December 14, 2005


Stifling in Jade Dust: At 31, Feng Xingzhong is dying after years of toiling in one of China's gemstone factories. He's not alone -- except in speaking up for justice. (Ching-Ching Ni, December 14, 2005, LA Times)

The boulders were as big as farm animals, and for $20 a month Feng Xingzhong's job was to slice them with an electric saw, cutting the hulks into fillets small enough to throw into a bowl.

Other workers in the jewelry factory would trim the pieces of jade, turquoise, onyx and other gemstones into little hearts and beads, polish them, drill holes and string them onto earrings, bracelets and necklaces to be shipped off to American shoppers.

Feng thought little about that, or anything else during his earsplitting 12-hour shift. By day's end, he looked like a coal miner emerging from the shaft, covered from head to toe in red, green or yellow dust, depending on the stone he had been cutting.

From age 18 to 26, Feng toiled without so much as a mask, trying to turn himself from an impoverished peasant into a prosperous city worker. He married a fellow employee, had two sons.

"We had a beautiful dream," Feng said. "To make some money, go home and start a small business."

Today, Feng hopes mostly to live long enough to collect some money from the factory where he developed silicosis, an incurable ailment known as dust lung that kills more than 24,000 Chinese workers each year in professions such as mining, quarrying, construction and shipbuilding.

Most slowly suffocate without protest. But not Feng. He sought workers' compensation. He sued his employer in two courts. He picketed near the company headquarters. He went to arbitration with the help of a Hong Kong labor group and even won a judgment.

But he hasn't received so much as a penny.

"I could die in a year or two," said Feng, now 31, who speaks in a soft, wispy voice and coughs frequently. "I am still so young. I have a wife, two children and an elderly mother. No amount of money can bring back my life. All I want is some justice."

Rural areas of China put squeeze on farmers (Calum MacLeod, 12/13/05, USA TODAY)
This year, Zhou Junniu got an unexpected gift from Beijing: The government abolished rural taxes and fees, saving the garlic farmer an amount equal to $800 annually.

He'll need every penny. Beijing's move has spurred authorities at the local level to squeeze all they can from Zhou and millions of other Chinese farmers. As a result, local governments have begun levying indiscriminate fines — often using China's strict legal limits on family size as a pretext — and employing heavy-handed collection tactics to make up for a lack of revenue from Beijing.

Since September, Zhou and his wife, both 40, have been hit with $1,000 in fines for bearing a child without official approval. In addition, they owe $4,000 in medical bills from treatment for her 9-year-old son Qianlong, who was badly beaten when he tried to prevent police from arresting Zhou, his stepfather. [...]

Zhou boils with frustration when he talks about his arrest and feelings of powerlessness. "I was so angry when I found out they had hit my son," he says. "But I do not dare sue them in court. It was the court officials that did this. If I sue, they will take me away and beat me."

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 14, 2005 7:48 AM

Add a few dollars, some AK-47's, a lot of cell phones, and hello, revolution!

Posted by: Mikey at December 14, 2005 7:55 AM

Have you got a subject heading you're filing these stories under? I didn't see a China link at left.

Posted by: RC at December 14, 2005 9:34 AM

Ohhh, the chicoms handed the peasants their revolution?

Idiots - they still don't get US.

As long as there is some faceless bureaucrat far, far away, no one really does anything.

But now, all politics is local. And they know where they live.

Posted by: Sandy P at December 14, 2005 10:25 AM

All this tells me is that China needs a labor union badly. But it worked for the Poles.

Posted by: Chris Durnell at December 14, 2005 10:47 AM


Posted by: oj at December 14, 2005 11:26 AM

looks like the PRC is where we were in the late 1800's/early 1900's. that steam powered missile they are working on will catapault them into the lead in no time.

Posted by: noam chomsky at December 14, 2005 1:41 PM

noam, don't you remember your friends over in the Silicon valley sold them the latest missile technology and gave bubba a finder's fee. Chicoms haven't used steam engines for quite a while now.

Posted by: erp at December 14, 2005 6:56 PM


I think this noam is on our side. Granted, there have been so many toes and brains and grunts commenting here lately that it is hard to remember exactly who is whom.

All I know is that if somebody posts as saddam's bunghole, they better pay me a royalty fee, because I said it first.

Posted by: ratbert at December 15, 2005 1:14 AM