In 2012, Julie Keith found a letter in a Halloween decoration.
It was a foam tombstone that the Damascus, Oregon mother had purchased from her local Kmart the year before.
Inside was an SOS from the Masanjia Labour Camp, one of China’s most infamous prisons. The letter, written in Chinese and English, begged the recipient to contact human rights whistleblowers.
“Thousands people here who are under the persicution (sic) of the Chinese Communist Party Government will thank and remember you forever.” the letter reads.
Keith went to the press. Soon, the world’s eyes were on Masanjia— but no one knew which daring prisoner had slipped the note into the package. Until now.
Award-winning Canadian filmmaker Leon Lee tracked down Sun Yi, a quiet, unassuming engineer who penned the letter in a tombstone.
The result is Letter from Masanjia— a film that explores a single man’s tragedy in the context of a global crisis.
Yi, a practitioner of the persecuted Falun Gong religious minority in China, was imprisoned without trial for his political and religious views. He was forced to work inhumane hours preparing products for export— especially Halloween decorations.
Yi had the idea to start hiding notes in the packages— but soon one was discovered. In response, the guards tortured Yi and fellow Falun Gong followers, sometimes for months on end.
It wasn’t until years after Yi’s release that Keith found his letter, one of 20 bound for the outside world.
Letter from Masanjia, at its heart, is a film about Yi’s struggle to overcome persecution and imprisonment in his home country.
But it also speaks to the greater crisis of global supply chains, and the networks of slave or grossly underpaid labour that exists beneath what we buy everyday. After all, Yi wrote 20 notes— but only one person answered the call.
Letter from Masanjia is showing this Thursday, August 9th at the Vancity Theatre in Vancouver, Canada.