Tail of the Real:

A Visual Response to the Chained Woman in Xuzhou

Charlotte Yao

In February 2021, the story of a mother of eight children found chained in a shack with single layered cloth in the winter went viral on the Chinese social network. Despite the outraged and terrified response towards this seeming human-trafficking, forced pregnancy, and imprisonment crime, the government’s handling of this incident was rather frustrating. Numerous investigation reports issued by police were questioned, iron walls were pulled up around the village to bar investigators, hashtags about this incident were removed, and reporters and activists were caught. As similar cases happen again and again, how to survive under such turmoil becomes an urgent concern. My practice examines ways of establishing empathetic connections through covert communication channels in the midst of such predicament both to support and to confront. Working with moving image, this research by practice project utilises appropriation and montage as methods to explore narratives of constraint, fear, violence and freedom through a feminist lens. Found video clips sourced from YouTube are cut and layered with sound and voice to create powerful, emotive fragments – a plane flaps its wings and falls gracefully from the sky in slow motion, grasped without a sound in the midst of fear. Although the establishment of empathic connections through covert communication channels is a relatively passive form of resistance, it helps to get messages out under the censorship and stigmatisation enforced by patriarchal authoritarian parties, fostering solidarity and support.