China’s Lost Sons follows one man’s inspirational search for his son, who was abducted and sold into slavery. The film exposes 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. As China powers ahead, often the most vulnerable are being left behind and all too often exploited. This is a film that goes to the fault lines in understanding China’s most repressive crackdown since Tiananmen 1989.


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GUARDIAN REVIEW: Oliver Steeds’s film about a Chinese man’s search for his kidnapped son in the brick factories of Shaanxi province was the real journalistic deal

“Unreported World (Channel 4) is one of those documentary strands that makes me feel ashamed to call myself a journalist. While I’m sitting here on my arse watching the telly, Oliver Steeds is tearing about in China attempting to wield the sword of truth. That’s not easy to do when he’s got three sinister black cars on his tail most of the time. Secret police. The authorities aren’t massive fans of foreign journalists working on human rights stories over there.

Steeds is on the case of a young man with learning difficulties called He Wen, who was kidnapped to go and work in a brick factory. He was groomed and tricked by a woman pretending to be offering work. Slavery, in the 21st century, in the fastest growing economy in the world, is hard to believe. Steeds joins He Wen’s father and together they search for his missing son among the hundreds of brick kilns of Shaanxi province in China’s industrial heartlands. The kilns, infernos of abuse, open and close when and where needed. Needles and haystacks come to mind.

It’s a sad and shocking human tragedy, made more so because of the exploitation of He Wen’s frailty. But it also tells a bigger story. Twenty new cities will be built in China every year for the next 20 years. Four hundred new cities. This kind of growth needs a workforce of almost unimaginable size – 200 million labourers, a silent army without a voice and without rights, often a long way from home. At the bottom of the pile are the mentally ill, people like He Wen. The state cares little for these people, and as China marches inexorably forward the most vulnerable are being left behind.

Oliver Steeds doesn’t find He Wen – though it was one hell of an ask. He Wen’s father will carry on looking, probably for ever. But at least Steeds tells He Wen’s story. Along the way, he uncovers not just the stories of other unfortunate people who have been kidnapped and tortured, or who have simply disappeared without trace, but also the story of a People’s Republic that cares little for its people. For that, he should be applauded.”





  • 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.


  • TX: Channel 4: 7:30pm;  22nd April 2011
  • Role: Correspondent
  • Director: Matt Hatt
  • Editor: David Marsland
  • Series Editor: George Waldrum
  • Production: Quicksilver Media