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An Unexpected SOS: Letter From Masanjia At Settle Stories
Steve Whitaker, Literary Correspondent
Sun Yi
The rise, and rise, of China’s economic star has not seen an equivalent decline in its record on human rights abuses. Still in many ways a ‘closed shop’ to western eyes, those bywords for institutionalised mistrust - surveillance and incarceration - remain a common denominator of the motive-suspicious.

In a climate of state control, whistle-blowing is ad hoc, irregular, and often conditional on good luck or coincidence. The coming to light of the cruel circumstances of Sun Yi’s life depended entirely on the discovery of an SOS note attached to some Chinese-made Halloween decorations, which were opened by Julie Keith at an Oregon KMart store, and which detailed a series of systematic abuses perpetrated by the authorities in China’s notorious Masanjia labour camp.

Also by Steve Whitaker...
Poem Of The Week: ‘My Boy Is Eighteen Today’ By Helen Cadbury
Celestial Recurrences: Huddersfield Choral Society/Orchestra Of Opera North
Catherine Robinson: Local Author Nominated For Top Literary Prize
Poem of the Week: ‘Petit Mal’ by Philip Gross
After We’re Gone: All The Way Home By Jane Clarke
Sun Yi’s letter must have been sent with as much expectation as a message cast out to sea in a bottle. On the crumpled page that travelled over 5000 miles, he detailed being jailed for his spiritual beliefs, and his subjection to torture and brainwashing tactics. His message went viral and miraculously led to the eventual closure of China’s entire labour camp system.

His story is taken up by Peabody-winning Canadian filmmaker Leon Lee, who is not welcome in his native country owing to his earlier involvement in films about China’s human rights abuses. In the renowned documentary, Letter from Masanjia, he teaches Sun Yi to use camera equipment via Skype.

For over a year, Sun Yi secretly captures harrowing footage of his daily life as a human rights defender, leading up to his fleeing from the Chinese authorities. Meanwhile, just outside Portland, Oregon, Julie Keith is struggling with her own dilemmas as a mother newly embroiled in the cause. Together, these unlikely heroes expose China’s ongoing persecution of millions of people whose ideology differs from its own.

Described as ‘a potent documentary’ by the New York Times, and ‘an amazing film’ by the Los Angeles Times, the film will receive a rare showing as the first feature of Settle Stories’ brand new Lazy Sunday Afternoon Film Club season on the 24th February. The documentary will be followed by a livestreamed Q & A with director Leon Lee.

Letter from Masanjia at Settle Stories, The Joinery, Settle.
Sunday 24th February – 2pm.
Booking information: http://www.settlestories.org.uk/letterfrommasanjia

An Unexpected SOS: Letter From Masanjia At Settle Stories, 10th February 2019, 13:29 PM