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China villages cheer Robin Hood-like hero in spring festival
by Staff Writers
Juhe, China (AFP) Feb 9, 2017

China police rescue 32 trafficked Vietnamese brides
Beijing (AFP) Feb 9, 2017 - Chinese police have rescued 32 Vietnamese women who were sold as brides to Chinese farmers, authorities said Thursday, in an operation aimed at curbing the practice in the impoverished countryside.

Authorities arrested 75 suspects who were allegedly part of a ring that lured women to southwest China's Yunnan province with promises of tourism and work, Yunnan Public Security Department said in a statement posted on its official social media account.

The victims were kept in large numbers in "captive families" in Yunnan -- close to the Vietnamese border -- in remote, mountainous areas before being sold to people in six provinces in central and east China, state broadcaster CCTV said.

When one victim tried to escape, "two men caught me and beat me with a steel pipe," she told reporters. "They threatened me when I refused to be their bride."

Bride trafficking is a serious problem in China, where women are sold to men, mostly in rural areas, who cannot find wives at home because of the country's huge gender imbalance.

The problem is particularly serious in impoverished areas, where farmers see "buying" a bride from abroad as cheaper than paying a dowry for a Chinese bride.

For decades, the country's strict one-child policy led many traditional Chinese families -- who prefer sons to daughters -- to have sex-selective abortions, skewing the country's gender ratio.

Police began investigating the case in September 2015 after discovering a woman, who did not speak Chinese, had been sold as a bride from Vietnam for 80,000 yuan ($11,600), the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The 32 rescued women are being transferred back to Vietnam, CCTV said.

Chinese police "rescued and repatriated" 1,281 abducted foreign women in 2012 alone, most of them from Southeast Asia, the state-run China Daily reported.

Human traffickers could face the death penalty in China.

Carrying the golden statue of a revered ancient general, villagers in eastern China dash wildly through waterlogged fields in a mud-spattered celebration of a local rebel adored for stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

Spurred on by the roar of firecrackers and cheers of families crowded on muddy banks, teams of men splash through the quagmire, in a centuries-old ceremony that is part of the lead up to China's Lantern Festival on February 11.

It is a time for colourful ceremonies in the coastal province of Fujian, where the Hakka people have held on particularly strongly to their folk traditions.

At the centre of the celebrations is the solemn-faced gilded effigy of Guan Gong, a Chinese general who lived nearly 2,000 years ago during the Eastern Han dynasty and has been granted god-like status.

But he is not the main focus of the festivities.

For villagers here Guan Gong acts as a stand-in for a local rebel king named Zhang Lian, akin to a Robin Hood figure, who looted riches and helped the poor.

He rose up in 1560 against the corrupt Ming empire, which used its massive army to impose heavy taxes on local peasants.

After two years of fighting, the government crushed the insurrection, leading the hero to flee to Indonesia, where legend has it he eventually became king of the southeastern island known today as Sumatra.

Seeking to honour him without upsetting the emperor, Ming dynasty peasants paid tribute to an image of Guan Gong instead.

Local families pray to the statue, light incense and sacrifice chickens, before carrying it down to the field.

Villagers on Wednesday ran through the flooded fields to the point of collapse and then splashed water on the statue and each other in the winter morning chill.

Stomping about in the mud is also a way to "awaken" the farmland for the coming spring and express hopes for a good harvest year.

Hu Sheng, one of the men carrying the statue in a bamboo litter, told AFP that he travelled to the ceremony every year from the southern city of Shenzhen where he works.

"Everyone respects Guan Gong. I must come back for this because I hope he will bless me and my family this year, and I want everyone to have a good harvest," he said.

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