Video of Chinese mother chained by her neck sparks outrage

Screengrab of a video posted on Douyin on January 26 by an account that has since been deactivated.
Screengrab of a video posted on Douyin on January 26 by an account that has since been deactivated. © Observers

Chinese social media has blown up over a horrific video showing a mother of eight chained by her neck to the wall in a dirty home, apparently because of “mental issues”.  Since the video first emerged on January 26, Chinese authorities have released few details on the woman’s fate. 

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In the video, the woman looks haggard and her hair hangs lankly. She stands in the doorway of a shack made out of brick that opens up to the exterior. Despite the January cold, she only wears a light sweater. 

There’s a metal chain around her neck, secured with a lock, and affixed to the wall, preventing her from going any further. This video sparked shock waves on Chinese social media when it was posted the week of the Lunar New Year. Even though authorities have since made three official statements, people are still concerned about the fate of this mother of eight, who apparently has been diagnosed with mental health issues.  

The video was filmed by a Chinese TikTok user on January 26 when he travelled through a village in Jiangsu, a province in eastern China. The TikTok user uploaded the video to expose the horrible living conditions endured by this woman. In the video, he asks her a number of questions. When he asks if she is cold, she responds by vaguely nodding her head. He says that the food on the table is cold and that the temperature outside is close to zero degrees Celsius. In the end, he goes to get her a coat, which he puts on her. The final shot shows him next to her as he asks, “Is there no compassion?” 

These are screengrabs of the video posted on Douyin on January 26. The account is no longer active.
These are screengrabs of the video posted on Douyin on January 26. The account is no longer active. Observers

The video started circulating widely on social media almost immediately. Many people wondered how the woman had ended up living in such terrible conditions. They also wondered how she ended up with eight children when China’s one-child policy had been in effect until 2015. In 2021, new guidance was issued allowing families to have up to three children – a far cry from eight.  

Authorities in Feng county, where the woman lives, have launched a preliminary investigation into the woman’s situation and released a few details in a statement published on Friday, January 28. They claimed, in the statement, that the woman was not a victim of human trafficking, one of the primary theories circulating online.

The statement also said that the woman in the video, “Mrs Yang” has been married since 1998. She and her husband, Mr Dong, have eight children. The statement further claimed that the woman is getting treatment for mental health issues and that she can sometimes be violent towards the children and elderly people. 

Ultimately, this vague statement only served to increase the anger and concern amongst social media users. On Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter), the hashtag linked to the official statement about this woman had garnered 200 million views on February 4, 2022, about a week after its publication. Social media users questioned how the woman ended up chained and how authorities could leave her in such a situation. 

Many comments denounced the fact that, despite recent advances in China on questions linked to mental health, problematic methods of managing illness are still common in some regions, as outlined by the New York Times.

Many people have also commented on a second video of this woman. The footage shows her husband smiling and her daughter running towards her. The mother, who is not chained in this video but seems completely disoriented, stands in front of the brick shack where she has been locked up.

“This world doesn’t want me,” the woman can be heard saying. Social media users have picked up on this phrase, using it as a call for justice. 

The husband faces criticism 

Much of the criticism online has centered on the woman’s husband, referred to as “Mr. Dong.” The man formerly had an account on TikTok (known in China as Douyin) where he shared videos of his eight children, seven of whom are sons. The account has since been deactivated. 

People blame him for keeping his wife in these conditions. And considering the woman’s mental state, others have wondered openly about abuse, especially as the couple have so many children. 

“I will see if this rapist is held to account,” says a top comment on Weibo. Several videos that the husband made featuring his children have since been posted on Weibo, with many comments accusing the man of hypocrisy for promoting his family. 

A screen grab of the husband’s Douyin account (which has since been deactivated) that featured in an article  “What's on Weibo”.
A screen grab of the husband’s Douyin account (which has since been deactivated) that featured in an article “What's on Weibo”. © What's on Weibo

Authorities have announced that the husband is now the subject of an investigation and that Mrs Yang is currently being hospitalised. 

The Feng county authorities finally gave more details in a second statement published on January 30, 2022. The statement said that Mrs Yang had been begging in the street when the husband’s father first took her in back in 1998. For the time being, her birth name is unknown and DNA tests that she did back in 2020 were unable to establish her identity. 

The statement further explained that Mrs Yang’s condition deteriorated in the summer of 2021 and that her husband began to chain her up. Local psychiatrists diagnosed her with schizophrenia. 

This cartoon denouncing the husband’s hypocrisy was posted on Weibo. The image was picked up by "What's on Weibo".
This cartoon denouncing the husband’s hypocrisy was posted on Weibo. The image was picked up by "What's on Weibo". © 呀哆

Speculation has continued on social media, as the investigation continues. The silence of national media outlets has surprised many. 

“We should focus more time and attention on the problem of the treatment of women and children in our country. Don’t let the situation of these eight children be eclipsed by the Olympics,” wrote one social media user. The Winter Olympics began on February 4 in Beijing. 

“Whatever attention is given to this case online, it always amounts to reports by independent media outlets. Where are the official media outlets?” says another. The original video has been deleted and Weibo has censored several hashtags connected to the debate.