Chinese wife-enslavers executed

Six merchants were put to death last week for selling poor women to northern Chinese farmers.

Published December 9, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

Dec. 9, 1999

Six convicted men got deadly bullets blasted into the backs of their heads Sunday for the crime of selling women as wife-slaves to love-starved northern Chinese farmers, reports Monday's Legal Daily, a Chinese state-owned newspaper.

The flesh merchants were sentenced and executed by the Intermediate People's Court in the Shanxi province's capital city of Taiyuan, in a public trial watched by 10,000 people. Prostitution, forced marriages and woman-selling were outlawed by the communist government of Chairman Mao Tse-tung in 1949.

Each doomed gangster was also impelled to pay 20,000 yuan ($2,400) before his execution. Seven accomplices were fined 10,000 yuan and received life in prison.

The wife-selling cartel was judged guilty of tricking 52 impoverished young peasant women into believing that the men would find them distant employment. The hoodwinked maidens were gathered from the marketplaces of Kunming and Guiyang cities in the southwestern provinces of Yunnan and Guizhou. The enslavers abducted them to rural Loushan and Jingle counties in northern Shanxi, where farmers purchased the captive brides for 3,000 to 6,000 yuan each ($361 to $722).

Official Chinese figures indicate that 88,000 Chinese women and children were stolen and sold into marriage and slavery from 1991 to 1996. Human-rights organizations believe that the true figures are significantly higher.

An Oct. 12, 1998 U.S. News & World Report article describes one scenario in the wife-selling phenomenon: "Eighteen-year-old Yang Wenfang ... was lured to a riverside, and before she realized what was happening, a man dragged her into a dilapidated boat and took her far away. She was locked up for several days ... until a buyer came to inspect her."

Yang Wenfang claims that the first peasant customer who examined her was "in his 30s and very ugly, so I refused to go with him. The kidnappers told me if I didn't marry him, they would find me a man in his 60s and it would serve me right." When the intimidated girl relented, she was purchased, locked in the man's hovel, guarded by his kinfolk and eventually coerced into being his breeder wife.

The demand for wives in China has skyrocketed due to a gender imbalance: 100 females per 130 males. The number of girls, particularly in rural areas, has been decimated by selected abortion and infanticide due to the traditional preference for boys.

By Hank Hyena

Hank Hyena is a former columnist for SF Gate, and a frequent contributor to Salon.

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