|Heng Tinghan (L), accused of holding workers
in virtual slavery in a kiln in Hongtong country in
northern province of Shanxi, is escorted into a police car in Shiyan,
central China's Hubei Province on Saturday, June 16, 2007.
[Shiyan Evening News]
BEIJING - Chinese police have caught the boss accused of starving and beating
workers to keep them enslaved in brick kilns, Chinese press reported Sunday.
Heng Tinghan is accused of holding workers in a kiln in Hongtong county in
the northern province of Shanxi. One worker died after being beaten by one of
Heng's helpers, and police rescued 31, thin and scarred.
Police caught Heng late on Saturday after a nationwide manhunt, the official
Xinhua news agency reported.
He has become a central villain in a national drama over possibly hundreds or
more teenage and adult "slaves" forced or cheated into grueling labor in kilns,
mines and foundries across Shanxi and neighboring Henan province.
When caught in the central province of Hubei, Heng apologized for mistreating
workers but denied blame for the death of the mentally impaired man, a Hubei
"I felt it was a fairly small thing, just hitting and swearing at the workers
and not giving them wages," Heng said, according to the Shiyan Evening News.
"The dead man had nothing to do with me."
The China Youth Daily called the coercion a "shocking disgrace" exposing
officials' failure to enforce labor laws.
Dogs and beatings
"When a law is massively undercut in its implementation so that it becomes a
worthless piece of paper, then it's necessary to rethink the law itself," the
State television has reported that owners of the primitive brick-making
operations ran them like prisons with fierce dogs and beatings to deter escapes.
A sweeping police crackdown in Shanxi and Henan had so far freed 568 people
from kilns and other work sites, including 22 under the age of 18 in Shanxi,
Xinhua reported. Wang Bingbing, the owner of the kiln that Heng leased, was
detained in late May.
Local news reports said Heng had coerced or cheated the workers to the site
from March 2006, forcing them to work 16-hour days and live off mostly steamed
President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao have issued "instructions" on the
scandal, state media have reported.
But this is not the first time brutality in Shanxi's brick industry has
stirred their concern. In 2003, Wen called for tough punishment after a teenage
boy was trapped into working in a kiln in Yongji, Shanxi, media reported at the
By Saturday, Shanxi police had detained 25 people suspected of involvement in
the virtual slave trade, Xinhua said.
But a Henan reporter who had helped expose the business accused officials of
hampering parents' efforts to find missing children.
"In our reporting, the biggest obstacle has been lack of cooperation from
some authorities in Shanxi," television reporter Fu Zhenzhong told the China
"Some are still coming up with any number of ways to
obstruct parents rescuing their children."