Neither the official narrative around Yang Qingxia's identity, nor the alternate version, fit the alleged timeline.
By Qiao Long and Fong Tak Ho
A marriage certificate photo that has reopened debate about the identity of Yang Qingxia, a mother of eight who was found chained to a wall in a video that went viral on Chinese social media platforms. First thought to be a young woman who went missing in the southwestern province of Yunnan in the 1990s, Yang now thought to closely resemble a missing woman from Sichuan province.
Doubts are growing around the official identification of a woman found chained in an outbuilding after being married to a resident of Jiangsu's Feng county and bearing him eight children, Chinese commentators said onTuesday.
An official investigation into the background of Yang Qingxia, who received a diagnosis of schizophrenia in the days after the video of her chained to a wall went viral on Chinese social media platforms, has identified her as "Xiao Meihua," the nickname of a young woman who went missing in the southwestern province of Yunnan in the 1990s.
But social media users have been engaging in a little research of their own, and have taken issue with the claim, saying Yang's photos more closely resemble a missing woman from Sichuan province, Li Ying.
An investigation team set up by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) committee and municipal government in nearby Xuzhou city claims that Yang originally hails from Yunnan's Fugong county.
But freelance researchers say officials have yet to travel to the village they say Yang is from.
Xiao Meihua's younger sister has said Yang is likely too old to be her older sister, who would be 43 this year, while Yang's marriage certificate shows her to be 52.
Current affairs commentator Cai Shenkun said he didn't believe that Yang's marriage certificate photo resembled Xiao Meihua at all, while other online researchers said it more closely matched a photo of Li Ying.
"I saw the marriage certificate photo, and these are two different people," Cai said. "Their ages don't match, either ... This is a very serious issue."
Online comments said they believe Xiao Meihua, whose parents are now dead, was chosen as a convenient identity to give to Yang.
"Everyone suspects that Xiao Meihua is no longer alive," Jiangsu commentator Zhang Jianping told RFA. "The photo of the marriage certificate ... shows that Yang Qingxia is very likely Li Ying, the missing woman from Sichuan."
A sample of online protests by Chinese people rejection official explanations and demanding an investigation into a woman found chained in an outbuilding after being married to a resident of Jiangsu's Feng county and bearing him eight children.
More questions arise
But there is a problem with that story, too. According to official statements, Yang, 52, allegedly gave birth to eight children in the space of 23 years following her marriage in 1998, with the eldest now 23 and the youngest 20 months old. One of her children, the eldest son, was named Dong Xianggang to mark the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule, but online researchers have also cast doubt on this claim, saying his mother could have been someone else entirely. If Yang is indeed Li Ying, she would have been born in Sichuan's Nanchong in 1984, before going missing in 1996 at the age of 12, making it unlikely that she gave birth to Dong Xianggang. Also, Yang's age is given as 52, while Li Ying would only be 38. Beijing-based criminal defense lawyer Mo Shaoping said the government could use DNA testing and other forms of technology to get to the bottom of Yang's identity -- if it wanted to. "There is enough technology around now to use facial recognition to compare [Yang and Li's] faces, and also to tell whether the photo on the marriage certificate is actually the woman who was chained up," Mo said. "There should be no barrier to doing this whatsoever ... I hope a qualified agency will run a comparison to see if they really are the same person." The authorities have begun clamping down on public reporting and comments on Yang's case. Police detained two women who traveled to the village where Yang was found in Feng county, in a bid to help her, and are holding them on suspicion of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble," a charge frequently used to target peaceful critics of the CCP. Viral video launches story
Meanwhile, two social media users known as @I can carry 120 pounds and @Sister Xiaomeng Xiaoquanquan said they had tried to make inquiries at the local police station. "I went to report the case at the local police station, but they did nothing, even after I had sat there for six hours," @I can carry 120 pounds wrote, while @Sister Xiameng Xiaoquanquan wrote that she had "gotten myself caught up in so many inexplicable things" after going there to try to offer support to Yang. And residents of Yueyang in the central province of Henan posted photos of themselves holding placards calling for a full investigation into the entire case. In the original viral video, a woman identified as Yang Qingxia is shown sitting in a dilapidated outhouse at a rural property near Jiangsu's Xuzhou city with a chain around her neck, as a citizen journalist asks her if she is getting enough to eat. Local officials said Yang was diagnosed with schizophrenia following psychiatric consultations on Jan. 30, and is currently being treated with antipsychotic medication. But questions have also been raised about why local official supported the family for many years with financial and building subsidies. Some pointed out that a number of local officials and Yang's psychiatrist all shared the same family name -- Qu -- which appears first in official name listings in China. RFA confirmed via official websites on Tuesday that Qu Ligui is currently deputy director of the Feng county finance bureau, a Qu Lixin serves as deputy director of the county civil affairs bureau, while Qu Shenpeng and Qu Liguo are CCP party secretary and deputy mayor of Huankou township, Feng county, respectively. The chief psychiatrist responsible for Yang's diagnosis is Qu Liquan. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.