Zhang Rulan, like the woman recently found chained up in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu, was trafficked from a poverty-stricken rural areas in the southwestern province of Yunnan during the 1980s and sold to a man in marriage for 2,000 yuan. After divorcing her abusive husband with the encouragement of her son, Zhang now works in a factory, but she still lives with the aftereffects of the trafficking and domestic abuse, which she told RFA's Mandarin Service remains an entrenched way of life in rural China:
Zhang Rulan: I'm from Dali, Yunnan province. I was born in the 1960s. At that time, there was no TV, and I didn't know what the outside world looked like. Once I got into a fight with my brother; I got angry and said I was going to run far away. I was only 17 years old. An older woman next door said she knew someone from Anhui, and she wanted to introduce me. I was young at the time and didn't know anything about the world. I was angry, so I said sure, the farther away, the better.
RFA: How did these people start looking for wives in your village?
Zhang Rulan: It was my through my ex-husband's brother, who brought a wife back from our village, and the whole family abused her. After she became mentally ill, my he sent her back ... then her family took her to try to get some treatment. But after her medical problems were cured, she was still very depressed, and she jumped into a river, committing suicide. Then my husband's brother found another, older woman in our village, who had five children. When my husband wanted to get married he went to his brother, and others introduced him to me.
RFA: How much did they pay your family to take you away?
Zhang Rulan: I had initially told the matchmaker that I would go, but then I changed my mind, because I couldn't leave my parents and my hometown. So they got a gang of people to come to my house to "discuss things." I got angry and told the matchmaker she had promised me 2,000 yuan, and she handed it over. I had to go then, because my brother was short of money. I didn't see my husband till I got to Anhui, and I was repelled and didn't like him when I met him.
People from Yunnan who marry in Anhui are considered inferior, that is, they are like second-class citizens. If you go to the police station [because you are beaten], they will beat you even hard when you get back. Especially men like my ex-husband and his brother. They are clever, and have a good relationship with village officials. So it wouldn't have been dealt with even if I had reported it. They won't help you if you are an outsider.
When I got there, his sister would follow me around everywhere, even when I went to the toilet, watching me 24 hours a day. He hadn't started hitting me yet; just deprived me of my freedom. After I gave birth to my son, he started beating me and demanding I give him back the 2,000 yuan ... or I could forget about living a normal life. There were no phones back then, and he wouldn't let me leave. He just kept hitting me, whenever he felt like it. One freezing day it was seven or eight below zero and snowing, he took my quilt away. He told me I should write to my mother and ask for money.
Everything they told my family before I left was a lie. He said he was four years older than me but I later found out he was 20 years older. He also swore an oath not to beat me, then he beat me half to death.
RFA: It sounds as if trafficking followed by domestic violence was very common for the women around you?
Zhang Rulan: In 99 out of 100 cases. One of my relatives from Yunnan bought a wife, a student from Sichuan and tricked her into taking a summer job. He paid 4,000 yuan for her, in the year I gave birth to my youngest son. When I went to see her she took off her clothing to show me how broad her husband's belt was, and the breadth of the scars all over her body.
She also had mosquito bites all over her body. She looked so pitiful that I secretly sent her a bottle of mosquito repelling toilet water, but the family wouldn't let me go near her after that. [Later], someone saw how badly beaten she was, and called the police, and they came and took her away.
There was a man surnamed Feng [in my village in Yunnan] whose family bought him a wife and kept her chained to the bed for three years. There was also a woman from Sichuan or Yunnan in her 20s, the man was in his 50s. She was reluctant when she got there, so the man stripped her naked and beat her half to death, hanging from this big tree in the village. She didn't even have underwear on. It was so cruel. She eventually escaped. If she hadn't, she'd have died for sure.
RFA: Were there many others like you who were trafficked from your village?
Zhang Rulan: There was a woman in our village whose eldest son bought a wife from Sichuan. He abused her, and the girl wanted to run away, but she ... couldn’t remember the way, so she ran into the cornfields instead. It was a huge field, and she still hadn't come out by nightfall. The next day, they found her and brought her back, where branded her all over her body with a red hot cooking scoop that had been left to heat up in the stove. The fabric from her summer clothes was stuck in her flesh. She couldn't sleep for the pain. Her second son bought a wife, but she was pretty feisty and she ran away.
There was a girl ... born in the same year as me; we grew up together. Her brother sold her to [a man in] Anhui for 2,000 yuan. The man had bronchitis and was infertile, and she was expected to do everything for him, and when she couldn't she was beaten. Once when I went to see her, her mother-in-law was abusing her and she was so frightened I saw urine running down her trousers into her shoes. Then they gave her some kind of medication and she couldn't even speak after that.
RFA: What did your husband do to you?
Zhang Rulan: I might get a few slaps in the face, or he would take a stick to me, or the sole of his shoe. He beat me half to death. Once his father beat me, at eight o'clock in the morning, after he suddenly pointed at me and scolded me about something. I said I didn't hear what he said, so he started to beat me. He started by slapping my face. He got tired of doing that, so then he grabbed my hair and stomped on my feet. After that beating, I couldn’t get up for a week. The old lady of the house went to ask him why he beat me, and he didn't even have a reason. He just said I was in the wrong. The old lady said I could have died, and he replied that I didn't die. He said if they bought [a wife or daughter-in-law] and they died, well, too bad.
RFA: What was the worst thing?
Zhang Rulan: The thing that saddens me the most was the sterilization. His younger brother ... knocked on the door of the house one day and called my husband out, and I figured nothing good could be going on. I heard him talk about having my tubes tied. Later, I was beaten to the point of being unable to move, and then tied up for this sterilization operation. My husband and his brother went to the family planning person and told them to tie my tubes so I couldn't have another baby. After the surgery, I was walking around bent double; that surgery was awful. I couldn't straighten up for several weeks. I was 26 years old.
RFA: Did you see the news about the woman chained up in Jiangsu?
Zhang Rulan: I did ... it reminded me of my past. I didn't even want to watch it. I thought I would faint; it reminded me of stuff that happened to me. It's hard to talk about. Sometimes I fall asleep and these scenes play through my mind in a daze, and I can't sleep the whole night. I hated him so much. But my son taught me not to hate. He said they don't know about it but it affects your mental health. My two sons and my daughter-in-law are such good people: I'm so lucky. I look at photos and videos of [my grandson] first thing in the morning, before I go to bed, at lunchtime, several times a day.
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.