Editor’s note: The comment below was published in Yibao Chinese under the pen name Michael. It is about the case that rocked China last year of the Woman in Chains, accidentally discovered being held as a prisoner, and also a wife of a villager in a village in Jiangsu who had borne him multiple children. Even now it is not clear who she is. The government reports that she is Xiao Huamei, also known as Yang Qingxia, purchased as a child in rural Yunnan to be somone’s wife. And yet the pictures of the Woman in Chains seem to resemble a girl named Li Ying who disappeared at roughly the same age in a large city in Sichuan. The authorities quickly announced that the woman was Xiao Huamei, and that she had been purchased for a man named Dong Zhimin. Such an act, while criminal in China, does still occur there. But there was much public anger at what was seen as the convenient (from the perspective of getting the matter behind them as quickly as possible) unwillingness of the authorities to investigate whether the woman was actually Li Ying, kidnapped in the city and sold. The woman herself was sent to a mental institution after the story came out, and has not been heard from since.
The verdict in the case of the Woman in Chains has come down. Dong Zhimin was sentenced to 7 years in prison, and some who trafficked her were sentenced to terms from 8 to 13 years. Many are outraged that Dong was charged merely with domestic violence, and that officials who had done nothing for years, and even repeatedly lied to cover up the truth, would not be held accountable. But I don’t think these things are important. The most important matter is that the Woman in Chains has not yet regained her freedom. This is completely unacceptable.
Consider the following hypothetical. Suppose two young girls are abducted from where they lived. One is girl A, from a poor area in the mountains of Yunnan. Although she cries in terror for a time at first, she soon accepts her fate, especially after giving birth to a child, and she soon integrates into the normal life of the local area.
The other is a female, student B, who is abducted from a big city in Sichuan. She has a good family background and is vibrant and healthy. In the end, she too is imprisoned, an iron chain tied around her neck, and is locked in a small black room like an animal for decades, isolated from the world. She is raped over and over again, giving birth to children one after another. It isn’t until her master decides that she is completely crazy and can no longer communicate normally with the outside world that he relaxes his vigilance and begins to occasionally let others see her.
May I ask, is it possible to say that these two cases should be considered in the same way? Can you use the case of A to justify what happened to B?
Looking back further at the actual, decades-long case of the Woman in Chains, she was tortured yet refused to give in, and had a deep-rooted hatred for the family that purchased her. Is this more like a second wife from a mountain village, or a young woman from a big city who plummeted from heaven into hell?
At present, the official story is that the Woman in Chains is named Xiao Huawei, sold in a small village when young and taken away, forcing B to be A. Xiao Huamei, also known as Yang Qingxia, is undoubtedly a real person, and is probably also a victim of the Dong family. But is Xiao Huamei actually the Woman in Chains? Anyone who has seen the photos of the two of them may find it difficult to convince themselves that she is.
And now the case is classified merely as domestic violence by a single person, which means that although Dong Zhimin went to prison, the Woman in Chains still belongs to the Dong family. And the eldest son of the Dong family is 13 years younger than the next seven children, and it is very likely that he was not born to the Woman in Chains.
And is the Woman in Chains genuinely completely insane? Through the interpretation of netizens, we have been able to make out concrete things from her supposedly disorganized language on the video — “This world doesn’t want me anymore,” “This house is nothing,” “The whole family is full of rapists,” “Like a whore.” From what we have learned about the local customs regarding abducted women, we can imagine that it was after many brutal lessons that this woman realized that no matter whom she expressed them to, once she revealed any thoughts of escaping to the outside world, her fate would be a terrible one. A severe beating would be considered light, and the occasional opportunity to see outsiders and get a breath of fresh air in exchange for continuously pretending to be crazy might be lost forever.
The fact that a few members of the Dong family can be sentenced for several years is insignificant compared to letting the Woman in Chains regain her freedom. We know she hasn’t surrendered yet. Perhaps a corner of her heart hasn’t given up hope, and she’s still waiting for a chance, a chance that will actually allow her to feel safe, to open up her heart and tell the truth. It is horrendous that the reported “truth” in this case is not only tolerated by the Dong family, but by local villagers, and also by the officials who participated in this conspiracy. As a result of their actions, the Woman in Chains’s hope of regaining her freedom has been dashed by the hiding of these dark secrets, and now recedes ever-farther into the distance.
Because of the secrecy, I know that everything I have said is mere speculation, without concrete evidence. And I sincerely hope that the Woman in Chains is indeed Xiao Huamei, meaning at least that her suffering has not been so great. However, judging from the five inconsistent announcements by public officials and the one court judgment, these officials have repeatedly lied, and the court verdict was rendered on something trivial at the expense of what was truly important. At this point all these officials now also have stakes in how the case is disposed of. We cannot rule out the possibility that they continue to lie in order to cover up a bigger scandal only to protect themselves.
Now, the efforts of the female netizen “Wu Yi” [a woman who posted on Chinese social media about the case and actually went to the town to investigate the truth, before being temporarily detained and, after reporting on that, disappearing] and numerous others to continue visiting the scene of the crime have failed. And despite many efforts launched on social media throughout the country, there has been no news for more than a year. Moreover, neither Xiao Huamei from Yunnan nor Li Ying’s family members from Sichuan have obtained the right to visit the Woman in Chains.
And as long as the day of her freedom does not arrive, we have no way of knowing whether the suffering of the Woman in Chains has actually ended.
And each of us is guilty. We are guilty because of the Woman in Chains’ existence, and guilty because her suffering may be continuing. It is as if like we are walking down the street and there is a woman chained right there, in broad daylight. She is kind, strong and brave. She has never done anything wrong, but has fallen into hell for no reason and suffered horrific torture. Decades later, she finally felt some hope, because all of us saw her, witnessed what happened to her. And yet we walk on by, turning a blind eye. We do not deserve to in this time, but deserve all the suffering that is to come.
April 10, 2023
(This piece was translated from Yibao Chinese. If republished, please be sure to add the source and link before the text when reprinting: https://www.yibao.net/2023/04/21/because-of-the-suffering-of-the-woman-in-chains-we-deserve-whatever-happens-to-us/)
The views of the author do not necessarily represent those of this journal.