The most talked-about 2022 scandal in China involved a model CCP activist who bought a wife and kept her chained for years. He has been sentenced, but doubts remain.
by Massimo Introvigne
News appear and are forgotten rapidly, but China has not forgotten the “chained mother of eight” incident that exploded in February 2022. It became the most commented media item in Chinese social media in years, and was one of the cases when the CCP propaganda was hosted by its own petard. Party media created the incident by broadcasting the story of a model citizen and CCP loyalist in Xuzhou’s Feng county in Jiangsu province, who worked tirelessly to support his eight children. After a few days of propaganda about this man, some started to wonder why the eight children’s mother was never mentioned.
Then, a video appeared on Douyin (TikTok) showing the mother of eight emaciated and chained. In few days, the video had gathered more than ten million downloads. CCP local authorities released in one month not less than five official reports of the incident, with conflicting and contradictory information. Initially, it was claimed that the woman was schizophrenic and needed to be chained to prevent her from harming herself and others—a good example of China’s commitment to “progressive” psychiatry. In subsequent reports, however, the Party had to confirm what millions of netizens had already guessed, that the woman was one of the many victims of human trafficking.
Because of the (now defunct) one-child policy, in many Chinese families girls were aborted since as a single child a boy was preferred. After a couple of decades, this created a shortage of wives. Brides were massively imported from North Korea, but this was not enough. Human traffickers who “bought” or kidnapped girls from poor families and sold them to perspective husbands built criminal empires, often with the complicity of corrupt CCP bureaucrats.
In a country where protests are prohibited, there were demonstrations in the universities and reportedly even among female PLA soldiers. Public Security closed the area where the woman lived, claiming conveniently that there had been cases of COVID-19. In the end, the CCP announced that the husband of the chained woman, initially hailed as a model citizen, had been arrested, and even high cadres of the Party in Jiangsu province had been fired and placed under investigation.
On April 6 , 2023, the Intermediate People’s Court of Xuzhou city, Jiangsu, opened the trial of Dong Zhimin, the husband who had “purchased” the chained mother of eight, and the human traffickers who had sold her. A case that had been widely debated throughout the entire country was concluded in just one day. On April 7, Dong Zhimin was found guilty of abusing his wife and sentenced to six-and-a-half years in prison, plus another three years for her “illegal detention,” i.e., for keeping her in chains. Five traffickers were sentenced respectively to 11 years, 10 years, 13 years, 8 years and 6 months, and 8 years in prison, and fined.
Netizens in China were disappointed by the quick trial and the comparatively mild sentences. Had the “husband” been convicted of rape, he would have faced a much longer jail sentence and even the death penalty. The traffickers were sentenced, but there was no effort to ascertain the extent of their illegal activities and the complicities that had made them possible. As for the chained mother of eight, it was announced by the authorities that she is recovering in a hospital but information is vague and difficult to confirm independently.
The CCP believes it has closed the case. But answers to the broader question of bride trafficking were not supplied, skepticism about the authorities’ real willingness to put an end to a lucrative illegal traffic abounds, and once again China emerges as a country where the root causes of passionately debated social problems that involve the corruption of the CCP’s own cadres are never clearly and transparently investigated and disclosed.