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Follow-Up to the Story of the Xuzhou Mother-of-Eight Chained in Hut

The Xuzhou mother-of-eight turns out to be Xiao Huamei from a Yunnan village.

Manya Koetse

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The Xuzhou mother-of-eight who was found to be chained inside a small hut next to the family home has already become one of the biggest social stories on Weibo this year. Now, local authorities have provided an update on their ongoing investigation into the woman’s background.

Find the latest update to this story here.

It’s been well over a week since the story of a mother of eight children living in a small hut with an iron chain around her neck sent shockwaves across Chinese social media (link).

The story first went viral on January 28 after a Chinese vlogger showed the horrifying living conditions of the woman in a short video.

The footage, filmed in Xuzhou, was widely shared on Chinese social media and triggered massive outrage. Since it was said that the woman suffers from mental illness, netizens asked how it was possible for her to have no less than eight children with her husband.

How was this all even legal? Many netizens wondered if the woman was abducted and kept against her will and abused as some sort of breeding machine by her husband and his family. The fact that the couple had seven sons and only one daughter also fuelled online rumors, and there was also a lot of speculation about why Yang seemed to have lost her teeth.

On January 30, local officials responded to the controversy. In a statement issued by the ‘Feng County Joint Investigation Team,’ the situation of the woman and her husband was partly explained. The woman, Yang *Xia (杨某侠), reportedly was a beggar on the streets in the summer of 1998 when she was taken in by the Dong family in the town of Huankou and she ended up marrying their 30-something son Dong *Min (董某民).

According to the statement, the local officials did not properly check and verify Yang’s identity information when they registered the marriage certificate. The local family planning department apparently also made some errors. They did “implement birth control measures” after the couple had two children, but that obviously did not work out and they failed to follow up.

The family did notice that Yang had mental problems, but her condition allegedly did not worsen until June of 2021 when she would also display aggressive and violent behavior. In order to prevent her from hitting the children or others, she would be tied up by her husband until she was more stable. The statement further said that Yang’s DNA was entered into the national database for missing persons in 2020, but that no match was found.

Feng County authorities claimed that following the online controversy, Yang was diagnosed with schizophrenia and was receiving treatment in the hospital, while a special team was also investigating if Dong could be held criminally liable.

The statement did not succeed in calming the storm. On the contrary, it only seemed to spark more anger as netizens now also knew that the family was receiving subsidies from their town and that Dong *Min was profiting from his sudden online ‘fame’ by creating his own online channel and appearing in several local marketing promotional videos. The fact that many posts, videos, and hashtags relating to this story were taken offline only added fuel to the fire.

 

Yang is actually Xiao Huamei

On Monday, February 7th, at 23:00 pm, Xuzhou authorities released an update to the investigation on Weibo.

Because Yang’s marriage certificate contained mention of Yagu Village (亚谷村) in Fugong County in Yunnan Province, investigators went there to do research. With the help of local authorities, villagers, and household registers, they were able to determine Yang’s identity.

Her name is Xiao Huamei (小花梅) and she was born and raised in Yagu. In 1994, she married and moved to the city of Baoshan, but she divorced and returned to her village two years later, which is also when local villagers remember detecting that Xiao seemed to have a disorder. Her parents, now deceased, ordered a female fellow villager who had married someone from Jiangsu to take Xiao with her to receive treatment and look for a suitable partner for marriage.

Although the woman took Xiao with her on a train from Yunnan’s Kunming city to Jiangsu’s Donghai, Xiao went missing shortly after arrival. The woman, named Sang (桑), never reported Xiao Huamei missing to the police and she also did not notify Xiao’s family. Local authorities have spoken to Sang and they will later follow up on this story.

As for the current situation of Yang (or Xiao), they state that her condition has stabilized and that she is received proper treatment for her schizophrenia. Medical reports indicate that Yang lost her teeth due to a severe gum infection but her overall health is otherwise normal.

The Xuzhou authorities further write that DNA research has confirmed that all of the eight children are the parents’ biological children.

Although the statement does say that the public security bureau is still looking into Dong’s criminal liability, it does not provide any information on the current living situation of Xiao, Dong, and their eight children.

In the early morning of February 8, the statement had been shared over 112,000 times on Weibo, getting over 1,3 million likes and garnering thousands of comments.

 

Not Only Yang

Despite the most recent statement, Weibo netizens still have many questions about the situation and the online anger has not subsided. A much-recurring comment is that the statement is mentioning trivial things while ignoring major issues. It does not disclose, for example, how old Yang is now and whether or not she was still a minor in 1998.

Some mention how the public’s trust in the local authorities is gone, others say they suspect that the female villager named Sang might have been a human trafficker, and then there are those who still believe that the mother-of-eight still has another identity.

Those talking about a “third identity” refer to one theory that kept surfacing over the past week, namely that the Xuzhou mother is actually Li Ying (李莹), a woman who went missing in 1996. Old photos of Li showed a remarkable resemblance to the Xuzhou woman.

Yang’s face compared to an older photo of the missing woman Li Ying.

But Chinese media outlet The Paper reported on Monday that the family of Li Ying received official confirmation that there is no DNA match between Li Ying and Yang.

Besides the fact that the online anger over Yang’s situation helped launch a local investigation into her identity and circumstances, it has also raised more awareness of the fact that there might be many more women like her.

Another recent video shows how a disabled woman who is also said to be living in a village in Xuzhou, Feng County, is kept chained on the floor.

Some netizens are saying that (e-commerce) products from Xuzhou and Feng County should be boycotted as a way to condemn the local government. Others are sharing art dedicated to Yang.

One of many online illustrations dedicated to Yang.

“Why are these statements always posted so late at night?” some sleepless netizens wonder: “I am so angry I can no longer sleep.”

Many people are still waiting for more answers: “Please investigate thoroughly, please punish severely, don’t be overly tolerant, no forgiveness.”

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Heidi Mahon

    February 8, 2022 at 12:03 am

    Lol are Chinese netizens ever anything else but outraged ,makes you wonder how some of them ever find the time to get off social media and do anything else ? . Think maybe some of them need to find a job

  2. Avatar

    Tanya Glover

    February 10, 2022 at 12:11 am

    Says the person who took the time to make ride and snarky comments about strangers online.

  3. Avatar

    Jessie

    February 14, 2022 at 7:55 pm

    Excuse me? You aren’t outraged by domestic abuse and human trafficking? Is something missing in your head up there? Or do you see Chinese people as less than human and think it’s OK that this is happening to the women over there. Shame on you really, because this happens to women around the world, including in western countries.

  4. Avatar

    B M

    March 26, 2022 at 2:52 pm

    The woman IS Li Ying, the daughter of Chinese Liberation Army parents. THAT is why they concocted this BS story about some mentally handicapped beggar — this is a total communist lie and you’re just repeating it here, shame on you.

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China Local News

Knife-Wielding Woman Goes on Rampage at Guixi Primary School

Shortly after the incident, videos and photos began circulating on WeChat, showing young children covered in blood on the ground.

Manya Koetse

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A woman in Guixi, a county-level city in Jiangxi’s Yingtan, has been taken into custody after stabbing people at a primary school on Monday, May 20, around noon. The incident resulted in at least two fatalities and left ten others injured.

Shortly after the incident, videos and photos began circulating on WeChat, showing young children covered in blood on the ground, victims of the woman’s stabbing rampage at the Mingde Primary School in Guixi’s Wenfang.

The incident immediately attracted significant attention on Weibo, where netizens not only commented on the tragedy of innocent children being involved in such a horrific crime but also on the unusual fact that the suspect is female; as typically, perpetrators of such crimes are male.

Others also questioned why the school security guards were not present to prevent such an incident and how the woman managed to gain access to the school grounds in the first place.

The 45-year-old female suspect is a native of Guixi. It’s reported that she used a paring knife to carry out the stabbing attack on the school premises.

Shortly after the incident, local authorities called on blood donation centers in Guixi to extend their opening hours, and local residents started queuing up to donate blood to help out the victims who are still being treated for their injuries.

Another question that lingers is why the woman would commit such an atrocious crime. People suggest it is bàofù shèhuì (报复社会), a Chinese term that translates to “retaliate against society” or “taking revenge on society.”

Baofu shehui is often cited as a type of criminal motivation for knife-wielding incidents in China, particularly those occurring at schools, where individuals with personal grievances and/or mental health issues commit these extreme crimes. Such incidents have happened multiple times in the past, notably between 2010 and 2012, during a series of elementary school and kindergarten attacks.

Different from these kinds of attacks in Europe or the US, it often involves older perpetrators who are disillusioned, frustrated, and alienated from their communities amid rapidly changing social and economic conditions in China.

But for many netizens, such a possible motivation does not make sense. Some commenters wrote: “Taking revenge on society should never be done by venting one’s anger against children.”

Others wish the worst upon the perpetrator. One popular comment says, “I hope she gets the death penalty, and that the victims’ families get to execute her.”

By Manya Koetse

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Insight

The Tragic Story of “Fat Cat”: How a Chinese Gamer’s Suicide Went Viral

The story of ‘Fat Cat’ has become a hot topic in China, sparking widespread sympathy and discussions online.

Manya Koetse

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The tragic story behind the recent suicide of a 21-year-old Chinese gamer nicknamed ‘Fat Cat’ has become a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media, touching upon broader societal issues from unfair gender dynamics to businesses taking advantage of grieving internet users.

The story of a 21-year-old Chinese gamer from Hunan who committed suicide has gone completely viral on Weibo and beyond this week, generating many discussions.

In late April of this year, the young man nicknamed ‘Fat Cat’ (胖猫 Pàng Māo, literally fat or chubby cat), tragically ended his life by jumping into the river near the Chongqing Yangtze River Bridge (重庆长江大桥) following a breakup with his girlfriend. By now, the incident has come to be known as the “Fat Cat Jumping Into the River Incident” (胖猫跳江事件).

News of his suicide soon made its rounds on the internet, and some bloggers started looking into what was behind the story. The man’s sister also spoke out through online channels, and numerous chat records between the young man and his girlfriend emerged online.

One aspect of his story that gained traction in early May is the revelation that the man had invested all his resources into the relationship. Allegedly, he made significant financial sacrifices, giving his girlfriend over 510,000 RMB (approximately 71,000 USD) throughout their relationship, in a time frame of two years.

When his girlfriend ended the relationship, despite all of his efforts, he was devastated and took his own life.

The story was picked up by various Chinese media outlets, and prominent social and political commentator Hu Xijin also wrote a post about Fat Cat, stating the sad story had made him tear up.

As the news spread, it sparked a multitude of hashtags on Weibo, with thousands of netizens pouring out their thoughts and emotions in response to the story.

 
Playing Games for Love
 

The main part of this story that is triggering online discussions is how ‘Fat Cat,’ a young man who possessed virtually nothing, managed to provide his girlfriend, who was six years older, with such a significant amount of money – and why he was willing to sacrifice so much in order to do so.

The young man reportedly was able to make money by playing video games, specifically by being a so-called ‘booster’ by playing with others and helping them get to a higher level in multiplayer online battle games.

According to his sister, he started working as a ‘professional’ video gamer as a means of generating money to satisfy his girlfriend, who allegedly always demanded more.

He registered a total of 36 accounts to receive orders to play online games, making 20 yuan per game (about $2.80). Because this consumed all of his time, he barely went out anymore and his social life was dead.

In order to save more money, he tried to keep his own expenses as low as possible, and would only get takeout food for himself for no more than 10 yuan ($1,4). His online avatar was an image of a cat saying “I don’t want to eat vegetables, I want to eat McDonald’s.”

The woman in question who he made so many sacrifices for is named Tan Zhu (谭竹), and she soon became the topic of public scrutiny. In one screenshot of a chat conversation between Tan and her boyfriend that leaked online, she claimed she needed money for various things. The two had agreed to get married later in this year.

Despite of this, she still broke up with him, driving him to jump off the bridge after transferring his remaining 66,000 RMB (9135 USD) to Tan Zhu.

As the story fermented online, Tan Zhu also shared her side of the story. She claimed that she had met ‘Fat Cat’ over two years ago through online gaming and had started a long distance relationship with him. They had actually only met up twice before he moved to Chongqing. She emphasized that financial gain was never a motivating factor in their relationship.

Tan additionally asserted that she had previously repaid 130,000 RMB (18,000 USD) to him and that they had reached a settlement agreement shortly before his tragic death.

 
Ordering Take-Out to Mourn Fat Cat
 

– “I hope you rest in peace.”
– “Little fat cat, I hope you’ll be less foolish in your next life.”
– “In your next life, love yourself first.”

These are just a few of the messages left by netizens on notes attached to takeout food deliveries near the Chongqing Yangtze River Bridge.

AI-generated image spread on Chinese social media in connection to the event.

As Fat Cat’s story stirred up significant online discussion, with many expressing sympathy for the young man who rarely indulged in spending on food and drinks, some internet users took the step of ordering McDonalds and other food delivery services to the bridge, where he tragically jumped from, in his honor.

This soon snowballed into more people ordering food and drinks to the bridge, resulting in a constant flow of delivery staff and a pile-up of take-out bags.

Delivery food on the bridge, photo via Weibo.

However, as the food delivery efforts picked up pace, it came to light that some of the deliveries ordered and paid for were either empty or contained something different; certain restaurants, aware of the collective effort to honor the young man, deliberately left the food boxes empty or substituted sodas or tea with tap water.

At least five restaurants were caught not delivering the actual orders. Chinese bubble tea shop ChaPanda was exposed for substituting water for milk tea in their cups. On May 3rd, ChaPanda responded that they had fired the responsible employee.

Another store, the Zhu Xiaoxiao Luosifen (朱小小螺蛳粉), responded on that they had temporarily closed the shop in question to deal with the issue. Chinese fast food chain NewYobo (牛约堡) also acknowledged that at least twenty orders they received were incomplete.

Fast food company Wallace (华莱士) responded to the controversy by stating they had dismissed the employees involved. Mixue Ice Cream & Tea (蜜雪冰城) issued an apology and temporarily closed one of their stores implicated in delivering empty orders.

In the midst of all the controversy, Fat Cat’s sister asked internet users to refrain from ordering take-out food as a means of mourning and honoring her brother.

Nevertheless, take-out food and flowers continued to accumulate near the bridge, prompting local authorities to think of ways of how to deal with this unique method of honoring the deceased gamer.

 
Gamer Boy Meets Girl
 

On Chinese social media, this story has also become a topic of debate in the context of gender dynamics and social inequality.

There are some male bloggers who are angry with Tan Zhu, suggesting her behaviour is an example of everything that’s supposedly “wrong” with Chinese women in this day and age.

Others place blame on Fat Cat for believing that he could buy love and maintain a relationship through financial means. This irked some feminist bloggers, who see it as a chauvinistic attitude towards women.

A main, recurring idea in these discussions is that young Chinese men such as Fat Cat, who are at the low end of the social ladder, are actually particularly vulnerable in a fiercely competitive society. Here, a gender imbalance and surplus of unmarried men make it easier for women to potentially exploit those desperate for companionship.

The story of Fat Cat brings back memories of ‘Mo Cha Official,’ a not-so-famous blogger who gained posthumous fame in 2021 when details of his unhappy life surfaced online.

Likewise, the tragic tale of WePhone founder Su Xiangmao (苏享茂) resurfaces. In 2017, the 37-year-old IT entrepreneur from Beijing took his own life, leaving behind a note alleging blackmail by his 29-year-old ex-wife, who demanded 10 million RMB (±1.5 million USD) (read story).

Another aspect of this viral story that is mentioned by netizens is how it gained so much attention during the Chinese May holidays, coinciding with the tragic news of the southern China highway collapse in Guangdong. That major incident resulted in the deaths of at least 48 people, and triggered questions over road safety and flawed construction designs. Some speculate that the prominence given to the Fat Cat story on trending topic lists may have been a deliberate attempt to divert attention away from this incident.

‘Fat Cat’ was cremated. His family stated their intention to take necessary legal steps to recover the money from his former girlfriend, but Tan Zhu reportedly already reached an agreement with the father and settled the case. Nevertheless, the case continues to generate discussions online, with some people wondering: “Is it over yet? Can we talk about something different now?”

Fat Cat images projected in Times Square

However, given that images of the ‘Fat Cat’ avatar have even appeared in Times Square in New York by now (Chinese internet users projected it on one of the big LED screens), it’s likely that this story will be remembered and talked about for some time to come.

By Manya Koetse

– With contributions by Miranda Barnes and Ruixin Zhang

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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