The claim: A photo published May 14, 2023, on Twitter, claims to be the photo of the “chained woman,” who was found chained in a remote village of eastern China’s Jiangsu province in 2022.
Fact-checking: The viral photo has been digitally edited, and the original image was of a girl in a school uniform, with her face replaced by Li Ying, a Chinese woman who went missing in 1996. Some netizens believed that the real identity of the “chained woman” is Li. In an interview with The Paper, a Chinese media organization, Li’s mother said that the police informed her on Jan. 29, 2022 that her daughter’s DNA did not match that of the “chained woman.”
Our verdict: The viral photo of the “chained woman” from her school days has been digitally edited. Therefore, we rate the claim as FALSE.
In January 2022, a woman who was chained to a shed was found by a vlogger in Feng county, Xuzhou city, Jiangsu province. The woman was later dubbed the “chained woman” by netizens, and her origin and experience garnered widespread attention. In April 2023, the court in Xuzhou city sentenced six people to prison for human trafficking and abuse of the “chained woman.”
A portrait of a woman published May 14, 2023, on Twitter, claims to be a photo of the “chained woman” from her school days.
As of the issuance of this report, the tweet had been shared 396 times, 24 times with quote, and had received 1,641 likes. Similar photos had been circulating on Facebook as well.
Reverse image searches found an article published in 2017 on a Chinese hairstyle design website called “Hair Station,” titled “Middle school girls’ hairstyles: youthful, beautiful, and cute.” The article featured a picture of a young woman wearing attire similar to a school uniform. A comparison shows that the figure, clothing and hairstyle of the girl, and the background and illumination in the viral photo were identical to the Hair Station picture, except that the former was in black and white while the latter was in color. The Hair Station picture has been circulating here and here, and has also appeared in many articles related to “girl hairstyles,” “female high school students,” “school uniforms,” and other related topics. HKBU Fact Check has yet to find evidence linking this photo to the “chained woman” incident.
After further investigation, it was found that the woman’s facial features in the viral photo match those of Li Ying, a missing woman featured on the Chinese missing person website “Baby Come Home.” Li is a girl from southwestern China’s Sichuan province who went missing in 1996. She was speculated to be the “chained woman” by some netizens after the incident was exposed in early 2022, as the two women shared similar facial features. However, Li’s mother told The Paper, a Chinese media organization, that she was informed Jan. 29, 2022 by the police that her daughter’s DNA did not match that of the “chained woman” in Xuzhou.
To sum up, the viral photo was edited. It is not a photo of the “chained woman” from her student days.
The viral photo of the “chained woman” from her school days has been digitally edited. Therefore, we rate the claim as FALSE.
- The New York Times, “Seeking Truth and Justice, Chinese See Themselves in a Chained Woman,” March 1, 2022.
- The New York Times, “Sentencing in China’s ‘Chained Woman’ Trafficking Case Revives Online Outrage,” Apr. 10, 2023.
- Twitter, tweet, May 14, 2023.
- Facebook post, May 14, 2023.
- Hair Station, “Middle school girls’ hairstyles: youthful, beautiful, and cute,” Oct. 14, 2017.
- Sina, “10 years of hard work, never giving up – youth is not wasted with “school uniform,” March 10, 2023.
- Baidu Experience, “Simple Hairstyles for Little Girls with Short Hair,” June 13, 2020.
- Baby Come Home, Li Ying.
- The Paper, “Li Ying has been missing for 26 years. Family members say police claim DNA does not match Yang,” Feb. 7, 2022.