Message in a Bottle

Or a gravestone, as the case may be.

From the Oregonian, December 23, 2012

The letter came in a box of Halloween decorations purchased at Kmart, but for a year Julie Keith never knew. It gathered dust in her storage, a haunting plea for help hidden among artificial skeletons, tombstones and spider webs.

Keith, a 42-year-old vehicle donation manager at a southeast Portland Goodwill, at one point considered donating the unopened $29.99 Kmart graveyard kit. It was one of those accumulated items you never need and easily forget. But on a Sunday afternoon in October, Keith pulled the orange and black box from storage. She intended to decorate her home in Damascus for her daughter’s fifth birthday, just days before Halloween.

She ripped open the box and threw aside the cellophane.

That’s when Keith found it. Scribbled onto paper and folded into eighths, the letter was tucked between two Styrofoam headstones.


“If you occasionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization. Thousands people here who are under the persicution of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.”

“People who work here have to work 15 hours a day without Saturday, Sunday break and any holidays. Otherwise, they will suffer torturement, beat and rude remark. Nearly no payment (10 yuan/1 month, or $1.61).”

“People who work here, suffer punishment 1-3 years averagely, but without Court Sentence (unlaw punishment). Many of them are Falun Gong practitioners, who are totally innocent people only because they have different believe to CCPG. They often suffer more punishment than others.”

The letter was not signed.


The graveyard kit, the letter read, was made in unit 8, department 2 of the Masanjia Labor Camp in Shenyang, China. Chinese characters broke up choppy English sentences.


The administrative building of the Masanjia labor camp and other facilities in China.

Keith started doing homework and digging around, and the letter was widely published on the internet. Responses ranged from outraged to skeptical, including those who pointed out that her publication of this material put the writer at risk if he/she were real.

On June 11th, 2013, The New York Times published a follow-up article indicating that the writer had been found, and was no longer in the labor camp. It’s an interesting read and lends credence to the original story, although there has been no other independent confirmation from inside China.

It appears that many companies who import Chinese products have no policies that bar the use of forced labor.

Just something else to think about the next time you go shopping at a big box store and the label says “Made in China.”


The Totally Ghoul product – the letter from China was found in a package like this.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

One response to “Message in a Bottle

  1. Pingback: There’s bad translation, and then there’s this. | Playing in the World Game

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