Police in China spent the weekend making hundreds of arrests in a growing slavery scandal that has appalled the country.

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Heng Tinghan, accused of enslaving workers, is escorted by plainclothes officers after being arrested in Shiyan, in China's central Hubei Province, on Sunday. ((EyePress/Associated Press))

Investigators arrested 168 men in the northern provinces of Shanxi and Henan after raiding more than 3,500 brick factories.

The factories kept workers inabysmal conditions, forcing young men and some children to work for more than a year without pay.

People are outraged that some of the slave-network ringleaders appear to include relatives of Communist Party officials.

One of the most wanted men was a foreman named Heng Tinghan, who was caught after police offered a reward.

State mediareported Heng, 42, made a statement in which he declared he felt sorry for the slaves, but didn't feel there was anything particularly wrong with beating them and not paying them for more than a year.

Last week, 35,000 police scoured both provinces and released more than 500 slaves, including 30 children, as well as a number of people with mental disabilities.

Used knives to remove filth

Heng ran a brick kiln that belonged to Wang Bingbing, the son of the village's Communist Party secretary.

When the workers at that kiln were freed, Chinese reporters said their bodies were covered in bruises, burns and scars, and that they were so filthy they used knives to peel off the grime.

The suspicion hanging over the slavery scandal is that police were either indifferent or afraid to take action because of the involvement of Communist officials and their relatives, the CBC's China correspondent Anthony Germain reported Monday.

For months, mothers and fathers went to police saying their young adult children, or teenagers had vanished from train stations and bus depots, but nobody took them seriously.