Where Do Your Chopsticks Come From?

Mr. Chen Gang, a musician, was held at Beijing’s notorious Tuanhe Forced Labor Camp for a year and a half, where torture almost left him crippled. After an international campaign, he was freed and now lives in the United States.

Mr. Chen Gang, a musician, was held at Beijing’s notorious Tuanhe Forced Labor Camp for a year and a half, where torture almost left him crippled. After an international campaign, he was freed and now lives in the United States.

Wooden chopsticks are a cornerstone of Chinese takeout in cities across the world. Unfortunately, they’re also a regular feature in testimonies of Falun Gong practitioners who fled China after being imprisoned in one of the country’s many labor camps.

“The quota was around 7,000, sometimes 10,000. If you didn’t finish, you weren’t allowed to sleep,” says Chen Gang (pictured at right), recalling wrapping chopsticks in a Beijing labor camp where he was sent for practicing Falun Gong. “It was a dirty environment. We had to go months without a shower.”

Today, Falun Gong practitioners remain an enormous percentage of detainees in China’s vast network of gulags. Like Chen, they are typically abducted from their home, taken to a police station, and told they will be sent to a labor camp for up to three years for “re-education”—an Orwellian sounding word if there ever was one.

Once at the camps, they are tortured, shocked with electric batons, deprived of sleep, and more often than not, forced to work over 12 hours a day manufacturing products, some intended for export.

Some glue soles onto shoes. Others sew clothing. Many wrap disposable chopsticks in unsanitary conditions.

So you might want to opt for a fork next time you get takeout.