Man Accused of Chaining Wife With Mental Illness Has been Arrested


On 26 January, a Douyin video (now taken down and re-uploaded on Twitter), exposed the living conditions of a mother of eight children living in a small village of Xuzhou, Jiangsu.

You can view the re-uploaded video below:

Shocking Revelations of the Video

When the man initially approaches the woman in the shack, it’s immediately evident that she is being neglected and perhaps even abused.

The weather is freezing cold outside, but the woman is only in a long-sleeved shirt and pink cardigan plus long pants, she’s huddled in the corner, looking genuinely afraid of any human contact.

Although the video has tried, half-heartedly, to censor the shackle around her neck, the black iron chain that keeps her in the enclosed place is a stark contrast to the light brown walls of her small prison.

Images: (@manyapan)

When the man asks her “if she’s cold”, and offers to bring her some warm clothes, the woman has a glazed look on her face and she’s incoherent for the most part.

The cameraman then inspects her room briefly: he notes that there’s a bundle of fabric on the table—presumably her barest bedding and blankets for the night—and a bowl of porridge that has already gone cold.

Images: (@manyapan)

Frankly speaking, it looks rather unappetising too. 

Even after he fetches some clothes for her from the attic, he comes to realise that these clothes are mostly for children, but they had to make do with it because it was better than having the woman suffer in the 0 °C temperatures.

Images: (@manyapan)

He turns to the camera and remarks, “In this weather, [look] at what this woman is going through—” then he raises the chain—“Where did our compassion go?”

The most outrageous thing about the video, perhaps, is the hashtag caption #星涂星愿幸福年 at the bottom, which is both a wordplay and proverbial phrase that translates to “a new/good road ahead, to fulfilling one’s dreams, in a blessed new year”.

All I can see, in her empty expression and thinning frame, is abuse.

Outrage Sparked on Weibo

Without needing to mention it, the Douyin video went viral on Weibo.

Many questions were posed by the incensed Weibo users: Who was the individual? Why was she being locked up? And under what circumstances had she been put through, such that she gave birth to the eight children living in the house next door who declared that she was their mother?

Why was a mother allowed to be mistreated like this, chained like a disobedient dog outside?


Official Response from Jiangsu Officials

A week after the video was posted, the officials of Jiangsu officials finally stepped forward on Friday to offer a short statement.

It should be noted that between the time of the video’s posting and the officials’ response, most hashtags dedicated to the topic were deliberately taken down on Weibo, though the heated and anger-fuelled discussions concerning the woman never ceased.

The authorities stated that the woman was surnamed Yang, and she had married her husband, Dong Zhimin, in 1998. They denied any claims that she had been human trafficked.

Furthermore, they explained that Ms Yang had later developed a mental illness that often caused bouts of violent behaviour, which included beating children and older people.

Hence, the husband claimed that it was better to separate her from the rest of the family, allowing to stay in the shack next to the house.


As for her state of undress and frazzled look, it was supposedly because the vlogger had filmed her just as she had woken up.  

The Jiangsu Officials then assured the public, stating that the Feng County and Women’s Federation were now involved in assisting the family. Ms Yang is purportedly receiving care and the family will be provided additional help “to ensure that they will have a warm Spring Festival”.

The hashtag “Official Announcement Regarding the Circumstances of Xuzhou Woman with Eight Kids” (#官方通报徐州丰县生育八孩女子情况#) received more than 150 million views by Saturday.

Second Bogus Official Response

Naturally, not many netizens believed the statement, so the Jiangsu came up with another statement again, two days later on Sunday.

It was a bit more detailed, but the smell of indifference and encumbrance still pervades the new statement. 

They wrote that in 1998, Ms Yang had been taken in by Mr Dong when he found her begging on the streets.


In the earlier years, Ms Yang was already showing signs of mental instability, but she could still take care of herself then.

Later on, Ms Yang and Mr Dong went to register their marriage, but the local staff “did not strictly verify their identity information”.

As for the chaining up of Ms Yang, Mr Dong alleges that he only began locking up Ms Yang in mid-2021 when her condition deteriorated from bad to worse.

To support the evidence of her mental illness, the investigating authorities slapped Yang with the mental disorder of schizophrenia, and said that she was now in the hospital receiving treatment.

Officials also claimed that Ms Yang’s name was not present in any national databases of missing people.


Netizens’ Dissatisfaction with Official Response

As evinced by the title of the article and the header, the harrowing story doesn’t end here, nor did the officials’ statement suffice in the least.

The netizens weren’t stupid; they believed what they saw, and knew it was a case of abuse.

In fact, a popular WeChat blogging account called NewsBro started the ball rolling, writing a response to the narrative that the official authorities had given. He stated that the officials must have glanced at the family registry without actually witnessing the conditions that the woman was placed in.

“Even though it’s probably true that Yang suffers from a mental illness,” NewsBro stated, “It does not excuse her being mistreated like this and letting her live chained up in the cold.”

Other netizens protested the official statement as well.

They criticised the fact that the officials blatantly ignored how Ms Yang had been chained up at first, and questioned why a mentally ill woman was allowed, or able to have eight children.

After all, one of the huge debates in present society was whether a mentally-impaired person was capable of giving consent to a legitimate marriage, let alone be able to bear and raise children.

This was a heavily featured theme in another video last March, where a 22-year-old intellectually-disabled woman was seen crying on camera at her own wedding ceremony with a 55-year-old man that she was about to marry. 


Perhaps, the top three most upvoted comments on Weibo elucidate the problems behind the official statements best:


“Are the officials standing up for the legally married family where a mentally-ill woman gives birth to eight children? Therefore, all the officials are ignoring the chain on her neck; she’s already mad and she was made to give birth to 8 children in succession, this is what you mean by having a good birth and good child rearing? Is this your next generation? This is the kind of mother you encourage, one who sacrifices and devotes her everything? Do you even treat that woman as a human being?”

The second comment poses a few pertinent and hard-hitting questions for the official authorities:

“1. If [she is] from the same place, then please let her own father and mother step forward to prove that she wasn’t trafficked.
2. With regards to the woman having violent tendencies, please show [us] a psychiatric report.
3. If she really has a mental illness, why is a mentally ill individual allowed to get married and have children? Why is the woman allowed to be imprisoned in such terrible conditions just because she has a mental illness?
May I ask, which of the above conforms with the law?”

The third commentator was even blunter: “Just because they’ve been certified, it means it’s legal? Where did the woman come from? Why did she go insane? Why is she being shackled? Why has she given birth to eight children? And [you’re still talking about] a Warm Spring Festival?”

In short, don’t treat us like idiots.

The Damning Second Video

Shortly after this controversy arose, another video surfaced, this time featuring the husband.

The interviewer starts off with a question: “Why do you have so much courage to have so many children?”

“Because I want children,” Mr Dong replies. He goes on to recount how he was unmarried at 34, and he was looked down upon for not having a family.

In the face of community pressure, it pushed him towards having children of his own, to the extent where he ended up having eight.

Throughout the entire video, he looked incredibly proud that he had seven sons and one daughter.

Ms Yang, however, remained conspicuously absent throughout the video, even though all the children, looking well-dressed in proper and colourful coats, pants, and shoes, had a few seconds of screen time at least.

This led to another uproar, where netizens started to question how Ms Yang even managed to have so many children with her mental illness, or if her illness had been a by-product of having so many children.

The worst and most heart-breaking question to ask is: Was Ms Yang just being used as a breeding machine, now tossed away and neglected since her “duties” were done?

After watching this video, an artist by the name of Yaduo (@呀哆) even took the liberty to make an artistic rendering of what the entire situation seemed like:

Image: (@呀哆)

A chained up, dishevelled-looking woman bleeding at the groin, with her successive children growing up and looking away from her, stepping out of the door and into the light, to be framed as a struggling family that was still forward looking and wholly complete.

This was also in reference to another video that Mr Dong had been featured in, where he shows how he struggles to raise, take care of, and cook for his “nine children”, of which includes his wife.


Reportedly, Mr Dong even had a Douyin account of his own briefly, which had 13 videos uploaded in total.

There were captions like “The Kids and I” or “Eight Children’s Happy Childhood”, but Ms Yang never appeared, not even for one second, in those videos.

Another Round of Official Investigations

Given how much attention Ms Yang’s plight had attracted, provincial authorities could no longer stay silent, lest they wanted a protest on their hands.

Proper and thorough investigations into Ms Yang’s circumstances revealed that her name was Xiao Huamei (小花梅), which is probably a nickname in the past, and she was born and raised in Yagu, Fugong County.

In 1994, she married and moved to Baoshan City, but returned to her village two years later after divorcing with her first husband.

Her parents told a female villager who had married someone in Jiangsu to take Ms Xiao with her to receive treatment to search for a suitable husband for marriage. Although the fellow villager did take a train from Yunnan’s Kunming City to Jiangsu’s Donghai with Ms Xiao, Ms Xiao went missing shortly after their arrival.

The villager, by the surname of Sang, never reported her disappearance to the police, nor did she notify Xiao Huamei’s family.

Oddities in the Case

Judging from the fact that the Chinese authorities were constantly trying to tamp down the heat around Ms Yang’s case, or even pull wool over the public’s eyes, some netizens took it upon themselves to become their own detectives.

Two Weibo users, under three different pseudonyms, drove to Feng County, Xuzhou, to verify the information with the local government, and pressured them into arresting Mr Dong for his crimes.

When the pair tried to enter the facility that Ms Yang was supposed to be receiving treatment at, they were denied entry and someone even tried to take their phones away. When they lodged a police report for the attempted phone robbery, they were detained for “picking quarrels and making trouble” instead. 

Another Chinese journalist by the name of Deng Fei, was much more successful, since he managed to obtain Ms Yang’s verified ID card, which showed that her date of birth was 6 June 1669.

However, this would place Ms Yang at the age of 52— how did a woman in her late 40s manage to have so many children under such harsh conditions and survive? Why wasn’t her hair showing any signs of greying?

There was clearly a discrepancy in her age.

When Deng Fei managed to acquire the marriage certificate between Yang Qingxiang and Dong Zhimin later, it showed that their marriage was registered and approved in August 1998 by the Huankou Township.


The listed date of birth for Ms Yang was still the same, but what shocked the journalist was that the woman by the name of ‘Yang Qingxiang’ in the marriage photo did not look like Xiao Huamei at all.


This was given credence by well-known author Li Yaling, who also did her own research into the Xuzhou case.

According to her sources, Xiao Huamei was born in 1977, and she was initially sold to another by the villager Sang for 6000 yuan.

In between, Ms Xiao did disappear for a few months after living with the man she had been sold to in Jiangsu, then she was sold again to two other people before she was bought by her current husband, Mr Dong.

There are theories floating around, like how Xiao Huamei, who had been kidnapped in 1996, was actually married to Dong and the mother of the oldest child, but the chained mother in Xuzhou is another woman altogether.

Given that Xiao Huamei was married in 1994, her ex-husband can definitely confirm if Ms Yang of Xuzhou is really the woman he was once married to, but his identity still remains unknown thus far.  

Conclusions, Arrests, Punishments

Besides the unsolved details and confusing timeline of the case, official authorities have confirmed that Ms Yang is indeed the mother of the eight children, and she is currently receiving medical help at a hospital.

Meanwhile, Mr Dong has been arrested on Tuesday (22 Feb), alongside Ms Sang and her husband who have been accused of human trafficking.

There are still six more individuals that were allegedly involved in Ms Yang’s trafficking case.

The children have reportedly been relocated, but this claim has not been verified.

In the midst of the investigations, eight local officials were dismissed from their posts and nine others were doled out various punishments.

Their dismissals and punishments mostly stemmed from their deliberate concealment of the actual circumstances, and for allowing the trafficking and abuse to happen under their governance.

In the words of a former editor of Global Times, a state-controlled magazine, Mr Hu Xijin, he said that anyone with common sense could perceive the woman had been treated inhumanely but the officials seemed to have mindlessly accepted the husband’s story.

“To forcibly have so many children with a mentally ill person, and turn her into a reproductive tool – is that not illegal?” Mr Hu wrote on Weibo.

That’s an incredibly damning rhetoric, isn’t it?

The Underlying Problems

The news of the punishments being meted out to the officials for their negligence did little to mollify the Chinese public’s anger.

Some voiced that they had long lost faith in their government, whilst other called for a national crackdown on human trafficking.

Owing to China’s strict one-child policy (which also has an entire collection of horrific stories because of its brutal reinforcement), it has led to a shortage of women due to the age-old and traditional preference for boys.

There are many lost girls in China that had been abandoned or orphaned if they were lucky, while some unfortunate ones were murdered right out of the cradle because of their gender.

The figures of infanticides will never be known, for their bones have long been buried, and the dead cannot redress their own injustice.

The one-child policy was only relaxed in 2016, which is a bit too late, shortly after the Chinese government realised that they would be facing a largely ageing population and a shrinking workforce, plus a shortage of women as a whole.

The consequential gender imbalance is assumed to be one of the main reasons for bride-trafficking, and women being treated as transactional commodities.

Another old issue that has plagued China is how it tends to regard mental disorders as something deeply shameful.

While English has moved on from terms like “insane” to more politically and scientifically correct terms for the various mental illnesses or disorders, the most commonly used phrase across the board for mentally ill people in Chinese is still “疯子” which means “madman”.

The connotation behind the phrase need not be overstated.

Hence, the general approach towards mentally ill people, especially in the rural areas in China, is to either hide them at home or confine them in institutions.

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Cities might be more progressive and have started investing more resources into this area of social and mental health, but these old attitudes still linger en-masse elsewhere.

Xiao Huamei has now become a symbol; a representation of the other trafficked and mentally-impaired women who are being abused and mistreated.

Sadly, she is the dark example of how the local authorities have failed in many ways as well.


More artistic interpretations of her have been made, and many netizens hope that she will only have good days ahead after all that she has been through. 

No matter who the chained woman is, and how she ended up in that small shack and trapped in all ways—be it by motherhood, disability, or physical restrictions—her story is a terrible tragedy.

Even if the officials are punished, her abusers and traffickers are caught, it will not erase the accumulated damage that has been casted into her body.

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Featured Images: Twitter (@manyapan) & Weibo ((@呀哆)