She Started The Storm Over The Shanxi Illegal Brick Kilns
(Southern Weekend) She Started The Storm Over The Shanxi Illegal Brick Kilns. By Zhu Hongjun (朱红军). July 12, 2007.
Compared to those parents who are at a loss and have no documentary material about their missing children, Xin Yanhua (辛艳华) had received an excellent education and she writes wonderfully. More importantly, she was familiar with the Internet as her husband had started a website with others.
On June 5, 2007, Xin Yanhua wrote <The blood-and-tears appeal from 400 fathers: Who will save our children?> and published it at Dahe Net. Afterwards, she vanished from view. "I made a post as a family member of a victim. I did not participation in the liberation, and I did not conduct any investigation at the scene. I should not be the principal player," she said.
But there came a day when she could no longer hide herself.
Without her, the Shanxi illegal brick kilns affair may never be uncovered.
On the evening of June 6, 2007, <The blood-and-tears appeal from 400 fathers: Who will save our children?> appeared at Dahe net. The author of this post which gathered several hundred thousand page views signed as "Central Plain Old Pi."
Fourteen days later, "Central Plain Old Pi" posted again with the second public letter of appeal, <Failing to find their children, 400 parents petition again>. The post asked: The rescue work has almost reached an end, but where are the children?
When Shanxi governor Yu Youjun was interviewed by Southern Weekend over the illegal brick kilns, he mentioned that the Shanxi police were seeking to contact the person who posted about the "400 fathers" in order to find more clues that might help them solve the case of the illegal brick kilns.
The sincerity of the senior officials might have triggered the third post. On July 6, "Central Plain Old Pi" contacted Southern Weekend, disclosed her identity and sent in her third open letter. Previously, she had done everything that she could to avoid making any contact with the Shanxi authorities while trying to collect the list and contact information with the parents with missing children.
The real name of "Central Plain Old Pi" is Xin Yanhua. She is an ordinary citizen of Zhengzhou city, Henan province. She is the mother of a 7-year-old child, she is gentle, frail-looking and low-keyed. For many years, she was involved in educational work. When her 16-year-old nephew was kidnapped, sold to a Shanxi brick kiln and subsequently rescued by other parents seeking their own missing children, she became involved in the illegal brick kiln affair. "Everything that I did was done out of gratitude and justice," she said.
This was the first time that she faced the public media directly. This 32-year-old mother enumerated frankly the reasons why she made those posts and her sorrow, anger, elation and worries about the families of the victims.
In early April 2007, the nephew of Xin Yanhua -- a sixteen-year-old boy -- walked out of his home in Zhoukou in Henan and then disappeared in the vicinity of the Zhengzhou train station. It would turn out that he was sold by a slave trader to an illegal brick kiln in Yongji county, Shanxi province.
In early May, Xin Yanhua's elder brother had no luck in finding his son and therefore sought the help of his sister, because she was more experienced with the ways of the world and may be able to help.
At around that time, Henan TV's Metro Channel reporter Fu Zhenzhong and several parents were investigating the illegal black kilns in Shanxi and rescuing some of the kidnapped children. On May 26, Xin's nephew and two other kiln workers were rescued and taken back to Zhengzhou by the parents with missing children. Xin Yanhua could barely recognize her nephew: he had long hair and glazed eyes, and his body was covered with bruises and wounds oozing with pus. That night, Xin heard the shocking details of what happened at the illegal brick kiln from the narration of her nephew.
She offered to pay those parents, but they turned her down. They said, "This is not about the money. This is about the wretched children." In her gratitude, she dragged her nephew over and told him, "Please make a bow to these parents to show your gratitude." The child broke out in tears instead, and all the parents were crying as well.
"I did this out of gratitude, and also because of the conscience of a mother." Xin Yanhua felt that she should contribute her meager efforts to help those parents.
There are many more children who remain missing. This was like looking for a needle in an ocean. The parents asked the Henan authorities to make the rescues across the provincial borer but were informed, "It is not easy to make rescues across provinces, because we need the cooperation of the Shanxi authorities."
Xin Yanhua's husband Zhang Zhibo used to work for a newspaper that focused on the legal system. Based upon his professional experience, he suggested to his wife to help the parents through the media.
A metro newspaper in Henan province had asked to interview and Xin Yanhua expressed two hopes: first, to call on the government to rescue the children across the provinces; secondly to praise those parents who worked voluntarily to rescue other children without compensation while enduring the pain of the loss of their own children. The report appeared the next day, but there was little response from those 300 or 400 printed words. Xin Yanhua also called the hotline of many provincial and national media outlets, but with no success.
There was the attention from Henan TV, but since the metro channel did not have satellite broadcasts and the other Henan media did not follow up, there was no progress for the cross-province rescue project.
The Internet became the only option to obtain aid.
Compared to those parents who are at a loss and have no documentary material about their missing children, Xin Yanhua had received an excellent education and she writes wonderfully. More importantly, she was familiar with the Internet as her husband had started a website with others.
On June 6, Xin Yanhua began to write this famous forum post . She admitted honestly to the Southern Weekend reporter that she wanted urgently to help those parents with missing children and therefore she did not obtain a concrete number of these parents. "400" was based upon the list that several parents had compiled, as well as the responses after Henan TV broadcast its program.
With the advice of her friends, she did some precautionary work -- for example, she chose the alias 'Central Plain Old Pi' because it is impossible to determine the identity the individual. She did not make the post from her home or office, but used the computer at the office of a friend.
It was also an effort to figure out where to make this post. She originally wanted to post at Xinhua Net as a comment. But "because the post involved sensitive content, it was rejected." Ultimately, the post was successfully published at Dahe Net as a comment without a specific topic. When she registered her user name, she used the email account of her husband.
On the next day, the Dahe Net special commentator gave this post a high degree of attention. On the evening of June 7, it was placed at the top of Dahe Net along with the photographs from the Henan TV Metro Channel. As of June 18, that forum post has more than 300,000 pageviews. The same post that was re-published at the Tianya forum has more than 580,000 pageviews.
The raging storm of Internet opinion directly triggered the follow-up by the traditional media. The Southern Weekend reporter rushed to the scene immediately as a result of the Internet forum post. Afterwards, the state leaders issued directives, and the Shanxi and Henan provincial government reacted in a timely manner to initiate an unprecedented campaign against the illegal brick kilns.
But this low-keyed mother chose to conceal her identity. When the media from around the country converged to Zhengzhou while the case of the Shanxi illegal brick kilns received more and more attention, she did not take on any interviews.
She did so because she did not want any suspicion that she was in this for the fame, and she also did not want her normal life to be interrupted. "I only made a post as the family member of one victim. I did not participate in the rescue effort, and I did not conduct any live investigations. I should not be the principal player," she said.
She continued to maintain contact with the parents who are seeking their missing children. She paid attention every day to progress of the large-scale effort in Shanxi. She knew that out of the six parents who initiated the campaign, only one had found the child successfully.
In late June, the media attention was waning and many of the parents in the frontline have not yet gotten their children back as they wished. Xin Yanhua learned from the frontline parents that some of the children were illegally moved away by the subcontractors in order to elude the investigators. At that time, she wrote the second letter in the name of the 400 fathers and she chose to send the letter directly to two reporters and asked them to publish it.
But on the next day, her letter was published including the incorrect spellings. After being cited by many media, the letter became the focus of attention and it was even mis-interpreted that "the parents of the missing children are dissatisfied with the Shanxi rescue effort."
The Shanxi provincial governor Yu Youjun made a directive the next day on the basis of the letter and asked the Shanxi public security bureau to contact the letter writer to obtain more clues to solve the case.
Thus ended the tranquil life of Xin Yanhua.
For purpose of evasion, she moved from her city home to stay at the dormitory of a friend. She changed her mobile telephone number. The Shanxi police followed the clues and went to the company from which she made the posts in the hope of contacting her, but they were unsuccessful.
At this time, the storm over the Shanxi illegal brick kilns was coming to an end. Through a large-scale investigation and rescue effort, the Shanxi government announced that there were 12 child laborers out of the 359 brick kiln workers who were liberated.
This number is significantly short of the "400 fathers seeking their missing children" in the forum post. After the second forum post was made, Xin Yanhua saw a small number of accusations on the Internet that the number was exaggerated, plus other insinuations about ulterior motives.
Xin Yanhua felt wronged and emphasized to the Southern Weekend reporter: "I made the post in order to help the parents with missing children. On one hand, I was grateful to them for the rescue of my nephew. On the other hand, I did this out of the sense of justice and conscience of a mother." In order to prove that she was telling the truth, she began to collect the evidence in early July and she will contact the relevant departments when she is ready.
On July 7, she provided Southern Weekend with a list of the parents with missing children -- there were almost 400 names. She said that at least two-thirds of the missing children were from Henan, and these include adults, teenagers and children.
"The children referred to in the Internet post are determined from the viewpoint of the parents, and they are not restricted solely to child laborers," Xin Yanhua explained.
On that evening, she sent a SMS to our reporter: "After making the preparations, I feel a lot better. For the first time in recent days, I felt really good walking down the street."
Related Link: In search of the missing kiln workers Joel Martinsen, Danwei