The case of a woman chained by the neck in a shack in rural China is going to be investigated, Chinese authorities said Thursday, after shocking viral footage triggered outrage online and intense debate on mental health and human trafficking.

The woman’s conditions were thrown under the spotlight after a blogger filmed a video in China’s eastern Jiangsu province, showing him interviewing her in freezing weather.

chain neck woman china
Photo: Weibo.

She could be seen with a chain and padlock around her neck, wearing thin clothing despite the climate, and seemed dazed and unable to understand him.

Local authorities said that the woman’s 55-year-old husband, named Dong, is suspected of illegally detaining her.

“Imagine what this big sister has experienced in these temperatures,” the blogger asked in the video, adopting a respectful term for older women. He was shown putting a coat on the woman. 

“Where has our love gone?”

Officials confirmed Dong and the woman had eight children together and said their identity information was not properly verified when they registered for marriage.

She has since been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

On Thursday, Jiangsu authorities pledged to “thoroughly uncover the truth, severely punish the relevant illegal and criminal acts in accordance with the law, and seriously hold the responsible people to account”.

The video, published last month, triggered a firestorm of debate online about the treatment of people with mental health issues and women in rural communities.

“I hope this can be a chance leading to a nationwide crackdown on the problem of human trafficking… ending the occurrence of abduction and trafficking of women and children from the root,” one user said.

Many were angry that it had taken so long for authorities to respond.

Alumni of top Chinese universities including prestigious Peking University had petitioned for the central government to look into the case.

Local officials said last week the detained woman, called ‘Xiaohuamei’, was originally from a village in southern Yunnan province, some 2,000 kilometres away.

Another couple — a woman surnamed Sang and a man surnamed Shi — are suspected of abduction and trafficking in connection with the case.

‘Xiaohuamei’ — which means ‘little plum blossom’ and is likely a nickname — was apparently entrusted to Sang to be taken for treatment in Jiangsu, which she never seemed to have received.

China’s draconian one child policy — which was only relaxed in 2016 — has led to a shortage of women due to a preference for boys, prompting fears from Beijing policymakers over social unrest due to large numbers of unmarried men.

This massive gender imbalance has also fuelled a trade in human trafficking and child abductions.

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