In search of the missing kiln workers

Missing kiln workers Feng Jianwei and Shi Guoqiang

Two weeks ago, Southern Metropolis Weekly ran an extensive cover feature on the men who had been forced to work in illegal brick kilns in Shanxi Province.

Part of that feature was a list of the names of 137 former kiln slaves; the paper attempted to confirm their addresses and current status. Thirty-one names were released by the government of Hongdong County after the earliest kiln-bust, but the whereabouts of many of those rescued were unclear and much of the information on the list was incorrect. Other names were provided by a Shaanxi legal team suing for back wages, and the paper also looked into the seventy names listed by the parents in Henan whose search efforts spurred the government investigation.

In early July, armed with the list of thirty-one names provided by Hongdong County, the reporter contacted low-level village government offices through 114 [information] to verify the information.

It was obvious that the information on the list was incorrect and incomplete. Place names were incorrect and names were wrong, such as "Yang Fulin," listed as being from Huojiacun, Ancheng Village (按城乡), Lixian (利县), Gansu Province, whom the reporter verified with the chief of the local police station as actually being "Yang Fuli," from Hejiacun, Ancheng Village (崖城乡), Lixian (礼县) in the city of Longnan, Gansu.

Passing through Shanxi, Henan, and Shaanxi looking for illegal kiln workers, Shaanxi lawyers provided the reporter with a list of kiln victims from Shaanxi over the last few years. After gaining their consent or that of their representative, the reporter drew up a list of the present conditions of thirty-six workers.

Among them, Liu Ganggang and Lu Jianwei have not yet returned home; it is unknown whether they are alive or dead. The workers who made it home still have lingering fears and anxiety; in body and soul they are suffering the after-effects of their brutal treatment in the kilns. Yang Weixing and Jia Xiaofeng passed away shortly after returning home. Some suffered skull injuries and spent a long time in the hostpital; others became mentally impaired because of head injuries. Some tremble at the mere mention of "Shanxi."

The cause of the workers who went missing after being rescued has been taken up by a reporter for an influential southern newspaper (he launched the campaign using his real name, but he has since deleted all identifying references and now goes only by "iamv"). He has launched a blog-based campaign to distribute missing person notices. By way of announcement, he writes:

I place my hopes in every single repost and republication of these missing person notices. I urge the public to turn their attention once again to the Shanxi illegal kiln affair and look for the kiln slaves who vanished after being rescued during the government's strike against the kilns. To date, two missing person notices have been issued. Other missing persons are still in the process of being confirmed; when they are, further notices will be issued.

At the end of June, the Shanxi illegal kiln affair seemed to be winding down. With the aim of personal salvation, I paid my own way to go to Shanxi for an "inspection." What I saw was still tragic; non-resolution was the "main theme." Although I had anticipated this state of affairs before I arrived, I had set off with the idea that "talk is ineffectual, it's time for action"; I found that "action is also ineffectual."

Now, judging from the associated bans, the authorities are treating this as the "aftermath" of the Shanxi illegal kiln affair. The official number has 359 kiln workers rescued, but those 359 people do not have full names (the names officially released are only those of the very first 31 people rescued from the Caosheng Village kiln). And there is nothing more about where they ended up. According to my personal investigation, many of the mentally disabled had no way to return home because they could not say where their families lived; some of those rescued vanished again because they could not find effective financial relief.

This is the "post-black-kiln" period for China. The missing people form a conspicuous dent in the vast backdrop of human degradation in China. This must be swiftly marked and swiftly mended.

The above represents my intent to take a turn in the search for the kiln workers who are once again missing.

A single individual's power is limited, but when passed on it is immense. So I thought of you - I ask you to take part in this action, to use your influence to make this search into a widespread public issue. Then this search will be as meaningful as it ought to be.

I truly believe that this search has symbolic meaning for our people. In China's "post-black-kiln period," it may indeed be necessary to pursue those responsible with full indignation, but it is even more necessary to go in direction of love: to search, to redeem, and to urge our people to work for human and humanitarian remedies - and this needs to be done for the long term.

Finding those lost kiln workers is not just for them and their families - it is for us, it is an effort to rebuild the psyche of our people.

Here's his first two "missing person" notices:

Missing person #1

"Feng Jianwei," one of the 31 enslaved workers rescued from the brick kilns at Caosheng Village, Hongdong, Shanxi Province. After being rescued in late May, 2007, "Feng Jianwei" once again disappeared.

I cannot provide any more details about Feng's situation. He is about twenty years old and may be from Luoyang, Henan, but he could also be from Liu'an, Anhui. His real name may not be Feng Jianwei.

Missing person #2

When the action against the illegal kilns in Shanxi Province began in mid-June, 2007, "Shi Guoqiang" was expelled from the kiln by the overseer. When he was rescued, he said he lived near Baigou park in Baigou Village, Gaobeidian, Baoding, Hebei Province (we did not find him when we talked to the local police station). He is about sixteen years old. His brother is called Shi Guobin. Later, he disappeared in Yongji, Shanxi.

The only thing I can be certain about Shi is that because of the brutal ordeal he endured, his mind is not clear at the moment. He could not correctly state his home address or even his real name.

Subsequently, iamv added more details concerning the search:

After the notice for "Searching for the kiln workers who have vanished again" was publicized, it gained attention and substantial support from netizens, but it also raised a few questions. My descriptions in previous "missing person" notices and related articles were not altogether clear and caused some misunderstandings; for this I apologize. Here, is a short explanation of how the information about the two missing persons was verified.

Missing person #1, Feng Jianwei, was among the first 31 people to be rescued from the Shanxi illegal kilns; those who are interested may find his name on the government-issued list of those rescued. After those 31 people were rescued, some of them disappeared again; at present I cannot confirm a list of those missing, and I have not gotten a clear explanation as to why they went missing again.

The Hongdong County government has paid considerable attention to those of the 31 who have gone missing again, and has sent out teams to search all over. So please do not hold the mistaken impression that this "search for the missing kiln workers" is a sensitive, unmentionable subject. It is something that the local government is doing as well. Websites that have deleted posts about this subject are over-anxious in their supervision.

After the Shanxi illegal kiln affair, some netizens paid their way to Shanxi to take a look around; I was among them. In Shanxi I met parents named Yu and Pan who had seen Feng Jianwei's photo at the Hongdong Civil Affairs Bureau and felt that he resembled their son. I took accompanied the two of them to every government department searching for clues about Feng Jianwei, but we came up with nothing. Just now as I was writing this explanation, I called the someone with one of the local teams searching for missing persons, and he said that the team was still searching for Feng Jianwei.

This confirms that missing person #1, Feng Jianwei, is still lost.

Missing person #2, Shi Guoqiang, was rescued in Yongji by one of the netizens mentioned earlier who paid their own way to Shanxi to investigate. When the government struck at the illegal kilns, some overseers fled leaving the kiln slaves behind; though they had their freedom the had no way to get money. Many of the kiln workers were unable to go home because of head trauma they had suffered as a result of their savage ordeal, so they just wandered about the area. Shi Guoqiang was rescued by a netizen as he was wandering and taken to the local rescue station. But regrettably, conditions at the local rescue station were deplorable, and together with Shi Guoqiang's unclear mental state, he disappeared again at the end of June.

In calling Shi Guoqiang a "missing kiln worker," I am relying on what he said to the netizen who rescued him; he is also called a vagrant. Perhaps the latter designation should be clarified a bit - he is a vagrant who suddenly appeared after the local strike against the illegal kilns.

I was unable to reach the local authorities in the course of writing this explanation, so I should say that I cannot be 100% certain that Shi Guoqiang has not been found.

A number of widely-read bloggers have republished iamv's letter this week, and the photos of Feng and Shi are currently on the front page of blog host Bullog.

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There are currently 3 Comments for In search of the missing kiln workers.

Comments on In search of the missing kiln workers

My question is this: Who got rich off of the kilns? Anyone? The whole incident smacks not just of evil, but of sadism, tacitly supported by local officials.

Sometimes, I just want to lay the whole country down on a couch and ask about it's mother.

The link to iamv's blog is broken.

Thanks for the notification, xy. Iamv's Sina blog seems to have been pulled. I've switched the links to point to the Bullog blog.

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