The power of social media

Xuzhou scandal sees city’s bonds and consumer brands boycotted


It’s been a month since news broke of the “Feng County mother of eight” – a mentally ill woman chained in a freezing outhouse near the city of Xuzhou in Jiangsu (see WiC573).

Yet the local authorities have offered few answers.

As a result, enraged Chinese citizens are trying to force action by hitting the impoverished county where it hurts – by boycotting its products and local government bonds.

“I refuse to do business with Xuzhou, I refuse a single yuan. I won’t buy supermarket products if they are from Xuzhou and won’t buy from an online merchant if they are from Xuzhou,” wrote one angry weibo user next to an image of a Taobao page for Xuzhou noodles with a big red cross through it.

Others have gone further, suggesting that the plight of the chained woman – her identity is still in question – is indicative of a deeper rot in the debt-ridden area. Ratingdog, a popular app covering fixed income securities, went on the attack highlighting mismanagement in the local economy.

Other analysts piled on, noting that the county’s ratio of debt to fiscal revenue soared to 373% in 2021, up from 73% in 2020. Some investment funds have announced online they’ll no longer buy Xuzhou debt.

A wave of online sleuthing followed with netizens scouring court websites and government presentations for further evidence that Feng County was corrupt or mismanaged.

One revealing statistic is that in 2004 the gender ratio of the newly born population in Xuzhou was 172.4, meaning there were 72 more males born than females. The gender ratio at the global level is approximately 101 males to every 100 females (there are 8.5 million people in Xuzhou and its surrounding administrative area).

“If external input and population attrition are not taken into account, it means that nearly half of male adults cannot legally start a family with the opposite sex. The gender imbalance in the suburbs and counties in Xuzhou is even more serious,” one article on said.

Many claimed trafficking to the county was rife. Publicly searchable court verdicts also showed numerous application for divorce by women who said they had been trafficked. In one case from 2014 the woman’s application was turned down in the name of “family unity”.

Netizen sleuthing about Xuzhou was tolerated by the online censors up to a point. But talk of a boycott was nipped in the bud. And as the days have gone on more terms and key posts have been removed. A search for Chinese American novelist Yan Geling on weibo now delivers a message saying the results cannot be displayed and her Baidu Baike online encyclopaedia entry has been deleted.

Earlier this month Yan wrote a poignant essay about the chained woman which blamed China’s top leadership for the policies that had led to the woman’s plight and for creating a system that failed to investigate such wrongs perpetuated against girls. Also censored were a series of open letters from students and alumni of top universities. One such letter from Peking University graduates called on the Chinese Communist Party to carry out a thorough investigation of what led to the woman being chained in a hut and why she was allowed to bear eight children despite being mentally unwell.

Two academics, Lao Dongyan, a law professor at Tsinghua University and Wu Bihu, a professor at Peking University’s urban and environmental sciences college, have both had their weibo accounts suspended after expressing concerns about the case. Wu was particularly critical of the All-China Women’s Federation which has only issued a brief statement on the case.

“We welcome the Jiangsu government’s investigation, which it hopes will ascertain the facts, bring justice to the victim and provide the conclusive findings the public needs,” it said. Jiangsu government investigators announced on Wednesday that 17 local officials have been punished or put under further investigation. The woman’s husband was also arrested for abusing her.

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