Four months pregnant, 27-year-old Li Tiantian was only half-dressed when police dragged her out of her residence, and was barely able to bring her phone by hiding it in her underwear.
Li, who teaches elementary school in a rural county of southern China’s Hunan Province, was then threatened and sent to a psychiatric hospital for “mental problems” due to her online defense of recently terminated university lecturer Song Gengyi on Dec. 17.
“Find a way to save me!” Li wrote in a final text to another internet user, after describing her experience and worry for her unborn child as the police had said they would use injections to “cure” her. Li has not been seen or heard from since Dec. 19.
Standing up for a peer
Song Gengyi, who taught journalism at the Shanghai Zhendan Vocational College, caused a stir earlier by expressing skepticism at the official number of victims in the infamous Nanjing Massacre — when Japanese soldiers commited widespread rape and murder in the then-capital of China.
Though the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that took over after World War II largely ignored Japanese atrocities for years, in recent decades it has maintained that 300,000 men, women, and children were killed in Nanjing when the Imperial Japanese Army took over the city in December 1937.
But Song disputed the certainty of that death toll, noting that there are a number of estimates ranging from tens of thousands to 500,000. She asked students to do their own research and draw their own conclusions about the atrocity.
A student attending Song’s lecture recorded her talking about the Nanjing Massacre figures, but left out her mention of “500,000” and uploaded the video to social media. Song was accused of denying Japan’s wartime brutality and fired, causing further discussion on China’s Twitter-like Weibo about whether the lecturer deserved to lose her job.
On Dec. 17, Li Tiantian voiced support for Song, writing on Weibo Moments that “Song didn’t deny the violence during the Nanjing Massacre itself. … She just presented her individual viewpoint.”
Li added that there was nothing wrong with Song’s actions and argued that what should be considered questionable was the student reporting his teacher, authorities who manipulated the reporting, and intellectuals who stayed silent about the incident.
Deemed ‘mentally ill’
The Communist Party often uses “mental illness” as a justification for the incarceration and torture of religious prisoners or those with undesirable political opinions.
Prior to her disappearance, Li had written several posts on social media saying that local authorities had been threatening and harassing her. According to The Epoch Times, “education authorities, police, and hospital employees forced her to sign her name on documents in a show of her pleading guilty for her online speech.
According to an Internet user named “Brother Lou” who was in contact with Li until she disappeared, Li began receiving threats from officials soon after publicly speaking out in support of Song.
Lou first reposted a message from Li seeking help at 6:09 p.m. on Dec. 18.
In the post, Li said that seven or eight officials from the local education and police authorities suddenly showed up at her front door and coerced her to sign her name on documents admitting her guilt, according to her relayed message. If she refused, she would lose her job and be arrested. They told her that the provincial governor had issued instructions to punish her.
“I’m pleading for society’s help,” the teacher wrote in her post to Brother Lou. “If I die, that would be two lives!”
At 4:51 p.m. on Dec. 19, Brother Lou relayed a second message from Li saying the local education authority and the hospital sent people to harass her, requiring her to seek hospital care for injections and medication, citing mental health concerns, according to the message.
“Teacher Chen, I’m Li Tiantian,” she wrote. “I’m being forcibly held in the psychiatric hospital of Yongshun County by local police.” She said she had managed to hide the phone in her underwear. “My cellphone is running out of power.”
Why was Li targeted?
Li Xuewen, a writer, shared on social media that Li Tiantian’s disappearance had caused “great indignation” across the country’s tightly controlled internet.
In the post, Li argues the young teacher was likely targeted by government officials from Hunan’s Xiangxi prefecture, who used her support for Song as an excuse for punishing her over an article she wrote criticizing the government’s rural education system in 2019.
“She was just exercising the basic rights of a citizen, and you actually forced her to disappear,” Li Xuewen wrote. “This is an abuse of public power … and must be immediately rectified.”
The Epoch Times reported that inquiries were sent to Hunan’s local public security bureau and the education bureau, but went unanswered.
Staff in the Xiangxi Prefecture Psychiatric Hospital also declined to provide client information or a phone number, citing privacy concerns.
Leo Timm contributed to this report.