video of mentally ill woman chained in shack stirs anger in china - Video of mentally ill woman chained in shack stirs anger in China

BEIJING (NYTIMES) – The video was seemingly everywhere on the Chinese Internet: a middle-aged woman standing in a doorless brick shack, a dazed expression on her face, wearing no coat though it was the middle of winter.

Around her neck was a metal chain, shackling her to the wall.

The brief clip, posted by a blogger on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, raised many questions, and social media users demanded answers. Who was she? Why was she locked up? And under what circumstances had she given birth to the eight children living in the house next door who said she was their mother?

As anger built, officials in Jiangsu province, where the video was filmed last week, issued a terse statement.

The woman, surnamed Yang, had married her husband in 1998, it said, and was not the victim of human trafficking.

She had been diagnosed with mental illness, but “at present, she has already been treated, and her family has been given further assistance, to ensure they have a warm Lunar New Year”.

Many commenters were only more incensed. A delegate to China’s legislature, who is also a well-known screenwriter, said she had reported the case to the “relevant leaders”.

Mr Hu Xijin, the former editor of Global Times, a state-controlled tabloid, said anyone with common sense could see that the woman had been treated inhumanely. But officials seemed to have blindly accepted the husband’s story, he added.

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

The video, and the officials’ response, drew renewed attention to several longstanding problems in China.

Chinese society traditionally regarded mental disorders as deeply shameful, and people with such conditions were hidden at home or confined in institutions.

Today, although that view is changing, resources remain limited mostly to cities.

In rural areas, like the coastal province north of Shanghai where the video was made, old attitudes remain widespread.