Chinese court jails six people for abuse and trafficking in chained woman case

The sentences don't address widespread trafficking and abuse of women and girls in China, critics say.
By Yitong Wu and Chingman for RFA Cantonese
Chinese court jails six people for abuse and trafficking in chained woman case Dong Zhimin, the man with whom the woman had lived since 1998, was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Credit: CCTV

Chinese authorities have handed down jail terms of up to 13 years to six people in connection with the discovery last year of a woman chained by the neck in an outbuilding in Feng county.

The Xuzhou Intermediate People's Court in the eastern province of Jiangsu handed down a prison sentence of nine years for abuse and wrongful imprisonment to Dong Zhimin, the man with whom the woman had lived since 1998, state news agency Xinhua reported.

However, the accusations of rape made by the woman weren't mentioned by the court, in a case has shone a spotlight on the prevalence of trafficking and rape of women and girls in China.

The court also sentenced five other people to jail terms of up to 13 for "trafficking in women," the report said.

Five of the six defendants pleaded guilty during a trial that lasted two days, it said, in a case that has become the poster child for women's rights – or the lack of them – in China,

"The woman later identified as Xiaohuamei was abducted from her hometown in Yunnan province and taken to Jiangsu province in 1998," Xinhua reported, citing the court. "She was later trafficked three times before being purchased by Dong's family in Feng county."

Shackled and starved

Xiaohuamei bore Dong eight children during her incarceration, during which she was frequently shackled and starved, particularly after her mental health deteriorated, the report said.

"From July 2017 to the point at which Xiaohua was discovered, Dong Zhimin imprisoned and tortured Xiaohuamei, tying her with cloth ropes and chains around her neck," the court found. "During this period, Xiaohuamei's food supply and daily needs weren't always met, and she often suffered from hunger and cold."

The woman, identified by authorities as Yang Qingxia, but known by her nickname Xiaohuamei, was found chained in a shed in China’s Feng county. Social media users still question whether she has been properly identified. Credit: Screenshot from video

"The place she was living in was very hard on her, with no water supply, electricity, or sunlight," it said, adding that the woman identified as Xiaohuamei had since been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

"The court said Dong's abusive acts rendered Xiaohuamei's schizophrenia irreversible and caused serious injuries," the report said. 

‘Nothing has been solved’

Chinese director Hu Xueyang, who made a documentary to raise awareness of the case, and of trafficking and rape in China, said the case still counts as an official cover-up.

"They targeted Dong Zhimin, who is at the bottom of the entire chain, just to appease public anger," Hu said. "Actually, nothing has been solved."

"This verdict is just being used ... as a way to cover up the horrible crimes of selling and raping Chinese women, that have been going on for decades," he said.

While the authorities quickly identified the woman as Yang Qingxia, known by her nickname Xiaohuamei, a young woman who went missing in the southwestern province of Yunnan in the 1990s, social media users still take issue with the claim, saying the woman more closely resembles a missing woman from Sichuan province, Li Ying.

Public anger over widespread trafficking in women and girls, mostly for "marriage" to men who can't find willing partners, remains high in China since the woman's discovery.

Twitter account "Save the chained woman" commented on the sentences: "Kidnapping, human trafficking, illegal detention, rape, intentional injury and killings of trafficked women in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province."

"How can such terrible deeds be stopped? When will the trafficked women living in hell on earth regain their freedom?"

‘Green light for traffickers’

Twitter user Martin Lyu commented: "The victim is still only being referred to as Xiaohuamei, not even by a formal name," while "Moreless” commented that the sentences were a "green light" to traffickers.

Former Sina Weibo censor Liu Lipeng said Dong Zhimin was easy for the authorities to target, as he is neither a member of the ruling party nor a local official.

"The point of not prosecuting anyone for rape is to avoid the death penalty or a life sentence," Liu said via his Twitter account. "As a result, a large number of victims of large-scale human trafficking ... have come forward to demand the case be overturned."

Rights lawyer Lu Tingge agreed, saying that the sentences are carefully judged to "maintain stability" in a case that has shocked many middle-class Chinese to the core.

"They are avoiding the most serious allegation, because of the high profile that this case has," Lu said. "They are seeking to minimize the impact to maintain stability, [and] so they don't have to investigate local [officials] for criminal responsibility."

‘Ignored public doubts’

Lu said the authorities' handling of the case had totally ignored public doubts.

"They just go right ahead regardless of the questions," he said. "The police are blatantly covering up crimes now – they're the criminals here."

According to U.S.-based economist He Qinglian, the counties around 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," she wrote in a commentary for RFA Mandarin at the time of the women's discovery.

He's comments have been backed up by the relatives of trafficking victims, prompting some to speak out more openly about the abuse suffered by their close relatives.

But analysts and activists interviewed for an award-winning investigative report by RFA Mandarin said the political will is lacking at the local level to eradicate its systemic causes.

Part of the problem is the systematic disempowerment of victims, many of whom are abducted, trafficked and subjected to regular abuse from a young age, and kept locked up by their persecutors, leaving them with severe trauma and other mental illness.

Some women develop Stockholm Syndrome, a state of intense dependence on and emotional attachment to abusers by victims of kidnap and prolonged incarceration and abuse, they said.

Meanwhile, the authorities have also retaliated against people who spoke out over the Jiangsu chained woman case, jailing Guangxi dissident Lu Huihuang for four-and-a-half years last November after he called on the ruling Communist Party to fully investigate the case.

Lu refused to accept the judgment and has expressed his intention to appeal.

Authorities also arrested Chen Zhiming, chief editor of the Hong Kong-based political magazine Exclusive Characters, in a move that Germany-based poet Yang Lian said was likely linked to his magazine's recent focus on the chained woman case. 

Translated by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Malcolm Foster.


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