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The 21st Issue: Sha Bihong - The Story Behind “Combating Human Trafficking” (Part I) (Excerpt)


AHTV <Journalist File>

The 21st Issue: Sha Bihong - The Story Behind “Combating Human Trafficking” (Part I)

Hostess: Zhang Wei

Directress: Sha Bihong

[Commentary of the short film]

In the year of 2000, the Ministry of Public Security of the People’s Republic of China conducted the special activity of “Cracking down on the human trafficking of women and children”. Sha Bihong and her camera crew fought along with the policemen. During the 8 months, they traveled tens of thousands of kilometers, interviewing more than 2000 abducted girls, and using the camera lens and their hearts to record every true story.

Zhang Wei: The person sitting in front of me is the recorder of the scenes: Sha Bihong. Hello Bihong, welcome to Journalist File. As we know, you went along with the policemen and shot this documentary. In the total 8 months, you shot a clip involving twenty thousand minutes. But before shooting this documentary, did you ever focus on the topic of combating human trafficking?

Sha Bihong: Actually, I have been focusing on this topic, because I had been working at the column Half the Sky in CCTV-1 before shooting this documentary. At that time I was a woman reporter and I already worked nearly 7-8 years in this area. Five years ago, I received a letter from an abducted girl. She told me that she and five other girls were abducted when they were on their way to work and they were just trapped in a civilian building. She sent this letter secretly and hoped our media could go to interview them. I found it was interesting that she firstly thought about writing a letter to Half the Sky instead of calling the police. And I knew how important the letter was. The first thing I thought was to call the police for them, so I tried to call the telephone number but an old woman answered the phone. She said it was a public telephone. I asked her whether there were some people, some young girls living there. She told me some of the young girls were working in a hair salon, but they already left. Then it turned out to be a pending criminal case which could not be resolved. I was sure that they must have been abducted as the letter was so detailed. At that time, I was hoping to shoot a documentary about human trafficking with a good chance to reflect these abducted girls’ life and their fate.

Zhang Wei: You received a mission or got an opportunity to follow and shoot the cracking down on human trafficking. Before you left, did you know that it would take so long to finish it?

Sha Bihong: Yes, I did.

Zhang Wei: Did you prepare for it?

Sha Bihong: When the Ministry of Public Security decided to shoot the documentary about human trafficking, the 2000 year special human trafficking combating was on the run. The then chief Zhu Yantao who was responsible for combating human trafficking asked me to go to the people’s police station. She told me about the process of combating human trafficking and the current situation of the abducted girls. From 5:00 p.m. to 12:00 p.m., she had been talking to me. At last, she talked to me in a tearful voice. At that time, in my opinion, generally speaking, most criminal policemen and common policemen should have seen a lot of human trafficking cases. And she was the chief responsible for combating human trafficking at the Ministry of Public Security. So I was shocked that she told me the process in tears.

Zhang Wei: Are you a person easily moved?

Sha Bihong: Yes, I am.

Zhang Wei: But you are very reasonable as a reporter, right?

Sha Bihong: Yeah.

Zhang Wei: It will take so long time to finish the large-scaled project. As the chief director, did you have any plan? Did you have any goal? What did you want to dig out from the process and to pass on to the audience?

Sha Bihong: There were some plans. I think you will agree about it as you made some programs. As a director or a TV reporter, one should have a blueprint in his brain. However, at that time, what I had was the great deal of word information, which I had finished day and night. About the materials, the words shocked me a lot that it seemed to make you feel personally at the scene. It would give you a different feeling. In fact, it was very complicated: every step would bring a change. That is to say, at the beginning, I concentrated on how the children were abducted, and how they were saved. And I imagined that I have to make clear the social reason of the girls being abducted and the ways to avoid or eliminate the social phenomenon. That was a very blur conception or a blueprint. However, when I came to the scene, my focus was shifted to the question why the girls did not go back home after they were rescued. This question was beyond my former imagination. And I was surprised at the girls not returning home after their rescue.

Zhang Wei: Indeed, every abducted girl went through different experience. Let’s watch the big screen for some pictures. How old was she (Peng Guangfang)?

Sha Bihong: She was in twenties, 27 or 28. She was the elder among the abducted girls, but she was abducted for 3 to 5 years.

Zhang Wei: How could you find the clue?

Sha Bihong: The clue was from a human trafficker group and was provided by the trafficker while dealing with the trafficking crime. Peng Guangfang was a sort of representative abducted girl. She was also a girl we communicated with who did not go back home. The picture was about her later life when we met her.

Zhang Wei: What about her response when she met the policemen?

Sha Bihong: We went there as we planned. At that time, Peng Guangfang was watching show at the market. Then a police officer, from the local police station took us to her patted her behind. She was very happy when she turned back. She was really joyful when she knew someone come to rescue her.

Zhang Wei: Was it up to your imagination?

Sha Bihong: Yeah. She saw us as if she saw her relatives. She said she would not go back home. The police officer said we should talk about it later by drawing her arms. Then she shook off the officer.

Zhang Wei: Her husband was clear how to ask her to (stay)?

Sha Bihong: Yeah. In my view, not only her husband but other people knew how to ask her to stay. What could make it was the kid.

Zhang Wei: What did you think when you heard Peng Guangfang said that she would not go home there?

Sha Bihong: I had two thoughts. One was to get angry, really angry. That was a feeling that I was angry about her doing nothing. You know that the policemen exerted many efforts to find them. We went through fourteen mountains on the way to find her and went through dozens of mountains on the back way. The cliff could be seen in the documentary. You could only step one foot on the cliff when we were going to find her. There was an abyss on the left and a mountain on the right, so you could find nothing to support yourself. Moreover, we had many apparatus in our hands. In that situation, we carried a bottle of spring water and a dry quick-instant noodle. We had no bag in order to lighten the weight. When we felt hungry, we ate some noddle and drank water. And we kept moving forward. We did not have any sleep for dozens of days, only taking a nap on the car. In particular, the policemen were more tired than us as they carried their guns to conduct detection for more important tasks.

Zhang Wei: For the policemen, how could they deal with this situation when they met a girl who was not willing to go home?

Sha Bihong: The policemen said that they should respect the opinion of the abducted girl, so she could stay if she wanted to. Peng Guangfang was an example. Before I met her, I’ve met many abducted girls. When we saved the groups of the abducted girls in Guangzhou, I had a deep talk with them. Among these girls, there were some who did not want to go home. The reason why I determined to follow Peng Guangfang when I met her was that I was eager to investigate her inner world.

Zhang Wei: Why did you have this kind of thought?

Sha Bihong: The thought was born in Guangzhou. At that time, I interviewed dozens of abducted girls, and one third of them did not want to go home. I got so surprised at that time. Then I had been thinking to save her from the human trader and sent her home. Whether she could finally go home and her soul could also return home were not sure. I said we should continue to shoot her life. That was the beginning after all. So we should have both confidence and patience, persisting in making clear why she did not want to go home.

Zhang Wei: As a recorder, you wanted most to get a perfect ending. But you were a little resistant to this situation because it was not like your original imagination, right? They did not go home, right?

Sha Bihong: You just asked what kind of thought I have. I had two thoughts. One was to get angry. What about the other? I think I should help her. Or I should have a deep talk with her. I visited her in a few days. And we filmed others. After several days, I returned to her home. She was working in the field and I suggested us chatting with each other there. After knowing she was far away from her family, I asked why she did not go back home. I asked her to tell me the truth as there was nobody else and I would not tell others. Then she said the main reason was in children. She was going to return home at the beginning. After she was sold there, she agreed to stay there to prevent the human traffickers from beating her or raping her. Then her current husband asked whether she would marry him. She said yes. Then he asked whether she loved him. And she said yes too. Then she was bought by that man. On the evening when she was taken to his home, she hid one scissors in her arms. If that man came near to her, she tended to kill him. However, she had no courage to do that. She just said to him, I would commit suicide if you got close to me. Then he did not approach her bed in next more than one month. What is more, he was nice to her.

Zhang Wei: Did he want to move her?

Sha Bihong: Yeah, he wanted to move her. During this period, his villagers came to persuade her by saying that he was nice to her. And they gave examples about other abducted girls. There was someone that was abducted to the village at the same time. Upon giving birth to a baby, she was hanged on the house beam. She was asked to feed her baby when the baby was hungry. And she was away from her baby during other time. Then she was hanged there day and day because she had been resisting to and hating to feed the baby. She struggled furiously, thus being tied up every day. And she was fastened to bed by chains. But you were not tied up and you were happy. You had nothing and you were bought there after all. Therefore, it was unnecessary to think too much about it.

Zhang Wei: So she was willing to stay there slowly?

Sha Bihong: She did not want to stay there at the beginning and escaped several times. But she was caught back. At one time, she was working at the cornfield. Another abducted girl escaped to the cornfield and asked her to hide her. But she did not hide the running girl. At her hesitation, the others chased after the running girl. They caught her and fiercely beat her while stripping off her clothes. All villagers were accomplices. Finally she had no other way. At present, she dares not to escape. She said that she would be caught back by the whole village. Moreover, she had her kid that seemed to be ok. She said that the family members were nice to them. Neither did they beat her nor did they blame her, permitting her to go outside for work in the field. So she felt that she was free, which was ok with her. She said that it was ok to marry a man. Therefore, I could see that her standard for happiness had changed, which was extremely sad. It meant that she had accepted the reality. She had already treated herself as nobody. Her standard for happiness was turned to obtain her freedom. Besides, the kid was the biggest burden for the abducted girl who did not want to go home.

Zhang Wei: Did you contact the human trafficker alone?

Sha Bihong: I met several human traffickers.

Zhang Wei: It is said that there are many human traffickers. How can they get involved in this business? Why do they abduct people? Are they really conscienceless?

Sha Bihong: The human traffickers are not as vicious as we imagined, nor as evil as they were described in the literary works. It is not true. In fact, they are the common group that you can find on the street.

Zhang Wei: Are they as common as the normal people?

Sha Bihong: Yeah. Besides, the human traffickers are low-intelligent criminals. Few of them are high-intelligent. And most of them know little about words, that is to say, they are illiterate.

Zhang Wei: So what do they utilize to abduct these girls?

Sha Bihong: Most of the human traffickers, 80% of them are the abducted girls’ countrymen. Usually speaking, the countrymen came to meet in tears, having been caused by emotion, country emotion. But there was a saying in their circle that the countrymen came to meet in tears was a tragedy of being abducted. The human traffickers take advantage of the feature that the girls want to find a trust in a strange area. Basically, they go back to the country and organize some people to go outside for trafficking. There are many criminal groups in Fujian and Guizhou.

Zhang Wei: While shooting abducted girls, you came across a place named human trading pavilion. What kind of place is it?

Sha Binghong: If you are a pianist or a traveller, you will have the sole feeling that the mountains are very beautiful in that place.

Zhang Wei: Is the mountain green?

Sha Bihong: Like a wash painting, the place was as attractive as a land of idyllic beauty. You might think that pavilion was for passer-by to rest or drink water, or for peasants to smoke. You thought it a beautiful place. You could not dream of human trading taking place there. Peng Guangfang went there and pointed to the place, saying that she was abducted there. At that time, she and another over 20 girls were on a truck which drove to the human trading pavilion where the girls were asked to get off. Most of the girls were at 14 or 15. Every of them would be raped by the human trafficker group. After that, the human trafficker would tell the girl to say yes if someone went to ask her whether she loved him. And she had to say yes if someone asked whether she would marry him, and said yes if the policeman asked her whether she was willing to come there. The beating and raping would only stop when the girls gave in. And they would be beaten to death if they resisted. As a result, most of them gave in. And the only one who struggled with the human traffickers was beaten to death. After the other girls were bought by others who needed a wife, there was one girl at 19 who was fighting with the traffickers. So the whole village witnessed her being beaten with her cry lasting for one night. When the villagers went to the pavilion, they found that her ripped hair and blood spots spread all over the ground. And there were footprints that showed she was dragged away.

Zhang Wei: How could the trafficker run so rampant?

Sha Bihong: It was a long story. But that criminal group was already uncovered. In actuality, we should track back the question that we thought about at the beginning. Why there were so many girls, women or children being abducted. This kind of thing died out after New China being established but revived at the end of 1970s and beginning of 1980s, namely the beginning of reform and opening up. Then it grew rampantly till 1990s when the situation hardly could be controlled. That was why the Chinese government made so big determination and so many efforts to carry out the combating human trafficking activity in 2000. It could be compared with drug trafficking or smuggling because human trafficking could not be managed at that time. Many experts studied the reason for the phenomenon. I just could make an analysis from the perspective of a reporter. In my view, the economic imbalance between the western and eastern China was the fundamental reason for it. That was the main environment though it was not an absolute factor. The environment itself could not be reproached for human trafficking. The environment cultivated the soil which was not for human trafficking but for population mobility. A large number of western girls went to the eastern to earn money to support their family, which was a surface reason, namely economic imbalance between eastern and western world. The second main reason was the idea of preferring boys to girls. Since the whole culture in western China was not so developed, its culture & education was naturally not so developed. I also paid attention to the education of women and children. In the western area, the girls had no opportunity to go to school as they had to work at home to support their young brother or old brother to study, which was unchanged for generations. A few years ago, I shot a documentary, One Dream for Generations of Women. I visited many schools and villages to record the history about three generations of women who could not go to school. Then the third generation of women could study at the Hope Primary School that was about our Spring Buds Program. The program was to help girls go to study. Actually, they themselves had the sense of study and the country government had been helping them. However, there was a reality. Even if the country rendered them money, the parents would not let the girls go to school, saying it was useless for girls to study. So 80% of families would not permit their girls to go to school, which was deeply investigated.

Zhang Wei: That is why the abducted girls are in a younger-age trend. They are really young. During the 8 months, some things were worthy relieving. For example, when the abducted women could go home, the abducted girls were willing to go home.

Sha Bihong: Yes, most of the girls were willing to go home. But they might go through some accidents on their way home. Take Liu Xiaohua, an abducted girl, for instance. This girl was in typical significance. She showed the common worry and anxiety of many abducted girls. During the interview and tracing of Liu Xiaohua in particular, I found that there were many girls that did not want to go home. We could not simply judge whether returning home was better for her. Maybe they could earn more money if they did not go home, which was a surficial understanding. There are several reasons for them not going home when we go into their heart.

Zhang Wei: What did they worry most?

Sha Bihong: Firstly, they were afraid of being looked down when they went home, and then their dignity would be hurt. How could they live in the village if the others looked down upon them?

Zhang Wei: Moreover, she would have some new problems. For example, she had to find a new boyfriend and get married. How could she continue to live?

Sha Bihong: It’s right. She thought it is impossible to make it. The idea in western region was much more feudal than that in eastern. They also thought a lot of their virginity. For the professional escort in the nightclub, they felt that they were disqualified to fall in love with someone. Her expectation for love would turn to nothing, which was the same with her dignity. She regarded herself as rubbish. There were a few people who returned to the nightclub on their way home. They thought there would be nothing new and would be in despair. Some of them had their boyfriend or husband in the past, thus choosing not going home to avoid being refused.

Zhang Wei: Liu Xiaohua had a baby for the man who bought her. But she also had a husband and a kid in her own former family. She was a focus combining many problems. There are several levels on her. After your persuasion, she finally decided to go home. What about her trip to home? Did she clear all worries after reaching home? Let’s continue with this topic with Sha Bihong in next program!

Personal information

Sha Bihong

Director and reporter of CCTV

1991-1993 Studied in Germany

Shot many documentaries

1995 Shot One Dream for Generations of Women which was awarded prize of China Official Television

2000 Shot “Special fight of combating the trafficking of women and children”

Finished 20-episode documentary TV play Social Care

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