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Chained Mother of 8 in Xuzhou Draws Attention to Widespread Abduction and Trafficking of Chinese Women

Leo Timm covers China-related news, culture, and history. Follow him on Twitter at @kunlunpeaks
Published: February 7, 2022
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A satirical illustration by a Chinese internet user showing the chained Ms. Yang of Xuzhou and her husband. (Image: Screenshot via Twitter)

Shocking videos and reports of a woman — apparently kidnapped as a teen to a rural part of eastern China and repeatedly raped to the point of insanity — called domestic and international attention to the plight of thousands of women and girls across the country. 

In early February, the woman, surnamed Yang, was discovered living in a village near the metropolis of Xuzhou by a citizen journalist. She had borne eight children and was seen living in a dilapidated hut with thin clothing and restrained by a long chain locked around her neck. 

The news generated widespread outrage and discussion both in China and abroad. Many netizens wondered why the authorities had not done anything about Yang’s obvious mistreatment, while other observers highlighted the incident as just a drop in the bucket among abducted women in modern China. 

Tens of thousands of stolen brides

A 1989 book titled Ancient Vice: A Chronicle of Female Abduction Nationwide by Chinese writers Xie Zhihong and Jia Lusheng cites official figures claiming that in a mere three years between 1986 and 1989, human traffickers delivered 48,100 women and girls abducted from various parts of the country to six counties in Xuzhou city. 

Xuzhou currently has about 8 million residents across its 10 county-level divisions. Like most other Chinese cities, the municipal government administers both the city proper and surrounding rural counties. 

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Screenshot of the 1989 book Ancient Vice: A Chronicle of Female Abduction Nationwide, which cites the Chinese police figures claiming that 48,100 women and girls were trafficked to Xuzhou in a three-year period. (Image: via Chinese social media)

In one community highlighted in the public security study cited in the book — Niulou village of Tongshan County — two-thirds of young married women in the village had arrived there via trafficking. 

According to a more recent report, published in the Chinese state-run Legal Daily on Feb. 16, 2015, the national Ministry of Public Security (MPS) revealed that officers had rescued more than 30,000 trafficked women and girls in 2014. 

Earlier, the Legal Daily reported in March 2012 that anti-trafficking efforts had led to the resolution of 23,341 cases of abduction since 2009; 45,702 women were freed. 

Dire situation, official indifference 

Though the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is notoriously tight-lipped about truthful statistics, the situation as can be gleaned from the available figures show that human trafficking reamins a serious social crisis in China. 

The 35-year policy that limited most couples to a single child drove many to abandon or abort baby girls in favor of sons, leading to an excess of more than 30 million Chinese men. 

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The shortage of marriageable women has compelled many, especially in the Chinese hinterland, to resort to kidnapping or buying brides. While many are sourced from countries like Vietnam or North Korea, tens of thousands are Chinese women and girls abducted from other parts of the country. 

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Ms. Yang, a woman living in Xuzhou, is seen chained inside her hut. An alleged victim of human trafficking, she had eight children with her husband despite China’s strict policies limiting the number of childbirths, causing many to suspect that the local authorities turned a blind eye to her plight. The image at right shows Ms. Yang’s husband and one of her sons.(Image: Screenshots via Chinese social media)
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A satirical illustration by a Chinese internet user showing the chained Ms. Yang of Xuzhou and her husband. (Image: Screenshot via Twitter)

Although the Chinese Communist Party has claimed on various occasions that trafficking in women must be “punished with severity, speed, and zero tolerance,” it is often seen as mere posturing.

In an opinion piece published by Deutsche Welle, prominent overseas Chinese dissident Chang Ping said that in any area hardest hit by human trafficking, it is common knowledge who has bought a daughter-in-law, but local officials never actively admit it, instead actively participating in and maintaining the trafficking network. Only when the victim’s family comes to the door through the local police, or in a crackdown launched for symbolic purposes will the local police be forced to “rescue” the victims. 

According to overseas Chinese media reports citing locals, Ms. Yang was originally a bright student who excelled in English and showed skill in accounting. She was abducted from a different part of China and forced into marriage with a farmer in Xuzhou, whereafter her physical and mental state suffered in the years of abuse. “This world doesn’t want me anymore,” she can be heard saying in the footage.