Trafficked women denied divorces by court in in county of China's chained-woman saga

Peking University alumni are calling for an investigation into the case of a woman found chained up in Feng county.
By Xiaoshan Huang, Qiao Long, Cheryl Tung and Chingman
2022.02.16
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Trafficked women denied divorces by court in in county of China's chained-woman saga Netizens in the Hunan province city of Yueyang hold placards demanding that the government thoroughly investigate the case of the mother of eight children found chained in Xuzhou's Feng county.
Yueyang netizens

Women who applied to authorities in Feng county, in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu, for a divorce have been turned away in recent years despite claiming that they were trafficked and forced to marry, a state-backed media organization reported on Wednesday.

Citing two divorce petitions denied by the Feng County People's Court dating back to 2014, the China Economic Times said a woman surnamed who petitioned for divorce after being abducted from Mianyang, Sichuan province and sold to a man in Feng county on the grounds that there was a "shaky foundation" to the marriage, was denied a divorce despite having lived separately from her "husband" following the birth of four children.

The court found that the couple should try harder to reconcile, and "jointly maintain the integrity of the family," blaming "miscommunication on both sides" for the breakdown in the "relationship."

Both parties should "do more self-criticism, show mutual understanding, care, accommodation and consideration, and take each others' interest more into account," the judgment said. "There is still a possibility of reconciliation between the two sides."

The court made a similar decision last year in the case of a woman surnamed Wang, who said she had been abducted and sold to a man in Feng county from the southwestern city of Chongqing in 1987, and had been subjected to verbal and physical abuse by her "husband," eventually running away from the family home in 2010.

"The plaintiff and the defendant have been married for more than 20 years and have children. Their marital foundation is solid and their relationship after marriage has bee good," the judgment said. "Occasional disputes are inevitable due to trivial family matters."

The court found that "it is appropriate for them to stay together."

Online comments on the article welcomed the report, expressing concern it could soon be deleted.

"So, being raped and having a kid makes it a de factor marriage?" @Riyue_Xinghe_Sky commented, while @634230_yuan said there wasn't much reporting of the story in the official media. "Serious media posts about this are hard to come by," the user commented.

"The officials in Feng county are just great!" @Listen_to_Lao_Tzu added.

A woman identified as Yang Qingxia 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. Credit: Video on  Douyin
A woman identified as Yang Qingxia 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. Credit: Video on Douyin
Simmering public anger

The article comes amid simmering public anger over the case of a woman from Feng county -- Yang Qingxia -- found chained by the neck in an outbuilding, and believed to have been trafficked, forced to marry and have eight children, and kept in chains because of "violent outbursts." An official investigation later said she had been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

"So the Feng county court thinks it's okay to abduct and sell women?" @Camille_tournesol commented, while @Yao_Yao_Yao_Yao wrote: "A happy family? I don't even know what those words mean."

"No sense of right or wrong, whether high-ranking or low-ranking, so sad for these women, who must be so desperate," @Little beauty JoJoJoJo added.

Beijing rights lawyer Mo Shaoping said the Feng county court appeared to be breach of the fundamental principle of marriage as laid down in Chinese law.

"Any marriage formed by a woman who has been abducted and trafficked is an illegal marriage," Mo said. "The court should have passed the case on to the police for them to investigate him for abduction and trafficking."

"The fact that the court ruled against divorce violates the basic principle of marriage, which is that it must be entered into on an equal footing, and out of free will," he said.

"You can't tell a woman who has been abducted that she is in a de factor [common law] marriage formed voluntarily, freely, on an equal footing either," Mo said.

He said the court had failed to understand the spirit of the law, and that the judgment was wrong.

According to the China Economic Times, the court was no stranger to trafficking, having also handed down a five-year jail term to a Feng county resident surnamed Dong for abduction and trafficking in women and a three-year suspended sentence to a resident surnamed Wang on the same offense.

Suspected suicides

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.

One woman was found drowned alongside her child in Liangzhai, Feng county on Jan. 16, 2022, while an unidentified woman's body was pulled out of the Dongyingzi river in Shizai on Mar. 31, 2020.

Female bodies were also found on May 13, 2020 in Qishan township and in Zhaozhuang township on Sept. 21, 2017.

Current affairs commentator Wei Ming said the bodies were likely the result of suicides of trafficked women.

"When these women are completely desperate and can't run away, [this is all they can do]," he said, but said he wouldn't rule out foul play.

"There is another possibility which shouldn't be ruled out, which is that local people are dealing brutally with women who tried to run away," he said.

Journalist Chen Hongtao said trafficking is rife in Feng county, as well as in neighboring counties in Henan, Anhui and Shandong.

"The customs, the dialect, the economy, are all very similar in those places where Shandong, Anhui, Henan [and Jiangsu] meet," Chen told RFA. "Extended clans have huge power there, and local officials, public prosecutors and law enforcement all go to great lengths to cover up this kind of thing."

"Trafficked women brought in from outside this place have no future there at all ... those who are strong-minded and can't bear the torture of it can only seek death," he said.

Open secret

A resident of Zhoukou township in Henan province said the buying and selling of women is an open secret in his hometown.

"In a village where I come from, there was a man who bought a wife for 3,000 yuan from Sichuan, who had already been bought and sold by a few different men," the resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said. "Later, she got sold on to someone else, who feared she would escape, so he would beat her and tie her up."

"There are quite a few women with mental illness or learning disabilities," he said. "If they were disobedient, they would be beaten until she did as expected."

"Things are very similar all across east Henan, northern Anhui, northern Jiangsu and southwestern Shandong," he said, adding that the daughters of trafficked women are sometimes themselves sold on by male relatives.

Repeated calls to the Feng county police department, health bureau, CCP committee propaganda department rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday, while an official who answered the phone at the Jiangsu provincial police department declined to comment when contacted by RFA.

The Feng county Red Cross declined to comment when asked about statistics for unusual deaths among women in the area.

"We don't have the statistics here, so we can't help," an employee said by phone on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, around 100 alumni of Peking University sent an open letter to the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP), calling for a central government investigation into Yang Qingxia's case.

The letter, which was addressed to CCP Central Committee and the State Council, was deleted soon after posting on Chinese social media.

"We are 100 ordinary students who once studied at Peking University," the letter said. "As the builders of the Chinese dream in the new era, we feel sleepless and grief-stricken about what happened to Yang [Qing]]xia."

Repeated attempts to contact letter author Chen Hancong were unsuccessful on Wednesday.

Current affairs commentator Guo Baosheng said Peking University alumni carry a certain weight in Chinese society.

"This time, their voice also represents the voice of the people," Guo said. "They are using their identity [as alumni] to lend weight to the demand that the government find out the facts."

The letter takes aim at four statements issued by the CCP and government investigation team in Xuzhou, which administers Feng county, and calls for a probe directed from Beijing.

It called for greater protection for women from trafficking and other illegal actions.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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