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Two Women Arrested in China’s Jiangsu Province for Helping Woman Locked in Hut After Video Goes Viral on Social Media

A native of New York, Alina has a Bachelors degree in Corporate Communications from Baruch College and writes about human rights' related issues, politics, tech and society.
Published: February 18, 2022
The woman identified as Yang Qingxia is shown with a chain around her neck in a dilapidated hut at a rural property near Xuzhou city in the eastern province of Jiangsu. (Image: via Douyin/Screenshot)

Two women who traveled to Feng county in the Chinese province of Jiangsu have been detained by authorities after going to the home village of a woman found locked up in a dilapidated old hut. 

The video, which went viral on Douyin, a platform that owns TikTok, showed a disheveled woman mumbling incoherently, shivering in the winter cold wearing only a thin layer of clothes despite the visibly freezing temperatures outside. A long metal chain runs from her neck to a wall inside a doorless shed.

The man filming the video can be seen bringing her some clothes and helping her put on a jacket. He asks her a few questions but she is unable to answer and just stares off into the distance. The only thing she manages to say is: “This world doesn’t want me anymore.”

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The woman in the video, now identified as Yang Qingxia, is a mother of eight children and was found by a vlogger who seeks out subjects living in poverty to raise donations for them. The video of Yang quickly took China’s social media by storm, generating an estimated 1.92 billion clicks on at least three different platforms. 

Many users also believed Yang was a victim of human trafficking or may have been kidnapped as a teen, sold to her husband, and had been repeatedly raped to the point of insanity.

Two citizen bloggers on a mission

Wuyi and Quanmei, two friends living in China’s Anhui and Jiangsu provinces, respectively, followed Yang’s case closely. Six days after the video went viral, they jointly wrote a message of support on their Weibo accounts: “The world has not abandoned you. Your sisters are coming!”

The two friends then traveled to Jiangsu’s Feng county in hopes of helping Yang, but according to reports by Radio Free Asia (RFA), they are currently being held under criminal investigation by local police.

“She is suspected of committing a crime,” a police officer at Sunlou police station can be heard telling a person who inquires about one of the women. “They will definitely be issuing a notice of criminal detention.”

The two women first packed up their car and drove to the rural county in hopes of visiting Yang, who according to authorities, had been admitted into a hospital. After much outrage and speculation on social media, police also said they had begun an investigation into her husband, identified only as Mr. Dong.

They also posted daily online updates of their journey, in the vein of China’s citizen bloggers who frequently cover major news events in the absence of an independent domestic press and heavy censorship by the government. They wrote messages in red lipstick on their car doors, urging people to pay attention to Yang’s case and raising awareness of the abuse endured by many women in rural parts of China. 

The two friends wrote: “government reparations past due” on their car, expressing disappointment for the government’s mistreatment of Yang and turning a blind eye to the plight of many Chinese women in rural provinces.

“Have you ever seen the righteous ardor of a woman? Have you ever seen the power of women?” Wuyi wrote. 

Child and bride trafficking a common occurrence in rural China

Meanwhile, more disturbing stories have started to emerge from Feng county, suggesting women and young girls are routinely trafficked there and forced to marry local men.

“My aunt was trafficked from Sichuan province to marry my uncle in rural Feng. After giving birth to a son, she ran away,” one Feng county resident recalled in a post on Weibo, revealing that human trafficking is quite common in small villages and widely accepted by local residents.

“Villagers are themselves the children of trafficked women. Do you think they should revolt and put their own fathers in prison?” the anonymous user wrote. 

“No one had ever wondered why this happened, because to them it is natural for men to benefit and for women to suffer,” wrote another Feng county resident who identified herself as Luodan. She claimed local people who had two children — permitted in rural areas if the first child was a girl — used to marry off their daughters for a large dowry payment, which the family then used to purchase a trafficked woman for their son to marry.

Since the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) implemented its One-Child policy in 1979, many baby girls have been aborted or abandoned as parents were forced to choose between having a son or daughter.

Particularly in rural areas, where sons are considered indispensable for doing manual labor and carrying on the family line, resulted in hundreds of thousands of baby girls ending up in orphanages or nunneries. The policy also caused a severe gender imbalance across the country, resulting in males outnumbering females by almost 30 percent.

The policy was so stringently upheld for 35 years that many women were forced to have late-term abortions or undergo forced sterilization if they were found to be “illegally” pregnant. Chinese authorities boasted that they prevented approximately 400 million births.

While the policy was enacted in an attempt to halt rapid population growth — China reached 1 billion people in 1980 — it also forced many parents to terminate pregnancies or give their newborns away if they already had one child.

Now, however, the CCP is scrambling to reverse a rapidly declining birth rate as more and more couples are opting to still only have one child or remain childless altogether. Even as the one-child policy was lifted in 2016, many are now choosing not to have children as the cost of living in urban cities has risen exponentially.