China: Chained Woman Was Actually Sold Twice

Officials update Xiaohuamei's story once again
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 11, 2022 9:00 AM CST
Updated Feb 23, 2022 9:25 AM CST
China Makes Arrests in Chained Woman Case
Stock photo of a barred window, marked with chains.   (Getty Images/Alberto Masnovo)

Update: Chinese officials' evolving story on the woman found chained by her neck has gotten another revision. While authorities earlier reversed their denials and confirmed the woman, named Xiaohuamei and confirmed to be 44, had been a human trafficking victim, they now say she was actually sold twice. In early 1998, she arrived in Jiangsu and was sold to a man who intended to marry her for 5,000 yuan (about $790 in today's dollars), reports the Wall Street Journal. She disappeared a few months later to the buyer's dismay, and somehow ended up being sold again to the man who allegedly kept her chained; they obtained a marriage license in June 1998. Our original story from Feb. 11 follows:

Chinese officials say a mother of eight filmed chained by the neck to a doorless shack in freezing temperatures is indeed a victim of human trafficking—two weeks after authorities claimed she was not. County-level officials in Jiangsu province initially said the woman, diagnosed with schizophrenia, was legitimately married to a man with the surname Dong, whose father had found the woman begging on the street shortly before their 1998 wedding, per Reuters. It was only after intense public pressure that officials said they would investigate Dong. They have now charged him with illegal detention and human trafficking, the BBC reports.

On Tuesday, Xuzhou city said the woman initially identified by the surname Yang was in fact named Xiaohuamei (though Reuters notes that may be a nickname rather than her real name) and hails from a village in southwestern Yunnan province. Village residents told authorities that, sometime after Xiaohuamei was divorced in 1996, her parents asked a woman with the surname Sang to take her across the country to Jiangsu province so she could seek treatment for mental illness and find a husband, per the BBC. According to authorities, Sang—who is also charged with human trafficking—claimed to have lost Xiaohuamei upon arrival in Jiangsu, though she never informed police or the woman's now-deceased parents.

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Captivated social media users seemed to doubt the officials' explanations even while welcoming the charges, per the BBC. The Washington Post earlier this week described "clumsy attempts by local authorities to contain the outpouring of criticism" amid "a broader debate about mistreatment of women, the ineffectiveness of local authorities in fighting trafficking, and poverty in rural areas." According to the outlet, a law professor remarked that under Chinese law, the maximum penalty for trafficking a woman or child is three years in prison, which is "less than the penalty for selling a few protected parakeets." (More China stories.)

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