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The story of a woman chained behind China's Olympics unfolds

China's Weibo social media platform shared the same post as many others during these Olympics. It was an ode of Eileen Gu, also known to Chinese as Gu Ailing, and freestyle skier Eileen Gu. It teased that it was "the biggest gold medal in Eileen Gu’s heart."

- 45 reads.

The story of a woman chained behind China's Olympics unfolds

The questions were hidden beneath the comments of users. They weren't on the topic. They were about something completely different -- a chained woman, 500 miles away from Beijing, on southeastern China's coast.

"Can you pay more attention to Feng County?" One user asked, "Where's the responsibility for national media?" Another user said: "Please investigate the chained mother at Xuzhou, so that every Chinese girl can take the freedoms and power granted them by this great era. Just like our Ailing."

The story of the woman in chains who was seen in the video has been growing since Jan. 28. It has evaded many censors, both human and digital. Chinese commentators urged national media to bring attention to the scandalous nature of Olympics coverage, from stories about Bing Dwen Dwen's copyright violations to Gu's every move to Olympics coverage.

The original accounts that shared this video vanished, and social media censors deleted hashtags and articles. However, amateur sleuths kept it alive online. Former investigative journalists reported on the scene offline.

Chase Zhao, an English teacher, said that the incident has attracted so much attention because netizens have called attention to it.

This is just one case. It's one woman from a population of over 1.4 billion. And it comes at a time when the Olympics dominate a lot of the nation's bandwidth. It is a glimpse at what's going on in China behind the Winter Games, and how people are advocating for causes in the politically censored space of Chinese social media.

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A video that was posted online from Feng county on the coast, days before the Lunar New Year holiday started on February 1, showed a woman wearing a chain around her neck. The video showed a woman wearing a necklace around her neck.

The video didn't focus on the chain. To show the blogger a family member in rural poverty that could benefit from donations, a blogger visited the village.

He offers his jacket to her and asks if she is cold. She doesn't know what to say. According to the video, it is 0 degrees Celsius (32 F) outside and she is wearing a pink sweatshirt. He puts on a child's jacket. The chain is not addressed by him. Another video from the same blogger shows an interview of the woman's husband who proudly states that he has eight children and his wife.

These were serious implications. Were the women victims of human trafficking or did they abuse them? Did she suffer abuse? What made her unable to move freely? What was her story?

These questions were not addressed in the answers.

The propaganda office of the county government stated that the woman was not trafficked and that she was married. It stated that she was being held captive because of mental health problems. They also stated that she was homeless.

The statement was later changed. According to the county government, the woman's name is "Xiaohuamei," which means Little Plum Blossom. She was brought from a remote area of Yunnan near Myanmar to Jiangsu for treatment. The woman was traveling with Sang, a villager who had somehow lost her.

On February 10, the city government released a statement stating that it had arrested three persons, including Sang, Sang’s husband, and the father of eight children. The first two were for human trafficking, while the father was being held illegally.

There are so many differences. But was that the truth? People weren't happy with it. Popular Weibo user "Jiangning Popo", a Nanjing police officer, stated to his 5,000,000 followers, "I'm so mad I could explode."

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People took action online because of the changing narratives.

Others created complicated charts that showed the differences between each notice from different governments. As the number of contradictory answers grew, other people took matters into their own hands.

Two women, only known online as Quanquan or Wuyi, traveled from China to Little Plum Blossom. According to their audio and video posts, they drove around writing slogans with lipstick on their cars to make the case public while also talking to people about it. Quanquan's video claims that police removed the slogans from their car at one point.

They never got to meet Plum Blossom and were denied entry into a hospital where she was taken after they attempted to bring her sunflowers. Later, the bouquet that they left behind was shown in a video clip from CCTV state broadcaster.

Others online asked people to call the police station and report the incident after the two had stopped posting.

Zhao, an English teacher, stated that she called the Feng County police station to inquire about the two women. They were released by a Beijing women's rights activist who refused to be identified.

Two former investigative journalists, Ma Sa and Tie mu, were known as their pen names. They set out to Yunnan, where Feng county officials claimed the woman was from. They published an article on WeChat that stated they interviewed village residents, who confirmed that Little Plum Blossom was once there. They also found her sister, according to reports. They couldn't confirm whether she was the woman chained.

Many people started chiming in at this point. One Weibo user used professional editing software to create a comparison of faces. This resulted in 900,000.00 views. One WeChat user searched court records for women from Fengxian who had been trafficked. A former journalist also posted a Little Plum Blossom marriage license that was sent to him by someone -- raising an age discrepancy.

These inconsistencies revealed a critical point: No one has the complete story.

Yang Jingyao, 28, a Beijing-based lawyer, said that he had been closely following the case. "You must make your own judgment on a matter."

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Emotions were not in short supply if facts were scarce. It is understandable.

Yaqiu Wang (a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch) said, "It evokes frustration and anger among people when they witness government abuses or negligence." She says that while nobody is talking about the Olympics lately, everyone is talking a lot about this woman on WeChat.

Little Plum Blossom is not able to advocate for her own rights. Her speech was not understood in the original video. The only video of her speech has been found by CCTV, the state broadcaster. Her face was hidden to protect her identity. She has been unable to meet independently with other people, just like Peng Shuai (tennis player), who had accused a senior politician for rape.

According to official statistics, more than 16,000,000 Chinese had severe mental illness as of 2011. However, there is only one bed in a psychiatric hospital for every 100,000 patients. This rate is much lower than that in other countries with higher middle incomes. Zhiying Ma, an expert on mental health in China at the University of Chicago, stated that there are not many other options.

CCTV reports that Little Plum Blossom was taken to a hospital. On Thursday, the Jiangsu province government stated that it would send a team of investigators to investigate. Many people online were relieved. However, others were less pleased: Too little too late, they stated.

The story's loop continues, mixing fact, rumor and outrage with the good intentions of everyday Chinese internet users. It will eventually produce the results of an official final investigation. This is closely monitored by a skittish government, which shuts down any conversations that could reflect poorly on it. The official version of the truth was produced.

While the Beijing Olympics are over, the world is watching in a different way than this case. Provincial investigators get to work. Ma, the professor, says that they are now tackling the most important question.

"What's the solution?" What is the future of this woman?


 

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