CHINA’S LOST SONS: Unreported World, C4, 19:30 22Apr11 18Apr11

Thousands of mentally impaired people in China are being abducted into slavery. China’s Lost Sons is a documentary I’ve just made with Director Matt Haan for Channel 4’s critically acclaimed foreign affairs strand, ‘Unreported World’ to expose one of the untold stories behind China’s economic boom. This is a very dark film that focuses on one man’s inspirational search for his son. We shot this film in the midst of the most repressive crackdown since Tiananmen ’89 and I hope stories like can add some sort of context to the cracks opening up as China feels the growing pains of massive social upheaval and economic development. Click here for a clip from the film.

More Information : (and Vlogs and Blogs to come)

PRESS REVIEWS: Pick of the Day, Critics Choice, Choice of the Week etc in:
Sunday Times, Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph, Guardian, Observer, Independent, Independent on Sunday, & Radio Times.

FROM SUNDAY TIMES: Pick of the Day: Critics Choice:
“Over more than 15years, Channel 4’s dispatches from China have uncovered evils recalling the Victorian scandals exposed in Charles Dickens’s novels or the writings of social reformers. After the Dying Rooms, about deadly state orphanages, came China’s Stolen Children revealing how babies were being trafficked; and now Oliver Steeds’s poignant investigation shows a similar pattern with adults with learning difficulties.

The reporter follows a market trader in his quest to find a missing son who is strong but has the mental age of the child. What emerges is that men like him are targeted by traffickers to make bricks for construction sites. Whether officials collude in this is unclear, they certainly want it kept secret – the Channel 4 team was first trailed by spooks then expelled from the province where they were filming.”

FILM SUMMARY from C4’s Unreported Website
Reporter Oliver Steeds and producer Matt Haan travel to China to follow one father’s inspirational search for his son, who was abducted and sold into slavery. They expose one of the untold stories behind China’s economic boom, discovering how thousands of young men with mental impairments have been kidnapped and forced to work in brick factories.

The team meet 62-year-old farmer He Zhimin in Sanyuan town in central China. He Wen – his son who has the mental age of a child and used to live at home – went missing last June.

Mr He says a woman approached his son at the local market, offered him a job and money and then abducted him. Mr He believes the woman was part of a trafficking gang and that his son has been abducted and forced into a life of slavery.

The disappearance was reported to the police, but Mr He claims they have done very little and he’s been left to search for his son on his own. He tells Steeds that a few months ago, He Wen was spotted in a nearby town. Eyewitnesses told him his son was being forced to work in local brick factories, which have a reputation for using forced labour supplied by trafficking gangs.

With hundreds of brick kilns across the county, Mr He has an almost impossible task. He has visited 40 kilns and come across many other cases of mentally impaired people who have been abducted into slavery. As a result of his investigations, he’s been threatened and at times violently attacked.

The team travels with Mr He to a brick factory where he believes his son might be held. Labourers claim He Wen was forced to carry hot bricks from the oven and was beaten all over his body if he didn’t work hard enough. But the factory was recently abandoned.

Just over a month beforehand, Mr He had received a call in response to one of his posters. A mentally impaired man fitting his son’s description had been found wandering the streets.

Mr He introduces the Unreported World team to the man he found – Liu Xiaoping – along with his family. Xiaoping is 30, but he has the mental age of a child. He reveals to Mr He that he worked alongside his son in a brick factory.

Xiaoping’s father says his son was also groomed like He Wen and enslaved in brick factories for 10 months. He says his son was chained up at night. If he wasn’t working hard enough in the day a hot metal rod was burnt across his face. Xiaoping’s injuries got so bad that he couldn’t work and he was thrown out onto the streets where Mr He found him.

Mr He also introduces the team to another father, Mr Li, who says his son disappeared from the street outside his house. He believes he was abducted and is now being forced to work in a brick factory. He’s printed off over 10,000 cards with details of his son on the back but has heard nothing.

Yang Bin works for the only organisation helping families track down mentally impaired relatives who’ve been abducted. He estimates there could be at least 10,000 currently enslaved. He says it is difficult to prosecute the traffickers and brick factory owners because often the testimonies of people with mental impairment are not accepted in Chinese courts even when there is substantial evidence.

Yang Bin agrees to help Mr He, who says no witness statements have been taken by the police and he hasn’t even been allowed to register He Wen as a missing person. Yang fears local police officers could be colluding with some of the brick factory owners.

Mr He receives more potential sightings of his son from several eyewitnesses at a nearby brick factory: the same one where Xiaoping claims he was held. The team investigates, filming secretly, but unfortunately there’s no sign of He Wen. The manager denies all allegations. Despite another dead-end Mr He vows never to give up searching.

Daily Life for those abducted into slavery in brick factories

A Family’s Fear of speaking out

Visit to a charity for Mental health

7 Responses to “CHINA’S LOST SONS: Unreported World, C4, 19:30 22Apr11”

  1. Reena Says:

    Hi Olly,

    Love your new site, a lot less comments because people are using facebook, but I like writing here. Hope all is well with you and yours.
    I am hoping you will get a lot of new projects that educate us but I am hoping for happier stories. I know what you are doing is great but the stories hurt my soul. When I saw that gentlemen crying, I was about to cry. Thank God
    I was not there I would have cried like a baby. How do you keep your composer?
    I always said it take a special soul to do what you do may you stay blessed and happy.
    I will ask the universe to give you so many new shows soon, you will not know which one to choose. I do not watch TV that much anymore because there is really nothing out there to watch expect what you are giving us. Watching your new film will be hard to watch but I try to.
    If you are celebrating Easter have a great holiday. Oh yea tell your father we need to see the both of you do a show soon.
    When you get a chance come to NY love to hear you give a lecture or 2. Summer is amazing in N.Y.

    Wishing you health, happiness, love and wealth.

  2. Amanda Says:

    Hey Olly,

    I have to say this certain topic has touched my heart. I viewed some of the clips on the Channel 4 website and I could see the disgust on your face. I can’t imagine why the chinese would consider using a mentally challenged person for this type of labor, let alone any person. I have two cousins who are Autistic so this really hit close to home. In one of the videos you said that if a worker did something wrong they were most likely taken away and never seen again, but most mentally challenged people don’t have a sense of right or wrong. they cant comprehend why they did something wrong. It is unfair and cruel and I get upset just thinking about it.
    Does the Chinese government have any idea what is going on or are they involved with the abduction of these poor people?

    Hoping all is well, and wishing you health, love and happiness.


  3. Natasha Says:

    Really enjoyed the documentary, great that issue of forced labour and traficking is getting attention. It’s not just China that has these issues, the UK has many trafficked people. It is completely sickening and criminal. I hope that governments and individuals can do more to fix the situation in the future.

  4. Andrew. Says:

    Dear Mr Steeds,

    Do you keep in contact with the fathers of the enslaved sons? Has any progress been made regarding their location? How can we help? What can you or we do to ease these peoples’ suffering?

    Regards, Andrew.

  5. Tan Says:

    Hi, Olly
    Sorry, for haven’t write on your blog for a while. What is wrong with these people? Do they even have a heart? These people are human being just like them, why they think they have a right to do that to other people. Everyone that involved in this abduction have brother, sister, or maybe that could be one of their kids or love one. I would have to say that they are worst than animal, they shouldn’t even called themselves human being. Sorry, to hear about this but I guess that why we have someone like you, who brave enough to do what you are doing to bring justice to the people who cannot speak for themselves. Keep up you good work and may God always watch over you and protected you. I will always pray for you. Stay safe and take good care of yourself, Tan

  6. casey Says:

    I dont know you as a person, but I enjoy your shows. You’ve made it possible for those who are interested in history to bring your findings of history to viewers. However, you and your crew’s life isn’t worth the risk, especially with China. Explore and report. When it comes to danger, dont take a risk, step back and evaluate your position.

    Sometimes, people have to be reminded.

    I would hate to see a good journalist lose his life over another countries rules. China is not a country to mess with.


  7. Chun Lee Says:

    Dear Olly,

    I found this documentary extremely moving as the thought of enslaving mentally impaired people is incredibly distressing. I am currently waiting for information for ways to help the search for He Wen and others like him and would like to know if you keep in contact with his father to keep track of the search, if so has any progress been made?

    Take care

    Chun lee

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