On Monday, Sep. 7, images circulated widely on social media of a woman being publicly shamed for stealing in the Shunde district in southern China. The elderly woman was photographed outside of a supermarket wearing a sign around her neck declaring that she is a thief.

The woman, referred to as a “grandmother” by Chinese local media, wore a sign around her neck as she sat outside a supermarket in Bijiang Community in Shunde. The woman held the sign outside the storefront for only 10 minutes before leaving, according to the store manager, who is referred to by her last name, Ms. Zhong, in local media.

The Shunde district, formerly part of Foshan city, is located on the West River, approximately an hour north of Macau. Local media channels published videos using footage from a nearby surveillance camera and several images. Many social media users then shared these images, particularly on the platform Weibo.

The sign around the woman’s neck reads, “Thief, stealing for the third time” in Cantonese. According to the owner of the store, the woman’s family was unable to pay the fine for stealing, and she consented to wear the sign as punishment instead. Her face is blurred but the Chinese characters on the sign can be read clearly. 

Surveillance footage captured the woman shoplifting and the clerk stopping her. Footage published on Weibo. On the platform Weibo, there have already been 2.4 million views of this particular footage.

In this follow-up video, posted on Weibo, the woman's bag is searched by store clerks. 
 
The store manager told Chinese media channel Sina that this is the third time that this elderly woman has attempted to steal from her store. According to Ms. Zhong, the woman came into the shop around 5pm on Sep. 3. She paid for several items at the cash register, but also snuck a packet of ribs into her purse. The shop clerk spotted the theft. 

After the incident on Monday, Ms. Zhong called the police, who reprimanded the woman and ordered her family to pay a fine. However, the family refused to pay. Instead, the woman’s family authorised this public shaming, which was intended to be a warning to other shoplifters.
 
This image shows the woman sitting on the left and a zoomed in close up of the woman’s sign. 

"This method is not mandatory. It was agreed upon by the elderly person and the elderly's family members. Her family was nearby at the time,” Ms. Zhong said. 

In 2018, Chinese media outlet the People’s Daily online, reported a story of a woman being publicly humiliated in a similar way after she was accused of stealing scooters in southwest China. She was tied up with a sign around her neck saying, “I’m a thief”.

Earlier, in 2015, videos of a woman tied to a pole after she was accused of stealing lamb, pork, and mutton from a meat market in Nanning city in southern China created a stir. A sign reading "Thieves steal lamb and pork" was attached to her. Surveillance footage documented the woman’s thefts, but Huang Yuan, a public welfare lawyer, told the People’s Daily Post that the public punishment was a clear violation of her rights.

In the professional sphere, there have also been documented instances of public shaming in China previously. In 2017, the FRANCE 24 Observers team reported on videos that circulated widely on social media of employees being publicly humiliated for failing to reach the goals set by their employers. Punishments shown in these videos included employees being forced to drink toilet water, being hit with rulers and bowing submissively to their bosses.

Article written by Sophie Stuber