After an Oregon mother finds an SOS letter in a box of Halloween decorations, a story unfolds about the man who wrote it: a Chinese political prisoner, sentenced without trial to work grueling hours at a 'reeducation' camp — manufacturing the products sold in our own big-box stores.
Readers should be aware that horrific violence occurs throughout the book. Pang’s reporting provides an unflinching glimpse into the human costs behind our cheap products, and those costs include sexual assault, torture, maiming and death ... Prior knowledge about China is not needed to understand Made in China. The book is an excellent entry-level explanation of Chinese religious and political history, and how human rights abuses intersect with billion-dollar businesses.
Amelia Pang exposes the shadow economy of forced labor camps beyond the reach of hidden-camera-toting citizen-journalists that may also, stealthily, produce the goods we consume ... Pang adroitly situates readers to Chinese culture and society; in particular, she conveys a sense of a China independent of the Chinese Communist Party with which it has become synonymous ... Pang writes movingly of the Uyghurs’ enforced assimilation. She also writes sympathetically about Falun Gong, of which her mother is a 'practitioner.' She also discloses, 'I used to write for the Epoch Times, a US-based Chinese dissident news organization … staffed mostly by Falun Gong followers.' But she passes up an opportunity in leaving it at that. The Epoch Times has been in the vanguard of reporting on laogai; since Pang left, it’s also gone all-in on Trump and COVID-19 conspiracy-mongering. The peril is that the problems she identifies will disappear into the maw of our culture war. They deserve so much more than this.
Pang’s book feels timely and urgent. Her argument starts here, in the room with the mushrooms, and goes like this: that the way we consume is unsustainable; that something as seemingly trivial as paper mushrooms and Halloween decorations are entangled in a system that hides atrocity by design and makes complicity — with authoritarian governments, with dangerous working conditions and even with religious persecution — part of modern life. Pang, a freelance journalist who grew up in a Mandarin-speaking household, is most effective when she is drawing out these juxtapositions, putting production and torture matter-of-factly side by side ... Made in China gets off to a rocky start; Pang does not hit her stride until a few chapters in ... This opening conceit dissolves quickly and the early pages of Pang’s book race through Sun’s childhood and, at the same time, survey decades of Chinese history in passages that are sometimes sweeping and reductive.