Back in January, a mother of eight children locked up in a dilapidated hut in China with a thick metal chain around her neck set the internet ablaze as netizens erupted with shock and anger over the treatment of women in some parts of the country.
The video, which was filmed by a vlogger in Feng County (located in rural Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province), showed the woman standing in a doorless shack wearing only a thin, pink sweater despite the visibly frigid temperatures outside. The woman, later identified by the authorities as being Yang Qingxia (the woman’s true identity is still a matter of dispute), appeared to be in a daze and did not seem to understand what was happening around her. The only thing she managed to tell the vlogger was: “This world doesn’t want me anymore.”
After the heart-wrenching video went viral, many activists attempted to help Yang, but most were met with resistance or arrest at the hands of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) authorities.
Now, an exclusive interview obtained by Vision Times, sheds new light on the experience of Mr. Li — a Chinese national who now lives in Japan.
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Li, who concealed his real name out of fear of reprisal from the CCP regime, told the Japanese edition of Vision Times that after seeing footage of the Xuzhou mother, he could not help but feel inspired to take action. Li then spearheaded a group of activists who traveled to Feng County in hopes of assisting Yang.
‘Struck a chord on a universal level’
“I first saw the video of the chained woman in February 2022. I was very angry at the time, and believed that the incident had struck a chord with people on a universal level. I then set up a group on WeChat, urging like-minded people to connect and figure out ways on how we could help her.”
After one of the posts reached over 40,000 views in a single day, over a thousand netizens reached out expressing interest in traveling to Feng County, Li said.
“After that post went viral, I organized for volunteers to go to Jiangsu Province on Feb. 22. As soon as we arrived in Feng County, however, before we were even able to gather, I was stopped by Domestic Security officers who had followed me from my hometown.”
Li then explained how the officers took him to a detention center where he was kept in a windowless room that had only a bed, a small table and some stools, and a bathroom. He said that though the place did not look like a prison, the door was locked from the outside and he was forbidden from leaving.
Li said he was also given a few books to read after making the request several times.
“Food was regularly delivered and garbage was collected. I didn’t have anything to do though, so I asked if I could have a book to read. Although they told me that wasn’t allowed, I kept asking because I wanted to at least have something to do. Finally, a staff member showed me a few photos on his mobile phone and brought me a few books from the library.”
“In the following days, I spent the whole time reading,” Li said.
During his arrest, Li also described how he saw a blackboard in one of the detention facility’s offices with phrases such as “maintaining stability” written on it — a term referring to the Party’s justification for the use of strict societal controls and censorship.
“I remember seeing phrases like ‘ideological construction of colleges and universities,’ ‘management of Xinjiang-related individuals,’ ‘people of interest living overseas,’ and ‘terrorism-related individuals,’ as well as various tasks arranged by the National Security Office drafting ‘management’ rules for people under current watch by the Ministry of Public Security.”
Li said that guards would check on him everyday, keeping notes of their conversations, and then a new group of officers would check on the transcripts from previous days to ensure the information he was telling them was not changing.
“I asked the personnel what they planned to do with me and they were vague at first, but after a few days, they hinted that they would likely release me after the Two Sessions.” (An annual meeting of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.)
Six days after the Two Sessions ended, Li was released. “At that time, I felt that I could no longer stay in China, so I came back to Japan,” he said.
Based on the timing of the Two Sessions, it’s likely that he was released in late March after spending almost a month in detention.
Under constant watch
After returning to Japan and having some time to reflect on his experience, Li shared with Tokunaga that he still doesn’t understand how he ended up on the Chinese regime’s radar.
“I don’t know exactly how our actions were discovered, but I’m guessing there are several ways it could have happened,” Li said, explaining that he believed his mobile phone must have been hacked, which resulted in his whereabouts and correspondence being constantly monitored and tracked.
In addition, Li suspects that the posts he made on WeChat channels also resulted in the authorities flagging his activities there. WeChat is a popular social media and payment app used by many people in Asia, but is fully monitored by the Chinese government.
“Even if your phone is turned off and airplane mode is enabled, the real-time location of that phone can still be monitored,” he said, adding that Chinese surveillance and facial recognition technologies are also very developed.
Li added that two other volunteers, going under the usernames of “Wu Yi” and “120 Jin” on Weibo had also been arrested upon traveling to Feng county, with the current status’ unknown.
“I’ve been trying to get an update on their situations but haven’t been able to,” he said.
Vision Times Tokyo-based reporter Tokunaga Muriko contributed to this report.