Analysis: The purchase and abuse of daughters-in-law is a local custom

U.S.-based economist He Qinglian surveys the trafficking of women in and around Jiangsu's Xuzhou city.
A commentary by He Qinglian
2022.02.22
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Analysis: The purchase and abuse of daughters-in-law is a local custom
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The counties surrounding Xuzhou have a long history of human trafficking. The case of the chained woman has forced Chinese people at home and overseas to relive the vile abduction and sale of some 50,000 women in the 1980s; it has also revealed that there has been a criminal community of human traffickers in and around Dongji township, where that abducted woman was kept chained up for so many years.

The purchase and abuse of daughters-in-law is a local custom taken for granted by local people, who don't see anything wrong with it.

Someone in China using the nickname Hertz was able to download more than 4,000 items of news and information about abduction and trafficking in and around Xuzhou, including 75 pages from Baidupedia, entries in county annals around Xuzhou and northern Jiangsu province, and wrote a 400,000-word report titled "The chained mother of eight and Xuzhou's history of human trafficking."

The report showed that many women have suffered the same fate as the Xuzhou mother of eight and have also been victims of human trafficking.

The China Economic Weekly found court judgments on an official website showing that trafficked women had been denied divorces.

[Recent media reports have shown a string of recent suspected suicides after a number of women's bodies were pulled from a river in Feng county.]

Many women have no other choice but suicide.

The denial by judges in Xuzhou, who ignored the tragic situation of trafficked and abducted women ... shows how the [ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)] and government in Xuzhou and the counties it administers have been legitimizing the local abduction and forced marriage racket, as well as "domestic" violence by rural men.

I searched the website of the Xuzhou Daily, the official newspaper of the CCP Xuzhou municipal committee, using the keywords "trafficking" and "trafficking of women," and found 70 results. But none of the three articles from this year related to the chained woman in Feng county. They were about how the government was "concerned" about reports of abduction, and about how it is helping abducted children to find their families.

Culture of abetting crimes

All of this indicates that there is a culture prevalent throughout local government and the local CCP, police and judiciary of aiding and abetting crimes of human trafficking in and around Xuzhou.

Otherwise, it is impossible to account for the prevalence of human trafficking in recent decades.

The facts are well known to the international community. China's human trafficking isn't something new that happened during Xi Jinping's tenure. Of course Xi Jinping is annoyed that such a degrading story came out during the Olympics. But he won't try to hide the story of the chained woman, because that could work against him by giving ammunition to those who oppose him within party ranks.

But the government also knows very well that nobody will be fooled if they just target the village party secretary. [The decision about] whom to arrest and punish for this will be the result of a delicate balancing act between different official interest groups.

On Feb. 16, someone on Weibo released a "Notice of the General Office of the Provincial Government on Printing and Distributing Jiangsu Province's Implementation Opinions on Implementing China's Action Plan Against Human Trafficking (2021-2030)", with the official release date marked as Dec. 11, 2021. The notice was in response to the China Action Plan Against Human Trafficking (2021-2030) promulgated by the State Council of China on April 28, 2021.

Generally, internet users don't go looking up documents like this, so of course the government must have arranged for someone to release it on Weibo. When I saw this post, I tweeted that the Jiangsu provincial party committee and provincial government had begun cover their own backs.

The current secretary of the provincial party committee, Wu Zhenglong, is from Jiangsu. He has served as an official in other places for many years. In 2016, he was transferred from Shanxi to Jiangsu to take the post of Nanjing municipal party secretary.

Judging from the date, the above-mentioned anti-trafficking notice was issued after he [took up that post], so he is using it to show his superiors how the provincial [authorities] have prioritized human trafficking since he took up the role.

Too many accomplices

The current secretary of the Xuzhou municipal party committee and the mayor are both natives of Jiangsu, and have served as officials in Xuzhou for many years. Xuzhou party secretary Zhou Tiegen took office in April 2018; acting mayor Wang Jianfeng took office in July 2021. If someone at the city level is to be held accountable, then the buck should stop with these two. They can hardly claim sabotage by local interests, still less that they don't understand how serious a problem human trafficking is in Xuzhou.

I don't think it's realistic to expect that all of the women who have been trafficked and abducted over the years will be rescued, nor that this crime will be eradicated.

We have had a nationwide anti-trafficking campaign for many years now, but there are too many accomplices entrenched at the village and township levels of government.

If I had to say what the main impact from the Xuzhou chained woman case has been for the Chinese public, I'd say it has helped them to understand life at the lowest echelons, and the collapse of Chinese rural life.

Now they know that all of China's "achievements" in building a new socialist countryside amount to the fact that local villains like Dong [the chained woman's husband] from Feng county are so very far from civilized behavior, and yet are still able to father eight kids and cash social security cheques for the entire family.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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