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Jiangsu officials identify chained woman as missing from Yunnan province

But citizen activists point to other possible identities, saying Feng county is notorious for trafficking in women.

By Qiao Long, Xiaoshan Huang and Chingman


A woman identified as Yang ***xia is shown sitting with a chain around her neck in a dilapidated hut at a rural property near Xuzhou city in the eastern province of Jiangsu , in a screenshot of a video that went viral on social media.

Video via Douyin

Authorities in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu say they have confirmed the identity of a woman shown in a viral video with a chain around her neck, amid renewed public anger over the trafficking of women and girls.

The identity of [the woman] has been investigated and confirmed by police as Xiao Huamei ... of Yagu village, Fugong county in Yunnan province," the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) committee for Jiangsu's Xuzhou city and its municipal government said in a statement carried by official media.

"The [CCP's] disciplinary inspection and supervisory organs are investigating the relevant personnel for negligence and dereliction of duty and other issues in this matter," the statement said.

The woman -- until now identified as Yang ***xia -- was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia after her story surfaced online, sparking a public outcry.

She had started to show "abnormal speech and behavior" after an earlier divorce from a man in Baoshan city in 1996, the official statement claimed.

She was later brought to Jiangsu by a woman surnamed Sang for "treatment," the investigation team said. Sang has since claimed to have "lost" Yang soon after their arrival in Jiangsu, though she didn't report her as missing, nor inform her family, the statement said.

The case has exposed huge reserves of public anger over the trafficking of women and girls in China, with people showing up at the village in Feng county where Yang lived with husband Dong ***min for several years, and where she bore him eight children.

In the video, the woman known as Yang ***xia -- now identified by officials as Xiao Huamei -- is shown sitting in a dilapidated outhouse at a rural property near Jiangsu's Xuzhou city with a chain around her neck, as a friend drops by to ask her if she is getting enough to eat.

Investigators said Yang's condition has stabilized since she was diagnosed and given antipsychotic medication. But they denied online claims that her teeth had been pulled out by her husband's family, saying she suffers from severe periodontal disease.

All of Dong's eight children were confirmed to be the biological children of Dong and Yang, it said, adding that the police investigation into Dong's behavior is still ongoing.

The statement came amid competing online reports that said the woman hailed from northeastern China, and of the family of a missing woman, Li Ying, from Sichuan province, who thought Yang looked exactly like their daughter, and requested a DNA test.

Security tight in Feng county

Jiangsu-based current affairs commentator Zhang Jianping said Li Ying's family had been prevented from telling their story to the media.

"They blocked it out [because] the official conclusion from the investigation in Xuzhou just doesn't stand up to scrutiny," he told RFA.

Security was tight outside the Dong family home in Feng country, with around 100 police officers stationed nearby, after concerned members of the public started traveling there.

A video clip uploaded to social media showed several officers preventing people from entering the village, with one police officer threatening them with jail.

"What are you guys gonna do, huh?" the officer tells them. "You have no power to cause trouble here or make waves, a handful of ringleaders like you."

"If you try to start anything, you'll be arrested and go to jail, I can tell you that for sure," the officer says. "Who do you think you are? There are more than 100 police officers on duty here right now."

Another video clip showed a police officer telling off a woman who had displayed a reference to the Feng county case in the window of her car.

"Everything is subject to official information processes," the officer says. "The case is still under way, and as such is a state secret, so this kind of publicity isn't allowed."

Zhang Jianping said public anger has been triggered by persistent anecdotal evidence among the general population that women and girls have been trafficked on a huge scale for decades, but with the apparent collusion of local officials.

"The worst thing about this whole Feng county incident is that all of the [official media] outlets have been silenced, which isn't something that would happen in a normal country," he said

"Either the media is reluctant to focus on this, or there are forces at work behind the scenes ensuring that they don't," Zhang told RFA.

An Anhui-based writer who gave only the surname Lu said Feng county has a reputation for trafficking women and girls.

"There was another case of a [girl or woman] who was also abducted and sold to that village, and was kept crawling around on the ground for 10, 20 years, and also chained up," Lu said. "And for all those people that have been abducted and sold here in Xuzhou, there are even more nationwide."

Current affairs commentator Cai Shenkun agreed, adding that more than one million people go "missing" in China, including 200,000 children, annually.

"Feng county has long been a distribution center for human trafficking," Cai told RFA. "If the truth of this matter were to be fully made known, neither the Feng county nor the Xuzhou authorities would be able to justify themselves."

He said the case has garnered 1.65 billion views in recent days. "That's a lot of traffic," he said.

Lawyers told RFA that Yang is likely to have been illegally restrained and that Dong should be investigated for rape, as well as possible trafficking.

A senior media worker who requested anonymity said the local authorities want to ensure total control over what information is made public.

"This broke just before Lunar New Year and the Winter Olympics, and their first reaction is to cover it up and stop anyone from out of town getting in," they said. "I heard yesterday via a friend that the husband has been arrested. They don't let independent journalists do reporting, so I can't get an answer to these questions."

Trafficking in Southwestern China

Repeated calls to the Feng county police department rang unanswered during office hours on Tuesday, while an official who answered the phone at the Feng county party committee referred all inquiries to the propaganda department.

"The relevant departments in the county have fully intervened, but we don't know the specifics yet," the official said. "For that, you need to call the propaganda department."

But a propaganda official at the Feng county CCP committee referred inquiries to the Cyberspace Administration of China, and refused to answer when asked if the case had been taken over by the Jiangsu provincial propaganda department.

"I don't know about this, because our department isn't responsible for it," the official said.

An official who answered the phone at the Feng county Cyberspace Administration also said they didn't know about the case.

"I'm just the staff member on duty; I'm not in charge of this," the official said, before hanging up the phone when asked how many women and girls had been trafficked in Feng county.

According to official data posted online by concerned members of the public, there were more than 48,000 cases of trafficked women and girls in the six counties around Xuzhou alone, between 1986 and 2006.

The majority hailed from the southwestern provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou and Sichuan, and some were as young as 13. Some victims have been brought to the area from southeast Asian countries, including the case of a 12-year-old girl treated at the Xuzhou No. 4 Hospital for pregnancy after having been sold to, and raped by, a man in his 40s.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.


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