From Kidnapped Bride to National TV, And Back

trafficked bride Gao Yanmin.jpg

The latest edition of South Wind Window (Nanfeng Chuang ÂçóÈ£éÁ™ó) magazine has a soild read about a peasant woman’s unlikely transformation from kidnapped bride to model teacher, and the pressures she’s faced from local cadres since hundreds of Chinese newspapers and TV stations latched on to her story earlier this year.

In 1994, when she was 18, Gao Yanmin fell into the clutches of bride traffickers at a train station in Shijiazhuang. The Henan migrant was sold as a sex slave three times in a matter of days before being brokered to her future father-in-law for 2700 yuan. He betrothed her to his son in the Hebei village of Xia’an, walled off from civilization by mountains and miles of rugged paths. On entering the village, the junior high graduate became the most educated person there. A year later Xia’an was short a teacher, so Gao began to teach. Early on, she tried to escape twice and attempted suicide three times. Over the years, she witnessed seven or eight other “bought brides” take advantage of improved roads and flee. But she stayed, gave birth to a daughter and a son, and went back to teaching full-time in 2000 at the school over mountains from the village. She taught the full spectrum of subjects to young kids as well as illiterate dropouts, borrowing from her 200 yuan-per-month salary to help buy textbooks.

One day in 2005, a photographer from another part of the county chanced upon Gao, and posted an account about her on the Internet. The story spread online, leading a company in Shijiazhuang to donate 30,000 yuan to build a new elementary school in Xia’an. Local officials nominated Gao for party membership, and out of newfound respect, her husband no longer beat her.

Shijiazhuang’s Yanzhao Metropolitan Daily first printed her story this May. Other papers promptly picked it up or ran matchers. Within about a week, county education officials tried to terminate Gao for exposing the skeletons in their closet. But the Yanzhao Metropolitan Daily followed up about it, readers wrote in complaining, and the county was forced to change its mind, according to Nanfeng Chuang. Phoenix TV managed to bring Gao to Beijing to polish off a piece in July. But by that time, Nanfeng Chuang reports, all the publicity had created problems for Gao back in Xia’an…..

The piece opens:

“What did I ever do wrong? Why are you treating me this way?” Standing outside the door of her house in Quyang county’s Xia’an village, the reporter heard Gao Yanmin anxiously interrogating the unidentified people who had intercepted her.

This was on November 21. The reporter had gone down to Xia’an Village Elementary School to interview Gao Yanmin. Although he had taken pains to exercise caution, they still were soon found out by people in the village.

After being discovered, Gao was taken back home by several people who first claimed to be township cadres and later claimed to be from county party committee propaganda department. Then they drove off the reporter until he had exited Quyang County.

Before the reporter of this publication arrived in Xia’an Village, film crews from both the CCTV program “Half the Sky” (ÂçäËæπ§©) and the Phoenix TV program “Warm and Cool Life” (ÂÜ∑Êöñ‰∫∫Áîü) were turned away from doing interviews.

In the township, there were persons who made Gao Yanmin tell the “Half the Sky” crew “from the bottom of her heart” that “I don’t wish to bring up things from the past. I don’t wish to be interviewed.” Material filmed by journalists from Phoenix TV was forcibly erased by staff of a certain local government department. The “Half the Sky” production team had hoped to take Gao Yanmin to Beijing to shoot the program, but the township leaders sent down stiff orders to the Xia’an village party secretary: “If ‘Half the Sky’ takes Gao Yanmin away, you’ll be removed from your post and expelled from the party!”

Twelve years ago, Henan girl Gao Yanmin was abducted and sold to Quyang County’s Xia’an Village in Hebei. After suffering her fill of hardships, she became the only female teacher in this mountain village’s elementary school. Nevertheless, today Gao Yanmin has sunk into the same loneliness, fear and bewilderment she felt twelve years ago.

“Now, all the time, I feel an inexplicable pressure. Sometimes I want to cower in fear. I can’t make sense of whose fault this is? What should I do to make it better?” Gao Yanmin told the reporter…

The piece ends:

Villagers in Xia’an told the reporter that prior to the start of summer vacation on July 10, county and township cadres stood on duty in the village for more than 40 days to block news reporters from interviewing Gao Yanmin. During this period, except for leaving the mountains to pick up a package at the post office, Gao Yanmin couldn’t freely leave Xia’an Village. After summer vacation, in September, the Huiling township center elementary school finally sent another female teacher to Xia’an to work together with Gao Yanmin. However, one of her main duties was to keep an eye out in case reporters came to visit Gao and if so, report them at once to the township.

After Gao Yanmin was intercepted by the school and returned to the village and the reporter was “escorted” from Xia’an Village to Quxiang county town, an official said to the reporter: “You’d better hurry up and leave. If you don’t, we’ll have to stay with you.” The reporter had no choice but to go to Baoding the same night, and carry out most of the interview over the phone from a hotel in Baoding.

At the very end of the interview, a lonely Gao Yanmin cried over the phone, muttering as she wept: “I can’t predict what will happen. In my heart I’m completely bewildered. I’m like a boat floating in the middle of a river. I do not know toward which bank to head.

“I just want to be with the children. As long I’m not fired, then I’ll be fine. But if they hold off for six to twelve months until the media aren’t paying too much attention, and then fire me, then I’ll be forced to leave this teaching dais I love so much….”

Earlier this month, the Yanzhao Metropolitan Daily nominated Gao a candidate for its annual “people who moved Hebei” award.


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