the wrongdoings of the [Chinese] government,” said Du, a former New York Times photojournalist, who also lived in Beijing.
“The story needed to be written down.”
Sun practices Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, a spiritual mind and body improvement practice focused on truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, with five simple meditation exercises. It became popular in China in the late 90s, with estimates of 70 to 100 million people practicing. In 1999, the Chinese Communist Party suddenly decided to ban the peaceful practice.
Sun was arrested at least six times and endured a total of 15 years of surveillance, slave labor, and torture in China, including at the Masanjia Labor Camp. But Sun had a special skill that he decided to use to try to tell the world what was happening in China: He knew English fairly well. So he started writing letters in the dead of night. He also gave copies to two other prisoners for them to help write out by hand. Together, they completed more than 20 letters.
“He told me how he wrote the letters,” said Du. “He slept at the upper bunk of the bed, facing the wall. He secretly put a piece of paper on his pillow and started writing.”
Sun then carefully placed the letters one-by-one into products that seemed to be going to English-speaking countries. If Sun had been caught, the consequences would have been even worse than he had already endured.
“All the tortures listed in the book have been used against him,” said Du.
“All the tortures listed in the book have been used against him, such as extreme body stretching, stretching and handcuffing, the death bed, forced feeding, and psychological torture, which is the worst,” said Du.
“Once his wife sent him a letter asking for a divorce because she couldn’t stand the pressure of police looking for her, police looking for her family, ever since he started practicing Falun Gong.”
Du had been looking for the person who wrote the Masanjia letter after the story was picked up by international media, but he was soon contacted by Sun himself.
“He told me, he used to be a person afraid of death,” said Du.
“He said he was able to live on because of his practice of Falun Gong.”
Du himself was illegally detained for 37 days and under house arrest for a year, before the book “Roar of Masanjia” was finally published in Hong Kong in Chinese.
“I know topics like the Tiananmen Square massacre and Falun Gong are very sensitive in China, something that not even the foreign media dares to write about,” Du said.
“As for myself living in China, why am I not afraid to report this? There are two reasons. First, I believe that as a human being, I would like to know how a person survives in a difficult situation, and what he thinks during that time. Second, we are neither animals or beasts, so I do not tolerate any inhuman treatment of any other human being.”
Sun later escaped China and met the woman who shared his letter with the world.
Meanwhile, the Chinese regime claims labor camps have been shut down, but evidence of the severe mistreatment of prisoners of conscience continues to emerge.