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    Inner Mongolia Woman Whipped to Death During ‘Group Counseling’

    The ‘teacher’ presiding over the daylong session had touted ‘cane therapy’ as a means for treating depression.

    A woman was whipped to death at a psychological counseling center in northern China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, local media reported Wednesday.

    The incident occurred on July 8 in Hohhot, the region’s capital, during a so-called cane therapy session. A “teacher” instructed a group of individuals who had enrolled at the center seeking treatment for a variety of mental health issues to lie down on the ground while their peers beat them with flexible bamboo rods.

    One student who participated in the therapy session told the Inner Mongolia Morning Post newspaper that the teacher in charge of the class that day was new and unknown to the students. “The teacher claimed to have been born into a family with a profound understanding of traditional Chinese medicine,” the student said. “According to the teacher, this kind of punishment is a treatment method ‘from the outside in,’ and helps to release negative emotions.” The report did not give the student’s name or the teacher’s gender.

    Of the 18 people who were present during the session, 12 — including the teacher — have been criminally detained. A police notice shown to the newspaper by the husband of a detained student states “alleged involvement in intentional injury” as the reason for their detention.

    Wang Tao, a pseudonym the husband used to speak to the paper, said most if not all of the 30-plus students at the counseling center were housewives without full-time jobs. The counseling sessions his wife began attending late last year ran from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each weekday, with a two-hour break in the afternoon. The students were not allowed to use their phones during this time, he said.

    “Her depression had remained stable since (joining the class),” the husband said, adding that his family had invested over 700,000 yuan ($98,000) in the counseling classes. “My wife just followed what the teacher said. She wouldn’t trust anything I told her to buy. After the tragedy, our family became clear-minded — but there are still people who harbor positive feelings about the center.”

    A pervasive social stigma surrounding mental health issues in China means those who experience them are often reluctant to seek help from their family or professionals. And even when they do, there’s little guarantee that the people they turn to are properly trained.

    A woman who lives near the counseling center told the newspaper that the building itself has long been shrouded in mystery in the eyes of the local community. “When you pass by it, you can always see women going in and out,” she said. “They sometimes place their hands on each other’s shoulders and walk around in circles.”

    According to public documents filed with Hohhot’s industry and commerce authority, the counseling center was registered in late 2017 by a woman named Chang Hongfang. Sixth Tone’s repeated phone calls to a contact number listed for Chang went unanswered Wednesday.

    Hohhot police told the Inner Mongolia Morning Post that the student’s autopsy results will be available next week, and that they plan to take further action at that time.

    Editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: An exterior view of the psychological counseling center where a student was whipped to death by her classmates during a ‘cane therapy’ session in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, 2019. Chen Yana/Inner Mongolia Morning Post)