New York Times Reporter Detained By "Thomas The Tank Engine" Toy Factory

David Barboza, a New York Times business reporter based in China, stopped by the RC2 corporation’s factory in Dongguan, China to investigate the recent recall of 1.5 million wooden Thomas & Friends toys. He was confronted, accused of trespassing and detained for several hours. Eventually, the police recommended that he write out a confession.

Held hostage in a toy factory? Really?

I shouldn’t have been surprised by the reception. The last time I arrived at a factory under suspicion for selling contaminated goods (toothpaste), they quickly locked the gate and ran. A month earlier, I walked into the headquarters of a company that sold tainted pet food to the United States, and the receptionist insisted the owner was not in. When my translator called the owner, we heard his cellphone ring in the adjoining room. I peeked in and saw the boss scamper out the backdoor.

For American journalists, there’s a tradition of showing up at a crime scene, or visiting a place that has made news. But in China, where press freedoms are weak, such visits can be dangerous.

Last year, a young man working for a Chinese newspaper was beaten to death after he tried to meet the owners of an illegal coal mine. Local officials later insisted he was trying to extort money.

My colleagues at The Times have been detained several times. And one of our Chinese research assistants is now serving a three-year prison term for fraud. He originally had been accused of passing state secrets to The Times, a charge this paper has denied.

Oddly enough, RC2 is an Illinois company. Anyone want to stop by their headquarters and see if you get detained? No, just kidding. We don’t want that on our conscience.

My Time as a Hostage, and I’m a Business Reporter [NYT]


Edit Your Comment

  1. tcp100 says:

    It’s China. Even if the HQ is in Illinois, this was still China. Rules are different there. We can’t really contrast them with laws and norms here and expect to understand how things work. Unfortunately, this is probably no big deal in China.

    Yet another reason why doing business with China can be hazardous to your health.

  2. dbeahn says:

    I’m thinking we should organize a boycott of Chinese products.

    Or, to make it easier, we could all just boycott ChineseCrap-Mart…

  3. catnapped says:

    Mr. Barboza must’ve found out the truth.

    The RC2 factory doubles as a toothpaste and cat food factory!

  4. ShadeWalker says:

    @dbeahn: boycott chinese products? hahahahahaha.

  5. Hoss says:

    Morley Safer says this is kids stuff

  6. LionelEHutz says:

    If there were a way to boycott Chinese products I’d do it but sometimes it seems as if nothing is made in the USA, or elsewhere, anymore. Some clothes are made in places like India, but China is the manufacturing hot spot. When we have to import Wheat Gluten from China then you know there’s a trade problem.

    Maybe if Bill O’Reilly called for a boycott of Chinese manufactured products that would make the Chinese get their crap together. His boycott against France was successful in that it resulted in the commie pinko bastards in France surrendering to Bill’s will and electing a conservative as their Prime Minister.

  7. Trai_Dep says:

    Unconfirmed reports suggest the reporter was forced to listen to The Barney Song for five hours before being released. Geneva authorities are investigating.

  8. Wormfather says:

    @LionelEHutz: yeah that shit worked, I couldnt get grey goose for like 6 months. I had to start drinking stoli more often and that pissed me off at the french even more.

  9. tvh2k says:

    “In the endless back and forth, it was apparent that the government I often imagined as being all powerful and all seeing could be powerless and conflicted when it came to local businessmen and factory owners.”

    Best line from the story.

  10. homerjay says:

    @dbeahn: Yeah, Lets boycott China. Any while we’re at it, we should boycott the sun too.

    Now, lets all sing together:
    Knife-a goes in, a-guts come out. Thats what Osaka Seafood Concern is all about.

  11. mendel says:

    You know Osaka is in Japan, right?

  12. tvh2k says:

    Way to be all technical buddy :-P

  13. timmus says:

    “Reportey is a new engine on the island of Sodor. She feels silly and wants to make real investigations, like a useful journalist would. Thomas has an idea and shows her the vast stores of lead paint in the back room. Unfortunately his plan goes off track. Embarrassed, Sir Topham Hatt finds out and locks Reportey in the roundhouse. He decides that all engines need to show him more respect. But people outside of Sodor started finding out about Reportey and about the dangerous toys Sir Topham Hatt was building. He learned a valuable lesson that day about being mean to the other engines and deceiving the people outside Sodor.”

  14. c26nyc says:

    That reporter has balls for actually going to the main source. I’d be scared shitless going to some foreign country investigating stuff like that. They could’ve killed him, used his blood to paint those trains, them grind up his body to make some pet food.

  15. homerjay says:

    @timmus: Seriously, I’m not questioning you clear and extensive parental knowlage of Thomas, but isn’t Sodor a Brio thing?

  16. savvy9999 says:

    I don’t let my kid near Thomas stuff for the singular reason that the show is creepy. It’s basically a bunch of trains being nasty and mean to each other constantly; it must have roots as a primer for English kids on how to treat each other miserably whence they are torn away from Mummy and Daddy and shipped off to boarding school. Think “Another Brick In The Wall” meets “Toy Story”.

    Now I can add to the list: poisonous & human-rights abuser. Sweet.

  17. JKinNYC says:


    Sodor is Thomas’ Island.

    (I have a train-obsessed 2.5 year old)

  18. JKinNYC says:


    We always thought they were just a bunch of catty bitches. Thomas is a whiner and annoying.

  19. Peeved Guy says:

    @timmus: He has caused confusion and delay!

  20. Sudonum says:

    @Peeved Guy:
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA I guess only someone with a Thomas obsessed child somewhere in the family would get that one. I can just hear George Carlin reciting that line now!

  21. Buran says:

    @ShadeWalker: Boycotts work if enough people get off their lazy asses and do something instead of assuming other people will do it for them.

  22. ShadeWalker says:

    @Buran: you ever see that south park episode where they were supposed to boycott walmart and it didn’t work?

    the only way to successfully stop china is to destroy it’s heart which turns out to be a mirror reflecting us.

  23. synergy says:

    There’s a reason the factories are in China. In China there’s not particularly freedom of the press.

  24. synergy says:

    @dbeahn: I’m going to make a sweeping generalization about your buying habits and assume that if you walked around your house/apt you’d be hard pressed to NOT find an item made in China.

  25. nightbird says:

    I heard this guy on NPR today:


  26. MauriceReeves says:

    @savvy9999: My “favorite” Thomas episode is the one where Percy, the small green engine gets petulant one day and causes a cave-in at a coal mine, trapping miners.

    Now that’s a great lesson for the kids.

  27. Mom2Talavera says:

    I was at Toys R us the other day and couldn’t get over the price for one little Thomas Train car!(18$) and they are made in China….talk about a hellofa mark-up!

    I say e-Bay people!I got my nephew a lot of 3 for the same price.

  28. bnissan97 says:

    America sold out to China. More to come.

    There is a way to stop this!! Make more products here in the States.

  29. bvita says:

    While the story has a ring of truth to it, I have a hard time believing anything from a NYT reporter of late

  30. savvy9999 says:


    Agree 100%. As far as I can tell (from the 4 times I have seen the show), here’s how the characters shape up:

    Thomas: total weenie, gets pushed around a lot

    Gordon: pompous train that flouts his superior speed

    Percy: petulant brat, doesn’t like being told what to do

    James: narcissistic about his red paint job

    Lady: mystical token female character that never does any hard work, just totes tourists around like a docent

    Diesel: always mean, always dirty, always curiously darker & blacker than the steamies

    Toby: old, definitely subjugated 3rd-class wooden train

    Sir Topham Hatt: robber baron that runs the town; since the mayor is never to be seen, it’s fairly clear whether big industry or local government makes the rules in Sodor

    To be fair, every episode seems to end with all the trains making up and being nice to each other, but why not simply show decent interactions from the start? I don’t want my kids learning that, “Gee, I can be a total dick over and over again, and in the end everyone will forgive me every time!”

    So we have a show that marginalizes women and the elderly, stereotypes blacks as fearsome, promotes the worst behaviors amongst peers, and produces poisonous overpriced toys.

    Good riddance to the entire brand.

  31. mbrutsch says:

    @bnissan97: We would make more items here if companies weren’t forced to hire members of the Thumb-Twiddlers Union Local 413 and then pay them $83.65 an hour to turn screws.