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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 and Covid19

Residents in Locked Down Lhasa Say Local Epidemic Situation is a “Giant Mess”

Manya Koetse

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They’ve been in lockdown for 42 days already, but according to some Lhasa-based bloggers, there have been no improvements in the local epidemic situation. They say there is a stark difference between what officials are reporting and the daily reality they are dealing with in Tibet.

“The epidemic situation is bad in Lhasa, please pay attention,” one netizen wrote on Weibo on September 15, pointing to many new posts surfacing on Chinese social media about the difficulties people are facing in Lhasa city in Tibet.

Over the past week, many Tibet-based bloggers have posted on social media about the local circumstances, and hundreds of Chinese social media posts talk about similar problems in the region. Despite the ongoing lockdown, they say, there are still a growing number of positive cases within Lhasa communities; buses are allegedly going back and forth to bring people to quarantine sites where those testing positive and negative are mixed; they claim that there is an absolute lack of management and control; and many locals suggest that the official reports do not reflect the actual number of Covid cases at all.

According to the official numbers, Tibet saw its peak in Covid cases on August 17 and has since reported fewer new cases, reporting a total of 118 new cases on Thursday.

“I am a bit shocked!” one local social media user wrote: “What I saw was a total of 28 buses lined up outside Lhasa Nagqu No. 2 Senior High School, and then still more [buses] were coming. One bus can fit around 50 people, so there must have been around 1400 positive cases. There was a blind man, there were elderly people in wheelchairs, there were swaddled-up babies, from getting on the bus at 9.30 pm up to now, we’ve been waiting for 5 hours and we’re still waiting now. It’s just pure chaos at the school entrance, there is no order. I won’t sleep tonight.”

On the 14th of September, another netizen wrote:

“In order to welcome central government leaders to Lhasa and to demonstrate the “excellent” epidemic prevention capabilities of the local government & the “outstanding” results of the fight against the epidemic to them, they moved citizens to the rural areas and let them all stay crowded together in unfinished concrete buildings, with all kinds of viruses having free reign.”

On a Lhasa community message board, one Weibo user wrote: “Lhasa has already been in lockdown for over a month, yet our little community has so many infected people that I’m wondering how effective a lockdown actually is? Has Tibet been forgotten? When other places in China have a few positive cases it becomes a hot topic. But what about Tibet? And what about Lhasa?”

Another anonymous poster writes: “Regarding the Lhasa epidemic situation, the numbers were already a bit fake before, but I can understand it was also to take the public sentiment into consideration. I personally don’t care how you report the data, as long as the epidemic prevention and control work is properly managed, then the lockdown can be lifted soon and nobody will say anything about it. But a month has passed already, and in a town with some hundred thousands of people, the epidemic work is increasingly getting worse. Many people around me have never even left the house and inexplicably turned out to test positive. Meanwhile those who tested positive are quarantined together with people who still tested negative, it’s a giant mess.”

 

“Lhasa hasn’t had a Covid outbreak for the past three years, the city doesn’t have enough experience in controlling the epidemic.”

 

“It’s the 42nd day of lockdown,” another person wrote on Friday: “People are lining up to go to centralized isolation, Lhasa has been in lockdown longer than Chengdu, but it doesn’t make it to the hot topic lists. People who tested negative again and again suddenly turn out to be positive. Lhasa hasn’t had a Covid outbreak for the past three years, the city doesn’t have enough experience in controlling the epidemic. It’s going to be hard to restore tourism here before the end of the year. Before, big crowds would come to visit.

Over the past few days, following a heightened focus on the situation in Xinjiang, there has also been more attention for the epidemic situation in Tibet.

“Please pay more attention to the topic of the Lhasa epidemic,” one person wrote, repeating a similar message sent out by many others: “Lhasa doesn’t need your prayers, we need exposure.”

On Friday, one popular gamer with more than a million followers wrote on Weibo:

“Many have been reaching out to me via private messages, saying that the epidemic situation in Tibet’s Lhasa is very serious. If it’s really like this, I hope matters can be settled as soon as possible. I don’t know if this post can stay up or not, but I want to try my best to speak up and generate more attention to this epidemic trend. I experienced two months of lockdown in Shanghai myself and understand what it feels like. I have faith in our nation, and I believe the country will definitely take action. Everyone in Tibet, jiayou [come on].”

Many of the comments and posts coming from Lhasa are similar to those we saw last week, coming from Yining in Xinjiang. Social media users based in these places complain that many of their posts have been deleted and that it is very difficult for local residents to make their voices heard.

This is different from the previous lockdown situations in, for example, Xi’an, Shanghai, or Chengdu, where people posted videos, photos, and shared their lockdown experiences, either from home, from the Covid testing lines, or from the makeshift hospitals.

On the one hand, the reason why people in places such as Lhasa or Yining have more difficulties in making their stories heard in China’s hectic social media environment relates to the fact that these places have a relatively small population size – while Yining and Lhasa have approximately 542,00 and 465,000 inhabitants respectively, there are 21 million people in Chengdu and some 26 million in Shanghai.

But a bigger barrier to posting about their circumstances is formed by the social media censorship that is extra strict when it comes to Xinjiang and Tibet as these places are considered sensitive political subjects, which is why topics related to these regions see far more aggressive online censorship – even for seemingly innocuous posts.

One Weibo user with over 600,000 followers wrote: “In such a sensitive place as Tibet, I really needn’t worry about whether they’re gonna see my post or not. I posted to vent my anger and scolded the leadership for a bit and within 24 hours the police came to my hotel and asked me to delete my posts. Now that everyone is asking for help like this, they will definitely see it, but they are determined to do this and do so on purpose, it’s clear they don’t care about people’s lives.”

Meanwhile, Chinese official media reporting on the epidemic situation in Tibet stress the collective effort to fight the virus in Lhasa. On September 15, People’s Daily reported how 18 sister provinces and cities across China sent their best teams to Tibet to help with local anti-epidemic work and to bring supplies.

The Tibet-based military blogger ZhufengZhengrong (@珠峰峥嵘) writes: “It’s been over a month and my comrade-in-arms are still fighting on the front line (..). I just hope the epidemic will end soon, and that I will be able to meet my family and hold my children and weep.”

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China Brands & Marketing

Chinese Actor and State Security Ambassador Li Yifeng Detained for Soliciting Prostitutes

Li Yifeng is not exactly living up to his role as spokesperson for the Ministry of State Security.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese actor and singer Li Yifeng (李易峰) went top trending on Chinese social media today. The actor, who previously starred as brand ambassador for the Ministry of State Security and played Mao Zedong in The Pioneer, has been detained for visiting prostitutes.

On January 10 of 2021, China celebrated its very first National Police Day to give full recognition to the police and national security staff for their efforts. For this special day, the Ministry of State Security launched a promo video starring Chinese actor Li Yifeng as the National Police Ambassador (#李易峰国安形象传片#). But today, it turned out that Li might not have been the best man for the job.

Chinese official media reported on September 11 that the 35-year-old actor has been detained for soliciting prostitutes. The hashtag “Li Yifeng Detained for Visiting Prostitutes” (#李易峰多次嫖娼被行政拘留#) received nearly two billion views on Weibo on Sunday; the hashtag “Beijing Police Informs that Li Yifeng Solicited Prostitutes” (#北京警方通报李易峰多次嫖娼#) received a staggering three billion views.

Shortly after the news was announced, various brands for which Li served as a brand ambassador announced that they were no longer working with the actor. Lukfook Jewellery, Mengniu Dairy, Honma Golf, Panerai, Prada, Sensodyne, King To Nin Jiom, and other brands declared that they had terminated their contract with Li (#多个品牌终止与李易峰合作#).

Li rose to fame in 2007 when he participated in the Chinese My Hero talent show. He later debuted as a singer and became a successful actor, starring in various Chinese TV dramas and films. Li became especially popular after starring in Swords of Legends and won an award for his role in the 2015 Chinese crime film Mr. Six (老炮儿). He would go on to win many more awards. One of his biggest roles was starring as Mao Zedong in the 2021 blockbuster The Pioneer (革命者).

According to Global Times, Li was previously announced as one of the celebrities attending the Mid-Autumn Festival Gala on CCTV on Saturday night, but his name was later deleted from the program.

“I had never expected my idol to collapse like this,” some disappointed fans wrote on Weibo.

In a ‘super topic’ community dedicated to the star, some fans would not give up on their idol yet: “Where is the proof? Besides the Beijing police statement, where is the actual proof?”

On Li Yifeng’s Weibo page, where the actor has over 60 million fans, nothing has been posted since September 5.

The Huading Awards, a famous entertainment award in China, announced that they cancelled Li Yifeng’s title of “Best Actor in China” (#华鼎奖取消李易峰中国最佳男主角等称号#).

“He lost all he had overnight,” some commenters wrote. “Celebrities generally get cancelled for two things: one is evading taxes, the other is sleeping around,” one popular comment said: “So in a nutshell, pay your taxes and don’t sleep around.*”

“Why do you even need to see a prostitute when you’re so good-looking?” others wondered.

One Weibo user (@大漠叔叔) wrote: “Have a good head on your shoulders and just remember one thing. It does not matter how good your reputation is, or how many titles you have, how much the audience loves you, how much the fans embrace you, how many awards you get, it won’t protect you. Stay clear-headed, merit does not outweigh faults! You can’t cross the moral bottomline nor cross the boundaries of the law. You can be canceled just like that.”

By Manya Koetse 

* This comment is loosely translated here, but the Chinese is quite funny because the words ‘taxes’ and ‘sleeping’ sound similar. “明星塌房的两个主要原因:一个睡,一个税。 简而言之:该税的税,不该睡的别睡.”

 

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