Human trafficking is a worldwide problem not a Chinese one, but its scope here is large. In 2013, for example, 50,000 women and 24,000 children were rescued by police. That’s just the first ten months of the year and makes up just a small part of total abductions.
The story of Gao Yanmin highlights a particular issue. Kidnapped in 1994 at age 18, she was sold to a shepherd as a wife for RMB 2,700. For a few months she fought back, attempted escape and suicide, but she was beaten, raped, abused and conditioned. Finally, she gave up. Having finished middle school she was the highest educated villager and was made the local school’s only teacher.
She was discovered first by a photographer, who posted her story in 2006. Then media flooded in, not to tell the hardships she endured, but to celebrate her spirit of generosity and dedication to the village students, whom she was forced to educate. That year she was added to the Hebei list of Top Ten People and in 2007 a movie was based on her life, but skipped the harsh reality.
Not until this July when Weibo users dug up her story did she receive an appropriately humane reaction.
Neighbors hadn’t stepped in and her own family refused to keep her when she was allowed to visit due to good behavior. What’s the deal with this? How does it happen?
Take a closer look at the village that Gao was brought to. With a population of 400, 30 wives had been purchased. The village’s only connection to the outside world is a narrow, 7-kilometer dirt road 2,000 meters above sea level. Poor and remote, villages like this one carry on the traditional, patriarchal clan system.
Men are the sole carriers of a family line, providing food and protection. Daughters are a money-losing deal because they will eventually have babies for another family. For a family in this village, it takes years to save for a wife, so why let her run away? The neighbors think keeping an eye out is only the right thing to do. And her parents? They refused her back because in their eyes, she wouldn’t be able to find a good husband in the hometown as a re-married woman.