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Cover Stories Series 2012> Moms Wanted> Archive
UPDATED: May 14, 2012 NO. 20 MAY 17, 2012
Dealing With Loneliness
Suicidal tragedies bring to light the plight of left-behind women in China
By Wang Hairong

GROUP WORK: Left-behind women in a support group in Zhangtang Village, Xinfeng County in central China's Jiangxi Province, help each other in the field (ZHOU KE)

The desperate yell of a 13-year-old boy broke the silence of Dongfeng Village in Liangping County, southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, shortly before midnight on April 2. "Help, mother is hacking us with a knife," the boy shouted.

Villager Zhu Chuanhong was woken up by hasty pounding at his door. He opened the door, and was shocked to see the boy, nicknamed Xiaoyou, bleeding profusely from injuries to his head and face.

Xiaoyou told Zhu that he was sleeping at home, but suddenly felt an acute pain. He woke up and saw his mother stabbing at him and his younger brother with a knife. He broke away and ran for help.

Zhu and the other villagers rushed to Xiaoyou's home to rescue his 11-year-old brother Xiaoyi. But when they entered the house they did not see the mother or the son, but saw pools of blood on the floor and on the bed sheets. Half an hour later, the villagers found the mortally injured Xiaoyi lying in a ditch.

The two boys were sent to the hospital. Yet upon arrival at the hospital, the older boy died from excessive loss of blood. The younger one survived with about 80 cuts to his head and 20 to his limbs.

Four days later, the mother's body was retrieved from a river. She had taken her own life. The woman, Zheng Xiuwei, 37, lived with her two sons in the village, while her husband Zhu Jiawen, 41, worked in east China's Anhui Province, more than 1,200 km from Chongqing.

Deng Qingshun, Zheng's uncle-in-law, suspected that Zheng had gone insane. He said that Zheng was usually taciturn, and often stared expressionlessly or shouted names without reason.

After the tragedy, Zhu Jiawen returned home. He said that his wife usually treated their sons well, and the couple was on good terms, though she was introverted and did not like to socialize with others.

According to Zhu, he had taken her to see a doctor, but the doctor said he saw no signs of any psychological disorder.

Zhu said that several days before the incident his wife called him, telling him that she was suffering from a gynecological disorder and asked him to return home. "I told her to go to hospital and have a medical examination by herself. I did not expect this would happen," Zhu said.

Overloaded women

Zheng's case is one of two gruesome suicide-murders that have recently shocked people in China.

The other case took place on March 27 and involved a 27-year-old mother, Tang Chengfang, in southwest China's Sichuan Province. The mother poisoned her three children with pesticides and then attempted to commit suicide by drinking the same chemical. When this happened, Tang's husband was working in coastal Fujian Province while Tang was taking care of the children in their hometown. The mother and all of her three children are still in the hospital.

Both mothers are "left-behind women," a term referring to women who stay in their rural hometowns while their husbands work as migrant workers in cities. The two tragic cases have brought the living conditions of these women to the public's attention.

Official statistics released in May 2011 showed that China had more than 240 million migrant workers.

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