An original version of this article appeared in Hong Kong Free Press on July 31, 2015:
A Chinese teacher in rural China was “almost fired” by local authorities after recent news reports revealed that she had been abducted and sold to a village 21 years ago.
Tencent news reported on Thursday that the woman, Gao Yanmin, is now a primary school teacher in the rural village in Hebei. She was kidnapped in 1994 in Shijiazhuang train station, when she was deceived by two women who claimed to be hiring labour. A man in the village subsequently bought Gao as his spouse. She reportedly lived a very unhappy life and made three suicide attempts over the years.
But she didn’t let the fact she had been snatched from her family stop her from wanting to help others, and Gao eventually became a primary school teacher in the village. Her presence meant students did not have to make a 7km round trip on foot to the next nearest school, and she even bought textbooks for poorer pupils.
But instead of her story eliciting sympathy and being viewed as a heroic struggle against the odds to dedicate her life to helping others, the education ministry instead decided to persecute Gao for revealing her “family shame” to the public, according to Tencent.
Chinese media reported that the authorities were attempting to hide the problems of the education ministry by firing Gao from her post.
Gao’s story was first exposed in an article in 2013, which said she was allowed to visit her real family in 1995. However, she was advised by her family to accept her fate and stay with her husband in Hebei so as not to raise awareness that she was a “trafficked woman”.
She was freed from the emotional pain of her past after she gave birth to a boy and a girl, according to Tencent news.
On Wednesday, the head of a Chinese police department tasked with fighting human trafficking said that people who engaged in the abduction must be penalised. He added that the police “will not tolerate human trafficking or sympathise with the buyers.”
Netizens have expressed their sympathies and support for Gao, who received the “Ten Loving Hearts” award in Hebei province. One internet user commented on Tencent that her experience was an example of the rural marriage system. The user said “she was not struggling against the person [who bought her], but the whole of society.”
Another said the government “should know [the problems of] poverty, backward education and human trafficking very clearly. Yet, they only listed the incident as a ‘family shame’ but did nothing to tackle it. Shouldn’t these unproductive officials be punished?”