WASHINGTON ? Ten-year-old Zhang Yanhong knew that if she refused her teacher’s orders, she could be forced to pay a fine or kneel on the classroom floor for hours. So the girl obeyed her teacher – and paid with her life.
What were the teacher’s orders? To manufacture fireworks – fireworks that exploded, killing 42 people, most of them 3rd- and 4th-graders.
Last month I announced my campaign to boycott Chinese fireworks for celebrations next July 4.
Since then, I’ve learned the idea is better and more needed than ever.
It turns out Chinese fireworks made by forced child labor have come under investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor, according to Carl Olson, chairman of State Department Watch, a foreign policy watchdog group based in Washington.
The massive use of Chinese schoolchildren in the manufacturing of fireworks destined for the United States and, ironically, patriotic celebrations of freedom and justice, came to light following the explosion that killed 42 at the elementary school in Jiangxi province.
The children were tasked with daily producing 1,000 firecrackers each and the money from the business went to school officials.
The government blamed the horror on a lone madman. But relatives of the children complained for three years about school officials forcing their children to assemble fireworks during and after school.
State Department Watch brought the incident to the attention of the Labor Department.
Purchases by the federal government of goods made by forced child labor were banned earlier this year. The Department of Labor is responsible for identifying offending countries and products. To date the list includes only 11 products from two countries – Burma and Pakistan.
“This terrible abuse of schoolchildren cannot be permitted to continue,” said Olson. “The federal government and the rest of the nation must refuse to support such forced labor.”
Widespread use of schools for forced labor in China was described in the New China News Agency last year. According to a Los Angeles Times report from last March, 91 percent, or about 620,000, of China’s secondary schools have some business run by the government officials, yielding $15 billion – nearly equal to the central government’s entire education budget.
What does all this have to do with July 4 and fireworks in the United States?
Every year – at least in areas where selling fireworks is still legal – groups like churches, service clubs, schools, etc. raise money by selling fireworks to the public.
In 2001 for instance, fireworks sales totaled an estimated $650 million, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association.
So what’s wrong with selling fireworks? Am I worried about accidents?
Actually, no. In fact, while sales of fireworks are way up, fireworks-related injuries are way down – falling over 86 percent in the last 24 years.
No, my concern about all the fireworks sales in America is centered around where those pyrotechnic devices are manufactured – in China.
How can this nation celebrate its independence every year by supporting the evil empire in Beijing?
Every single fireworks package I see – at least those available to ordinary consumers – is marked “made in China.” While there may be alternatives, I have never seen any.
So I want to set off some rhetorical fireworks here while we still have time to prepare for July 4, 2002. Let’s boycott Chinese fireworks. Let’s say no to distributing Chinese-made fireworks in the U.S. Let’s celebrate Independence Day by supporting independence and freedom throughout the world – including China.
By the way, don’t count on the Labor Department to do the right thing on this fireworks issue. Let’s remember who is in charge as secretary – Elaine Chao, noted for her cozy ties to the Beijing leadership.
If you want to sound off in protest of the child labor in China, Olson advises the point of contact is: Maureen Jaffe, acting director, International Child Labor Program, Bureau of International Labor Affairs, U.S. Department of Labor, Room N-2431, Washington, DC 20210.
But I think it’s time to take matters into our own hands. Don’t wait for the government to act. Maybe it’s not a big step – a dramatic step – but I think it’s time to start reclaiming our national soul. A good first step would be for charitable organizations across America to swear off the sales of Chinese-made fireworks next summer.
Are you with me? If so, I’ll keep hammering away at this theme and reminding you of the latest developments through next Independence Day.
“The China Threat,” Bill Gertz’s book about how People’s Republic targets America, is available in WorldNetDaily’s online store.