2016-05-06 11:13:58

The reaction of a local police station in China’s eastern Anhui province to a possible case of human trafficking enraged net users across Chinese social media this week. The gaff comes amid criticism of a novel by one of China’s best-known writers that critics say defends wife-buying practices.

Following claims in late April from a couple that their daughter had been trafficked and sold into marriage, the Lingbi County police station on Wednesday posted a message of congratulations to the “newlyweds” on their official Weibo social media account, after they learned that the couple’s daughter, whom they referred to as Sun, was indeed now in wedlock with a local man identified by the surname Chen.

“We support this beautiful marriage [heart emoticon]” the post began, before elaborating on some of the details of the case. Following inquiries from Sun’s parents, the post said: “Police rapidly located Sun and Chen, and, following an investigation, discovered that they are deeply in love and living in blissful happiness!” 

According to the post, the woman, Sun, is mentally disabled.

A post to the social media account of the police station in Lingbi County, Anhui province, congratulating the newly married couple. Screenshot from Weibo.

A post to the social media account of the police station in Lingbi County, Anhui province, congratulating the newly married couple. Screenshot from Weibo.

The post was deleted after a deluge of criticism from net users, many of whom expressed outrage that the police station would release such a statement before an investigation into the circumstances of the woman’s marriage was carried out. As of Friday, hashtagged Weibo posts on the subject had been viewed over 6.3 million times.

Many felt that a woman alleged to be mentally disabled couldn’t possibly have consented to marriage. One user remarked: “This is a blatant case of trafficking and rape — how can you, a police authority, support it?”

On Thursday the Lingbi County police station’s official Weibo account published an official apology, which acknowledged that the post had “attracted the attention of net users and created a negative impact.” The announcement then said that preliminary investigations suggested that the woman had traveled on her own accord to meet Chen, after the two had met online. It also claimed that the woman’s father had ultimately expressed approval of the arrangement.

However, the statement also said that an “in-depth and detailed investigation” as to whether the incident constituted human trafficking was underway. The document ended with a heartfelt apology to all net users” that Wednesday's post had been published before the completion of the investigation.

Despite the apology, criticism of the station has continued. One user believed that the police shouldn’t apologize for posting the message before the investigation was complete, but rather for disregarding the suspected trafficking of a woman simply because her parents approved of the marriage in the end. “A body responsible for law enforcement has no right to draw such conclusions,” she said.

Upon contacting Lingbi County police station for comment, Sixth Tone was transferred between four different departments, all of which declined to respond.

In recent weeks, the issue of human trafficking has also been making ripples in literary circles, as some critics and readers have responded negatively to a recent release by famed novelist Jia Pingwa.

“Ji Hua” — released in March — tells the story of a woman who is trafficked to a village where she is raped and beaten by her husband. She is rescued by local authorities, but ultimately decides to return to the village after experiencing society’s ridicule and rejection.

Following criticism that the book does a disservice to women in forced marriages, Jia responded by saying that men in villages like that in “Ji Hua” resort to such arrangements because urbanization has pulled many women away from rural communities.

Referring to the male protagonist, Jia said in a recent interview that “[he] might be wrong in legal terms, but if he didn’t buy a wife, if villagers there never bought wives again, then [the village] would disappear.”

Jia’s apparent empathy for the men who resort to buying wives led to a raft of criticism. “Why would Jia Pingwu want a village of bought wives to survive forever?” was the title of a critique by author Hou Hongbin published on Friday. The sentiment was echoed by the feminist NGO “Gender Watch,” which commented on its official Weibo page that even if the book set out to “narrate the hardships and suffering of [female protagonist] Butterfly, it lacks understanding and empathy for her.”

Jia did not respond immediately to Sixth Tone’s request for comment.

With contributions from Wang Lianzhang.

(Header image: A woman who was trafficked to a poor village sits at her home in Dianjiang, Chongqing Municipality, Sept. 24, 2015. Jia Yanan/Sixth Tone)