As former domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih – who was allegedly beaten by her employers – arrived back in Hong Kong from Indonesia this month to help police with their investigations, children in a local shopping centre were being asked if domestic helpers were one of the “things” they would like to take on holiday. Other things on the list included electronic devices, toys and instant noodles. Throughout the Xia and Shang dynasties (around 2070-1046BC), the Chinese state’s ruling class owned a huge number of slaves, who could be traded and killed by their owners. This system was discontinued but slavery was not abolished. During the Qin and Han dynasties (221BC–AD220) some criminals and captured foreigners were made slaves of the state. Male slaves provided labour for the workshops and hunting grounds of the state while female slaves undertook domestic work in the households of the emperor. Slaves of private individuals had usually sold themselves because of debt and poverty. Slavery in China continued in various guises for more than 2,000 years. It was only in the 20th century that slavery was formally abolished. Apparently some modern-day employers of domestic helpers are unaware of that.