Hacker News new | comments | show | ask | jobs | submit login
The SOS in my Halloween decorations (bbc.com)
394 points by tlrobinson 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 70 comments





An American found a SOS message inside the Halloween decoration package, saying the SOS writer is held at concentration camp, tortured and forced to overwork.

She published the message and it was fact.

The writer fled to Jakarta. They've met.

Then, the writer was suspected to be killed by Chinese agent.

> was contacted by a suspected Chinese agent - and two months later he died of acute kidney failure. Despite a request from his ex-wife and sisters, there was no investigation into the cause of death. Leon is suspicious: "He had no kidney problems before and when I was there in Indonesia he seemed perfectly healthy."

A very good non-fiction dystopian novel.


Yes, and three more points a.) his wife divorced him to have plausible deniability and they were going to remarry and almost got there b.) one of his coworkers helped him and was tortured and did not give him up which is unlike anything popular media/the United States government tells us about torture c.) 160,000 Falun Gong survived the re education/organ extraction out of how many knows whom entered, now we know roughly 1,000,000 Chinese Muslims Uyghurs have been forced into re education camps.

one of his coworkers helped him and was tortured and did not give him up which is unlike anything popular media/the United States government tells us about torture

I don’t think even the most enthusiastic proponents would argue that it always works, and surely popular media is full of protagonists on whom it was ineffective.


Unfortunately, the novel doesn't seem to be ending anytime soon, given the latest re-education camps of the Uighurs.

I don't think those Uighur camps are exactly comparable to force labor camps on prisoners. If one portrays them as such they are greatly twisting the facts.

Feels like this could well be Falun Gong propaganda. They are known for fabricating stories to discredit the Chinese gov. There are multiple such "notes from prison factory" stories floating around in the media already. It's hard to ascertain the veracity of them, especially as they appear all around the place and seem to suspiciously follow a similar pattern. There are so many coincidences in this story. For example, how would a normal middle-aged Chinese be able to write coherent English after all; how was he able to get pen and paper in the prison, if the conditions were that bad; how, if the prison guard actually found the letter, they didn't know it was penned by him: They might well be unable to read English, but they can definitely read the Pinyin which is used to spell out his name.

I'm not saying that the Chinese government are not capable of streneous labor camps on their prisoners, but Falun Gong is not anything good either. This report made it out as if they were "prosecuted" just because they were growing too large, while the simple fact is that they are essentially a cult organization that swindled millions out of retirees, and organized attacks which destroyed public TV stations and local government institutions which dared to call their bluffs (yeah, sitting in front of Tian'anmen is one thing, but locally they have been much more violent), and therefore was eventually clamped down out of existence in the mainland by the authorities. Ever since then they have been (deliberately) supported by western money to perform anti-China propaganda. Most of what they write on their pamphlets/publications are pure fabrication or at least gross mischaracterizations. Ask 10 Chinese around you and 9 out of them will tell you how laughable and unreliable Falun Gong is. They're definitely not beyond fabricating stories and creating characters just to feed the anti-China rhetoric.

The fact that the Chinese government is authoritarian doesn't automatically mean that every enemy of it is automatically "good", or that every vivid accusation against it is factual. Anti-China propaganda does exist, and unfortunately it more usual than not doesn't get distinguished in the western media.

Also the end of the article which links this incident with the internment camps in Xinjiang is unreasonable. Prison labor camps are one thing, while the main purpose of the re-education camps in Xinjiang is not to hold those youths forever and use them as cheap labor, but rather try to ensure that they don't get easily swayed by extremism. Whether the program can achieve its end and whether the format in which it's carried out is suitable, is debatable, but to equate it with brutal prison labor camps is just deliberately misleading and dishonest. Also the Chinese government doesn't deny their existence at all so to call them "secret detention camps" is just simply false.


Wikipedia's summary shows long-running awareness and criticism of the practice which had gone on since 1957. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Re-education_through_labor

So that story and another article about womens' conditions in the camps was the catalyst for change. Now imagine if the Portland newspaper was owned by a larger company, who determined it was not in their interest to publish a story whose veracity could not be fully determined and that could worse the relations with their Chinese investors.

On the other hand it's sad that Humans Right Watch could go on for years about this, and this personal story was enough to get people talking. Similar to KSA's destruction of Yemen being hardly visible until the recent murder.


"one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic"

Yet another reason to not buy cheap made in China products. Don't buy those "halloween in a box" things, or similar junk.

Prison labor+questionable environmental record+environmental cost of shipping adds up to a really bad idea.

Just put together some stuff yourself, from scrap wood and stuff most people have lying around anyway, instead of horrible styrofoam junk.


>Just put together some stuff yourself, from scrap wood and stuff most people have lying around anyway

The intersection of HNers and DIYers is much smaller than you think. Also when you're paying $2500 for a 500ft^2 apartment in SF you don't tend to hang on to things like scrap wood.


In my experience, the hacker/DIYer/tinkerer crossover is pretty big. Certainly in my circle of acquaintances.

I agree but the crossover between the tech demographic and the DIY demographic seems to mostly be with using software and electronics skills to have add additional functionality to things. A few people will get into hobby CNC and car tuning but people tend not to branch out into multiple expensive hobbies so if electronics/software hacking is your thing you're probably not going to go too deep into those.

Most people won't pick up woodworking skills until they own their own home and need to maintain it and only people with woodworking skills will have a pile of scrap wood around. Keeping scrap material in general around "because it might be useful" is not something the HN crowd is generally predisposed to doing.

Basically, we're mostly a bunch of office workers so expecting more than a couple people to whip up decorations out of whatever is lying around is kind of unrealistic since only a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of people here are going to be in a position to do that.

And before everyone comments about how they're personally an exception and they drag sheets of plywood home on the roof of their smart car I'm talking about the typical case here.


Instead of focusing on the plywood part, let's just get back to the point that "everyone can make DIY Halloween decorations", even if you live in a tiny appartement. Pumpkins, candles, white sheet tied to a string for ghosts, and then let your imagination run wild with scissors and kraft paper.

The CCP considers Falun Gong/Dafa to be a cult. And in some instances they can certainly appear that way. A long time ago I had a chinese-american girlfriend. And as we were walking past a Falun Gong demonstration in NYC she remarked they were a dangerous cult. I asked why she would think that and her response was that their practitioners self-immolate and only a lunatic would do that. I've carried that thought with me ever since. Only recently have I discovered the immolation demonstrations were, yet again, CCP propaganda.

Simplistic view unfortunately. In most cases, self-immolation is the expression of utter hopelessness, desperation when basic, core values central to your life are taken away and the person doesn't see how to continue. The people doing it are not brainwashed. And apart from few isolated cases, they are not crazy either.

I would never ever do anything like that (or suicide for that matter), but as in most matters, things are more complex than first glance might tell.


The "dangerous cult" thing would have been bullshit even if the immolation stories were true, though. Self-immolation and other suicide protests are a well-known way to bring attention to an overlooked cause. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-immolation

I think there are far better ways to bring attention to a cause and stay alive. Immolation is a one and done thing and it may not leave the intended result. Jim Jones[0] was an activist but do you think any remembers him for that? No, he's remembered as a mass murdering cult leader.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Jones#Mass_murder_in_Jones...


I don't know if it's an effective tactic, but when a desperate, oppressed person chooses to peacefully martyr themself as an act of protest, dismissing them as a "dangerous lunatic" seems deeply short-sighted.

And it has so little to do with Jim Jones brainwashing and murdering 900-odd people that I'm really not sure why you brought that up.


Geeze, I didn't realize the faded paint look on cheap styrofoam decorations were hand-scrubbed by slaves. Something about that hits me harder than other stories of cheap labor. It's just such a frivolous forgettable item.

Wow, they kinda buried the lede at the end there. He was apparently assassinated after the publicity, from the sound of it.

The lack of evidence that his death was an assassination is why this isn't the lead. The other parts of the story are factual and supported by evidence. Suspicions about the cause of his death are just that: suspicions.

Fairly strong suspicions, but the fact that they didn’t use that makes it real reporting.

Also makes the impact of the story stronger as far as I’m concerned.


This is the crazy part for me:

They suggested that she contact human rights organisations, so Julie rang up and left messages with several - but she never received a reply.

What is up with non-replies from organizations? She reaches out and nothing. It's not a Facebook Ad Request appeal (an aside, is crazy how non-responsive they can be and get away with it) it's human rights!


I keep wondering how some Chinese businesses can be profitable selling stuff at what seems to be impossibly low prices (example : https://www.amazon.fr/dp/B00YMIKRTA/ 0.97EUR, postage included). If cost of labour is removed from the equation (slave labour), that can explain a lot.

Indeed. I just bought a £1.50 including delivery embedded switch mode power supply yesterday.

This doesn't account for the labor costs, but Planet Money had a great explanation of how shipping rates across borders work (and don't reflect true costs): https://www.npr.org/sections/money/2018/08/01/634737852/epis...

I know the shipping rates system. It’s the entire supply chain that gets me. How do they do that for £1.50 when I can’t get the parts for less than £15 here in huge volumes.

I am deeply disturbed by what we are seeing in China. The Great Firewall, massive concentration camps in Xinjiang, a new "social credit" system - I think the dystopia of 1984 is becoming a reality. I am afraid that as a society we have the complacency that the "good guys" - democracy, human rights, freedom - will always win. Stalinism and facism eventually fell, but the Communist Party of China is still going strong, and seems to be more than able to extend its grip to the 21st century.

And no one will stand up to them because they are too economically and culturally powerful.

This to me is a reminder why it is so important that the people control the means of production. Whether it be the Chinese Government or Amazon, concentrated power leads that power to make anti social decisions. Harm to the environment, harm to individuals, and harm to society can be incentivized by concentration of power.

I believe a vitally important way to fight those powers is to build independent people-first power. We can do it. Our earth is so productive now that it’s possible to live like a king without hurting others. But we must abstain from buying this cheap plastic garbage like the product the woman found the note in. Buying products we know will become waste, or whose workers we can’t account for, means we are directly supporting the destruction of the earth and of society.

We have to stand up. We must. There is no other way to change. Not voting, not blogging. We must stop being consumers of harmful products and use our money to support organizations that truly represent change.


>This to me is a reminder why it is so important that the people control the means of production.

Absolutely. The reasons for social control/ownership of the means of production are more than economic, it is a question of democracy. Voting isn't good enough, it helps people control the part of the power that is in the hands of the government, but not the rest. The more power is in the hands of corporations, the less power is in the hands of people. Eventually, even in "western democracies" (let alone authoritarian nations), much of the power answers to an elite few and not to the people. One even reconsiders whether to truly call them "democracies" when this is the case.

Social ownership / common control of the means of production lets the people democratically decide how to best use those resources and those means to the best ends, rather than to the benefit of a select elite, whose interests may or may not, by pure coincidence, align with those of the general public. The latter system is broken by design.


> people control the means of production

Technically speaking, Amazon’s shareholders are people too - they aren’t part of the government.

Should we mandate that workers own 50% of every corporation?

Decision making is going to be much harder as you have to poll the workers to get a majority vote.

What happens if the corporation gets super powerful? It’s still a concentration of power - the executive and the workers of the company.


>> it is so important that the people control the means of production

> Technically speaking, Amazon’s shareholders are people too - they aren’t part of the government.

You left out a very important word from your quote of the GP that's critical to the GP's meaning. I quoted him more fully and emphasized the unquoted word, the, above.

The people != some random group of people who aren't part of the government. The people should be understood as all the people of the nation. "People," by itself, could be a small (or large) group of oligarchs. Those are very different things.

> Should we mandate that workers own 50% of every corporation?

> Decision making is going to be much harder as you have to poll the workers to get a majority vote.

Democracies have a lot of experience with representative bodies that can support faster decision-making while still having some accountability to the people. It's a straw-man to to present worker representation as being direct democracy for every decision.


> The people != some random group of people who aren't part of the government. The people should be understood as all the people of the nation. "People," by itself, could be a small (or large) group of oligarchs. Those are very different things.

That’s the thing. Anyone can be a shareholder of a corporation. There is nothing preventing anyone from buying shares. You just have to be willing to risk your money to buy said shares that may or may not yield any returns - i.e. risk throwing away your money.

> Democracies have a lot of experience with representative bodies that can support faster decision-making while still having some accountability to the people. It's a straw-man to to present worker representation as being direct democracy for every decision.

On a separate note, THE people already have democratic control over the most powerful organization in the land, their government.

The government can unilaterally (corporations have no real say) set laws and even break up corporations or even just outright seize them (i.e. nationalization).


> That’s the thing. Anyone can be a shareholder of a corporation. There is nothing preventing anyone from buying shares.

Are you serious? There's nothing preventing anyone from buying shares, except having lots of money to spare. The people include a great many who don't. That's the thing.

Then you have things like share classes with massively disproportionate voting power and individuals with massively more money than is typical.

The people aren't going to find representation and control through shareholding.

> On a separate note, THE people already have democratic control over the most powerful organization in the land, their government.

One difficulty with the current system is that the actions the people can take to influence the government are too remote from the use of that government's power, so in the end it does a poor job diffusing the "concentrated power" that the GGGP post was talking about. This is true especially in the present day, when that "concentrated power" has learned to wield its influence to blunt the people's electoral influence over the government.


Guess it’s the same everywhere. Downvotes if you disagree.

> Guess it’s the same everywhere. Downvotes if you disagree.

BTW, if you're not aware, I can't downvote you.

I doubt the downvotes are due to an ideological disagreement or anything like that. If I had to guess the reason, it's that the ideas you're expressing here just don't have much merit and are pretty tone deaf to boot. They're not that much different than saying a penniless, starving man should just buy food, which you personally find pretty affordable as a well-compensated software engineer.


> lots of money to spare

You can buy stock with just a few hundred dollars ...

You of course won’t have much voting power but you aren’t risking all that much money. If you have little to no money in it ... then you should have little to no say in how they conduct their business - it’s none of your business; Would you want random strangers to get a say in how you spend your time and money?

Regardless, no one buys stock to “have influence”. People buy stock to (ultimately) make money.

If said shareholders and their corporations are doing things that are harmful to society at large ... that’s what the government and the laws they enforce are for.

> has learned to wield its influence to blunt the people's electoral influence over the government.

And how do they do that?


I don’t really think we should mandate anything.

Also Amazon’s shareholders do not democratically control the company, so most shareholders are beholden to the board of directors and the few very wealthy large shareholders.

While I do not propose mandatory changes, I think it would behoove us to consider how current power structures affect our freedom and the freedom of others. Amazon has a lot of power over us.

What I advocate is that, if we find the current arrangement problematic, we construct alternative power structures that are democratic in nature. And we use those power structures in lieu of centralized corporate power.

If a single democratically operated company got very large and used its power in anti social ways, I would again advocate that people consider seriously the affects of that power and change their support as needed.

I do think, however, that the “problem” of large democratically controlled powers is a better problem to have than large centrally controlled powers, so it would be an improvement nonetheless.

Ideally, the democratic corporations would also make collective decisions through a congress of rotating company representatives. This would provide some forcing function that would reduce anti social behavior in a single corporation, at the risk of trade embargoes.

What do you think of that?


> What do you think of that?

We kind of already have that in that democratically elected government officials have the power to unilaterally (without corporations having a say) set laws to constrain the behavior of corporations.

Problem is most of the people don’t elect officials that do so - at least according to some people’s standards.


Institutional Ownership in Amazon is 58% - so arguably most of Amazon's shares aren't owned by people. Of course, eventually all this bottoms out in people....

>Technically speaking, Amazon’s shareholders are people too

This is a vacuous truth. Technically, everything is people, governments are people, repressive megacorps are people, oil sheiks are people. Obviously that's not what the grandparent meant.


>This to me is a reminder why it is so important that the people control the means of production

The irony of this is palpable. The communist government, who got there trumpeting this exact ideology, would be stopped by the exact same thing? Is this the case of those who dont know history are doomed to repeat it?


"the people controlling the means of production" seems to be a much more basic demand than full-blown socialism or communism or a one-party state. I could also imply worker-owned factories or unions.

If that is already problematic, then this would imply to me that the means of production should never be controlled by the people who do the actual work, otherwise we'd get an authoritarian outcome - which seems a pretty authoritarian statement in itself.


* It could also imply

>> This to me is a reminder why it is so important that the people control the means of production

> The communist government, who got there trumpeting this exact ideology, would be stopped by the exact same thing? Is this the case of those who dont know history are doomed to repeat it?

To be fair to the GP, that's not the "exact [same] ideology" it's more like the "exact same goal." There are different ways of achieving the same goal, and obviously the methods touted by the CCP in this respect are completely bankrupt (i.e. control by the people == control by a revolutionary one-party state that does not tolerate dissent).


Western leaders meet Chinese ones and make a mention of human rights… then sign trade deals anyway.

Like how western CEOs pulled out of the Saudi conference... but sent other employees as representatives. They want to look like they are opting out, but they still have every intention of being “in”.

Or maybe taking to their "friends" in the royal family about how MBS is a liability and you know ought to go.

I used to work for a big Consulting engineer who did a lot of work in the middle east and we had our friends in high places (you can probably guess who I worked for)


I am low IQ. Please give me a hint

Bechtel, Halliburton, Kellogg Brown & Root (now KBR), and Schlumbarger are among the larger energy-projects engineering firms in the US. For the UK, BP.

OP appears to be British.


Lol it was not Ove Arup (I did say consulting not contractors) much much better connected :-)


It would be nice if we could just be done with all these dictatorships at some point during my lifetime, but I frankly don’t see it happening.

Even HN is generally overflowing with pro-authoritarian sentiment and people lamenting the slow pace of western governments when you talk about how good Singapore's healthcare is, how many opportunities there are for genetics based medicine research in China, etc, etc.

I'm pretty sure people can advocate for both a little bit more efficiency in critical infrastructure and respect for human rights at the same time.

The power that lets a government steamroll opposition and quarreling over $good_thing can also be used to steamroll opposition to $bad_thing and when everyone's used to seeing the government steamroll opposition for $good_thing they don't ask questions when they see that power used for $bad_thing.

That's true. And the question - IMO worth investigating - is, is there a way to structure the system so that "steamrolling opposition and quarreling" over $good_thing is easier, while doing the same over $bad_thin is difficult? Maybe there isn't, but did we look at it hard enough? Especially that the inability of the western world to create and maintain infrastructure is starting to turn into a huge risk.

Make sure everyone in the group agrees on what good and bad things are? This is much easier in small groups

That, mind you, merely shifts the problem to "make governance-groups smaller". But no politician wants to reduce their job responsibilities such that they now govern fewer people, that's bad for their egos and their resumes.

And nobody seems to have figured out how to refactor the law so that ontology (which is finicky, takes lots of resources to get right, and could be applied globally, even if different nations will want some extra nouns and verbs for their own use) and preferences (which ought be as local as possible) are cleanly separated and the former are easily reusable across nations without obligating that such nations come to global consensus on the latter. Instead, every sovereign entity (USA and EU, not France nor Florida) is its own pile of spaghetti-code.


A steamroller is a steamroller; if all we have are steamrollers, then the only protection that $good has, is might. And I think most would agree that might shouldn't make right. That's why it's important to move away from needing global consensus on questions of law. Maybe even multiple courts could compete for customers in the same geographical areas. (But apparently the nonexistence of a monopoly in the dispute-resolution market - such a monopoly being the definition of "government" - is sacrilegious to most.)

That's an... interesting point, and maybe decentralizing law a bit would help create better societies (if people were free to move to where the law matches their beliefs), but we're talking infrastructure projects here. The kind that can require resources of whole cities to be completed, and that serve even more people. You can't avoid having to deal with many people somehow - either getting them all to agree, or overruling them by fiat.

> But apparently the nonexistence of a monopoly in the dispute-resolution market - such a monopoly being the definition of "government" - is sacrilegious to most.

It's not sacrilegious. It's just smart. A "monopoly in the dispute-resolution market", i.e. a government, is both a) something that groups of humans naturally gravitate towards as they grow, and b) an efficient solution to whole lot of problems of coordination between people.


In another thread, HN is discussing Trump's attempt at setting up a trade war. Although I honestly don't think the Kissinger school cares one bit about other people's genocides, or about dictatorships in other countries, (you've heard the quotes about how some US politicians wish our government would be more like China's, there's not a lot of moral outrage), if you want a belligerent US that gets in China's way then we probably have the ideal president for that.

We are better but also not good:

- No healthcare for everyone - War over oil - closed borders and no asylum support but cheap foreign labor


FYI, you are being downvoted not because those things are not true or bad, but because those things are totally irrelevant to the topic of whether the actions of the Chinese state are moral.

(You are also further assuming that the person to whom you are replying is a US citizen, which is far from given on HN.)


This was a tough read emotionally, especially the ending. Seems crazy to go out of their way for that (if true) once the damage has been done. Are the Chinese government that vindictive?

If they did do it, I would imagine it's to send out a message to others - you may leave China, but that may not be enough to keep you alive. That's a strong message to send to dissenters.

Oh I didn't think of that aspect. Yeah, that's very true.

The articles says that Sun Yi wrote around 20 letters, does this mean there are ~19 other people who got a letter but said nothing? It makes me wonder who often this kind of thing is tried but gets no response from the recipient of the letter.

> The articles says that Sun Yi wrote around 20 letters, does this mean there are ~19 other people who got a letter but said nothing? It makes me wonder who often this kind of thing is tried but gets no response from the recipient of the letter.

Not necessarily: Some of the letters could have been intercepted in China. Others could have made it to people who cared but were less successful in getting media attention. Still more could have been destroyed, unread, with unsold inventory.




Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact

Search: