Woman chained in Xuzhou in suspected human trafficking ring
by Lu Haitao

The video of her being chained has sparked online outrage across the country. Not even the Winter Olympics can distract the public's attention. The authorities' incoherent statements fail to convince. Two activists arrested. The story has been censored online.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - The video of a woman chained in a hut in the city of Xuzhou (Jiangsu) has gone viral online in Chinese sparking outrage. The story, which emerged during the Chinese New Year, has raised concerns about human trafficking and the possible role of the authorities in covering up criminal activities.

The police arrested three people in connection with the case. However, inconsistent statements by Xuzhou officials have raised several doubts compunded by online censorship after social media users began to question the authorities' explanation.

Law enforcement agencies set up checkpoints to prevent outsiders from visiting the village. After their unsuccessful attempt to investigate and visit the woman, two activists were arrested by Feng county officers.

Police have blocked roads in the village under teh pretense of "sanitary measures". A video posted shows the police threatening to have hundreds of officers ready to arrest anyone who tries to reach the area where teh discovery was made.

The footage, which has been circulating on the web since late January, shows a dishevelled, toothless woman in light clothing chained in a hut. She has reportedly given birth to eight children. The woman said that "all of the family are rapists". Online commentators suspect that the woman is a victim of human trafficking and has become a sex slave. The local authorities denied the allegation; they said the victim was married to a villager, Dong Zhimin, and was chained up because of her mental illness and risk of aggression. The government is reportedly offering assistance and subsidies to the family.

So far, the authorities in Xuzhou have issued four conflicting statements on the matter. In one they said the woman was begging in Feng county, only to be taken in by a family. Another stated that the woman's name was Xiaohuamei and that she was originally from Yunnan. The inconsistency of the official position has prompted the public to wonder about the woman's true identity, whether her mental illness is caused by imprisonment, and why the authorities have been lenient about the fact that she gave birth to eight children under the one-child policy.

The woman's alleged husband, Dong Zhimin, claimed to be the 'father of eight children', appearing in advertisements for local businesses, which generated even more uproar. The advertisements were later removed. Under pressure, the Xuzhou government announced Dong's arrest for illegal detention; police also detained two Yunnan nationals for abducting the woman. The authorities then announced that the woman had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and was hospitalised.

Xiaohuamei's sentences sparked discussions about the phenomenon of female trafficking, which exists throughout China. Two former investigative reporters went to Yunnan to look for news. People in the village where Xiaohuamei is said to have come from said that many women have been kidnapped, but they could not confirm her identity. Some claimed that the woman was actually from Nanchong, Sichuan, but the authorities denied it.

The euphoria over the ongoing Winter Olympics in Beijing has failed to silence public outrage, even though censors started to remove online posts. Some web users have revealed that they have received calls from the police and the government. Critics say the abduction of children and women is tacitly accepted by the authorities. Author and screenwriter Yan Geling accused Xi Jinping of being a human trafficker: her name was later banned from Weibo, a kind of Chinese Twitter.