Stuart Foster, a 49-year-old American sociology professor, spent more than seven months in a jail in southern China, where he was forced to assemble Christmas lights for export to the US.
Foster, who had been teaching at a Guangzhou university, was arrested and taken to the White Cloud District Detention Center last April, after confessing to taking a large sum of money from his American colleague. For the next 280 days he shared a cell about the “size of a racquetball court” with around 30 other men. Days were spent assembling thousands of Christmas lights, where productivity was maintained by fear of being beat by a guard wielding a make-shift whip constructed from the Christmas light wires.
… “There were no chairs, there were no beds. We slept on the concrete floor, and most people didn’t even have a sheet and certainly no pillows. It was so crowded that most inmates had to sleep on their side.”
In the morning, Foster says, he and his mostly Chinese cellmates would spend an hour marching in place and then begin work putting together Christmas lights.
“They would bring in large, industrial plastic bags that had the components that would be assembled,” Foster recalls. “Each prisoner would get their quota, and inmates would line the walls or they would sit in circles just on the floor, assembling lights to sockets.”
The detention center didn’t provide uniforms. So inmates worked in just their underwear during the hot summer months, he says. Foster was stunned that Chinese officials put him in a cell where he participated in and witnessed forced labor.