A video of a middle-aged woman apparently chained to the wall of a shack by her neck has sparked a national conversation in China about the treatment of people with mental illness.
Taken late last month in the city of Xuzhou in China’s eastern Jiangsu province, the footage showed the woman with a chain padlocked around her neck.
Despite freezing temperatures, her clothes appeared to be too light for the conditions and the man taking the footage offered her his coat which she took from him.
He then asked her a series of questions which she appeared to understand but responded incoherently to.
Continuing to film, he moved out of the shack and into the courtyard outside where he approached a young boy, who told him when questioned that the woman was his mother.
“You should take good care of your mother,” he told the boy, who replied: “We bring her food to eat everyday.”
The original footage was then posted to Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, where it was widely shared and commented upon. It was later taken down.
By then, local news outlets had picked up the story and circulated the video, allowing NBC News to view it.
China’s censors did not attempt to suppress the story or the video and on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo, a thread discussing a government investigation of the case had been viewed more than 95 million times on Saturday and received over 90,000 comments.
Many social media users were quick to criticize her treatment.
“I really want to cry, she’s obviously mentally ill, she is chained up in the cold like an animal,” one Weibo user wrote last Friday. “Her gaze towards the camera makes me feel awful all over,” they added.
“Lock and chains, when there’s not even a house door,” another added.
As many social media users speculated about whether she was a victim of human trafficking and the number of children, authorities in Xuzhou said in a statement last month that they were investigating.
“There was no abduction or trafficking,” the Fengxian County Party Committee, a municipal body, said.
The statement said that neighbors and family members had reported that she had frequent violent outbursts and “beat children and the elderly for no reason.”
The woman had been diagnosed with a mental illness by relevant medical institutions, it said, adding that she married her husband in 1998.
The response drew further anger on social media and many criticized authorities for not addressing the use of chains and her overall welfare.
The former editor of the Global Times, a state-backed nationalist tabloid newspaper, also weighed in.
“The initial response is too basic and far from sufficient to dispel citizen’s doubts, leading to greater dissatisfaction,” he wrote on his personal Weibo account. “The woman is confirmed to be mentally ill. What made her crazy? Is this marriage normal and legal?”
Calling her situation “abnormal and inhumane,” he added: “Isn’t it illegal too for a mentally-ill person to give birth, to have so many babies, to use her as a reproductive tool?”
In a separate statement Sunday, the Fengxian County Party Committee said the public order department were investigating the woman’s husband.
It added that the woman had been diagnosed with schizophrenia on Jan. 30, and had received treatment in hospital.