The Mystery of the Missing Deaf Schoolchildren

What is a "sky window (天窗)"?  This is an old technical term used by newspaper workers in Hong Kong once upon a time.  Back in the old days when the British colonial administration showed us how to practice freedom of speech, there was a strange sight every day around 5pm outside government house.  There was a queue of messengers waiting for their turn to see the government censor.  The messenger would submit the news of the day for his newspaper, the censor would review them and either approve or disapprove with an official stamp.  By the way, the office would close at 6pm.  

If the news articles were approved, then all was fine.  If the news articles were disapproved, or else the messenger did not arrive at the office in time, then the newspaper was screwed.  What to do?  You can't just publish it, because you can go to jail and your newspaper can be shut down.  So you left it blank.  Yes, there were newspapers that showed up with blank sections in the front page.  That was known as "opening out the sky window."

That was once upon a time.  Today, there is no more government pre-censorship in Hong Kong.  Besides, with the computerized technology for doing layouts, it would have been easy to fill up the white space by some creative means.

In the following, there is the translation of a front-page story that was allegedly scheduled to appear in Southern Weekend, but was pulled at the last minute by unknown authorities.  Instead, the reporter set it free on the Internet.  Please note that the exact circumstances cannot be verified.  But you can just read the story on its own terms.  The original Chinese version is here.

The Mystery of the Missing Deaf Schoolchildren

No. 97 Yueshan Road in Chuanying District is a busy sector with lots of human noises and rushing traffic.  Within this environment, the quietness at the Jilin City School for the Deaf and Mute next to the Northern Islamic Mosque is special.  Over more than two months, a complex drama unfolded around a group of deaf children. If it had not finally shocked the local government and media, this could still be going on quietly now and will continue to go on quietly.

At sometime past 9pm on November 13, 2005, Heilongjiang province Suihua city Numerical Control School worker Wang Jinyu was immersed in the suspenseful plot of the television drama.  A telephone call from Jilin city then brought him back into reality: his daughter Wang Mian, who had just started school there for two months, has gone missing.

Wang Jinyu and his brother Wang Chunmin set off that night and hurried to Jilin city.  On the road, Wang Jinyu stared fixedly outside the window, as if the face of his daughter may suddenly appear in the dark and endless night.

14-year-old Wang Mian was born deaf.  In order to make sure that their daughter would not "suffer", the parents gathered all their financial resources to cure her and even gave up the plan to have a second child.  Just like the type of comic book figure that Wang Mian usually draws, this innocent child has a delicate and pretty face with bright and shiny eyes.  As the only daughter and spiritual support, the future of Wang Mian had backed her parents into a dilemma -- they can keep her home and guarantee the safety of their "pearl" or else give her a good education to polish her even brighter?  This autumn, after making several inspections, Wang Jinyu finally decided to enroll his daughter at the Jilin City School for the Deaf and Mute several hundred miles away, because this is just about the "best school for the death in the Northeast."

"Usually, we don't even want the child to go to the shop in front of the house.  We told her again and again not to trust strangers.  She is quite obedient.  But misfortune still found the child."  Wang Jinyu is really sorry about sending his daughter away to study.  "She is so simple and pure, and she cannot speak ..."

Wang Jinyu and his brother arrived at the school on the morning of November 14.  According to the teacher, Wang Mian left school around noon of November 13.  She made a sign to tell her schoolmate about posting a letter.  During the study session at night, she was discovered not to have returned.  "Perhaps she went to an Internet bar, or perhaps she went to a classmate's home."  The teachers said some comforting words.

Wang Chunmin noticed that the teachers kept avoiding the use of "kidnap" and "abduction," preferring instead to use another word -- "getting lost."

As night arrived on November 14, the movement of time increased the sense of doom.  Wang Chunmin found the next explanation from the school difficult to understand -- The school principal Lu Hongbo reassured them the child will dress and eat well on the outside, and there would be no danger.

This was a sentence of "comfort" that actually caused people to become even more disturbed.

How can they issue a guarantee like that?  Could they know what was really happening?  How come the school claimed to have reported the case, but the police have not come to investigate after the child went missing for over 24 hours?

When Wang Chunmin asked the school about the latest development, a leader of the School for the Deaf told the worker by the side: "Get the other parents to go to the conference room, so that I can make a report about the situation."

Other parents?  Wang Chunmin then realized that it was more than just Wang Mian who is missing.

During this report, the parents found out that a total of seven students have gone "missing" over the last two months --

With seven disappearances, this simply no longer a case of children "getting lost."

The first to go missing was Yang Zhonghua, a member of the work committee at school.  She is talented and has participated in the national cultural performance of handicapped person.  She had her photograph taken with Deng Pufang, president of the National Handicapped Persons Association.  But she lived in a single parent home and she does not get enough care and love.

The parents exchanged information about their missing children, and this was like fanning the air in a coal stove as the feeling of uneasiness rose rapidly -- these children are more likely to be na´ve, and the four girls are relatively pretty students.

A friend reminded Wang Chunmin that there are many abductions around the country directed at deaf-and-mute students.  It used to be that they only want the male students to engage in robbery and theft, but these days they are recruiting female students to engage in pornographic activities.

The conference room was located on the second floor of the teaching quarters, and this was where the parents went to meet.  The thick tree branches on the outside dissected the dying sunlight of the early winter into small stripes on the wall of the conference room.  Over the next few days, the parents of the missing students hung around here and spent away the slowly moving time.

Wang Jinyu was not content with waiting for news at the school.  He and the uncle of Liu Chunyuan, 62-year-old Wang Zheng, decided to become "private detectives."  "We were trying all sorts of methods to ask around.  We heard that there were several deaf and mute girls working as massage girls at a bathhouse in Gongzhuling.  So we rushed over.  Indeed there were several kids who graduated from the Jilin School for the Deaf.  There were two males and three females and they were celebrating the birthday of one of the males.  They all said that they did not know Wang Mian and Liu Chunyuan."  When the previously hopeful Wang Zheng heard that, he was deflated.  But the birthday boy still gave the two a little bit of hope when he said that he knows those people who specialize in abducting deaf-and-mute students.  He promised to send word along to ask for mercy.  He declined Wang Zheng's offer of 5,000 yuan as payment afterwards and he wrote down on a piece of paper, "All deaf-and-mute people are friends of each other."

Wang Jinyu and Wang Zheng then hurried to another target location: it was rumored that there were more than 20 deaf-and-mute persons living in Fanjiachun in Changchun working as thieves.  When they got there to the rental house, the neighbors said that the group of people had just left and the people were always very secretive.

On November 16, another parent named Ge arrived at the school.  He said that his 16-year-old daughter Ge Chengsong had disappeared on October 26 and has not been found since.

According to Liu Xiliang's father, 48-year-old Ge works in a coal mine and his wife and daughter are both deaf and mute.  He has been to the school many times to deal with this without any results.  "He is illiterate and not good at communication.  How is he going to find his daughter?"

The sudden appearance of Ge caused all the other parents to become befuddled -- how many more missing children are there that these parents don't know about?

At the Jilin School for the Deaf, most of the students are from the rural area, and quite a few come from outside the city or even outside the province.  The parents send their children from faraway, and some poor rural families undertake a tremendous economic burden to do so.  They come here because of the excellent reputation of the school in the northeast -- in 2005, twenty-seven graduates entered various universities.  The art major at the school is also ranked one number in the country in terms of graduation rate.

Of course, the school also claims to the outside that the employment rate for the students is 100%.  This is obviously counterfactual unless they want to count those who engaged in criminal activities as being employed as well.

Various signs indicate that the Jilin School for the Dead hoped that the parents would not let their doubts spread out.

Wang Chunmin used to be a party secretary in a farm and he has been a businessman, so he can claim to be experienced in the ways of the world.  Since he has voiced doubts about what the school is doing many times and he worked with other parents collectively, he sensed that he was not welcomed by the school.  Some teachers even advised him to go home.

But those honest rural parents came to rely on Wang Chunmin and they want this experienced person to push the school to take action.

After being pressed by the parents, the school finally explained why they remain so calm about the missing school children.  According to Student Administration director Zhang Wufeng, more than twenty deaf and mute students have been abducted by criminal deaf-and-mute gangs over the past few years, with things getting especially bad over the past two years.  The abduction of deaf-and-mute children happens every year.  However, through various connections, they have been ultimately successful in "retrieving" the students.  Individual teachers even hinted to some parents to prepare money to "thank" people for it.  This is because when outside criminal organizations work with school personnel to abduct the school children, they will give one or two thousand yuan for the favors and that money has to be "compensated" sometimes.

When interviewed by our reporter, school principal Lu Hongbo denied the existence of the "compensation" phenomenon.

The road to the truth is indeed twisty -- from one person to seven persons to eight persons to more than twenty persons.  Wang Jinyu and Wang Chunmin were confused.  Is this the Jilin School for the Deaf that they were so satisfied with after repeated inspecting it?  They were also wondering why such an important thing needs to be hidden.

Wang Chunmin had quit smoking more than ten years ago.  But since he was restless with anxiety, he began smoking again in Jilin.

On November 15, Wang Chunmin was frustrated with the lack of progress, and then it suddenly occurred to him that he can get the help of the media.  So he went to the Jilin reporters' station for the New Cultural News and he wanted to get the newspaper to call for social attention to this incident.

At 6:45pm, New Cultural News reporter Huang Wei had just finished the preliminary interviews and was ready to write his article.  He got a piece of good news: Wang He who had been missing for four days just asked someone to call on his behalf to say that he was abducted and taken to Qingyuanshan district of Liaoning and he had just escaped from the control of a deaf-and-mute gang.

Huang Wei immediately contacted Wang He's father who rented a car to Qingyuanshan which is more than 300 kilometers away.  The Jilin School for the Deaf and the nearby Zhihuo police station also received the news that Wang He has been found, but they did not sent someone over there.  Their attitudes caused the various parents to be perplexed, because it is unreasonable, to say the least.

In order to avoid more complications, Wang He's father brought a knife and an axe with him.

At some time after 11pm, Wang He's father saw the sleeping child in a farmer's home in Beiyanggou village.  The child seemed to have been beaten in the head and face as there was some swelling.  Wang He's aunt went up to embrace him.  The suddenly awoken child thought that danger was upon him and tried to shrivel away.  Then he saw who they were and he cried with joy.

Through hand signs, Wang He said that he and his classmate Liu Xiliang split up in front of the school after class on November 11.  He was then kidnapped by four persons who placed clothes over his head to take him to some place.  The more than 100 yuan on him was confiscated.  Wang He was locked in a room with a barred window, being watched by four persons.  Over the past few days, they asked Wang He to steal for them.  When he refused, they beat him and did not feed him.

Early morning on November 15, Wang He sneaked out while his captors were asleep.  He jumped on a lorry.  He stayed on it and he did not know how to get off.  Then the lorry finally entered a garage, and he asked the driver to help him contact his family.

From November 16 onwards for several days, the New Cultural News spent at least one page to follow the case of the missing children.  Other provincial media also entered.  "What happened to the children?" became the center of conversation in the streets of Jilin.  On November 17, Jilin province deputy governor and Jilin party secretary Jiao Zhengzhong indicated that the case must be solved with full effort.

At the same time when Jiao gave the instruction, there was significant progress in the investigation of the case.

According to New Cultural News, the police believed that there must be "insiders" who cooperated with the deaf-and-mute people outside to sell the students.  17-year-old Yang, 19-year-old Chen, 20-year-old Hong and 18-year-old Qu were identified as the important suspects.  Qu had been abducted in May this year.  During the interrogation, he told the investigating team that Wang Mian and Liu Chunyuan were taken away by Huandian City deaf-and-mute persons Wang Lei and Cai Tianxi.

During the interrogation, Qu suddenly used his fist to break the glass while causing his arm tendon to break.  He was trying to use self-mutilation to avoid being questioned.

Yang, Hong and Chen also admitted that they took Wang He and Liu Xiliang to the Jilin train station and handed them over to the deaf-and-mute couple Pu Chengjin and Li Hongliang.  At 5pm on November 16, the special squad went to Shulan City Jishu town and arrested Pu Chengin and Li Hongliang.  They said that they gave some simple instructions to the kidnapped students and then they re-sold them to outside deaf-and-mute burglary rings.  They did not know the whereabouts of the children.

A police source privately told a friendly local media reporter that their understanding of the situation was that there is more than one abduction group connected to the Jilin school, and that the other missing students may be in the hands of the other criminal organizations.  For example, other than the several students who have been investigated, there is another deaf-and-mute mail named Wang Xuechun who has a criminal record . Wang lives in the Zhihuo district and is suspected of being involved in the cases of the missing children.  42-year-old Wang used to be a student at the Jilin School for the Death, but he seems to have "evaporated" into the thin air recently.  Another teacher who requested anonymity said that Wang Xuechun was serving jail time several years ago, and "the school had a few years of peace" while he was in jail.

At just past 4pm on November 16, the Student Administrator director Zhang Wufeng was surprised to see a student with a pale complexion wearing a sports jacket and jeans, standing in front of the classroom building.  It was Liu Xiliang.  He used bad sign language to inform the teacher: "They let me wait here."

During our reporter's written interview with Liu Xiliang, he never answered the question about "who" they were.  The simple message that the boy tried to communicate with all his might was this: he went to Dunhua; he was not beaten; there were a dozen men and women; he was asked to go out and steal; otherwise, the teacher had given some safety lessons.

When the communication became difficult, Liu Xiliang would shake his head in annoyance, like an impatient lion and his mouth would emit a low rumble.  Even when he first saw his parents again, he expressed only a limited amount of intimacy.

During the those two days, the return of the two male students made Wang Jinyu happy, but he was also tormented.  On the desk of Wang Mian's bedroom, there were letters from home including her mother's photograph and some small things.  On November 16, the family back in Suihua called to say that they had just received the letter from Wang Mian.  The letter arrived, but the person was missing.  The Wang family found it hard to bear.

This unexpected shock has made the tall and strong Wang Jinyu feel very weak and vulnerable.  He worked very hard during the day, but he could not fall asleep at night.  He woke up at 3 or 4 in the morning, and he sat staring into space on the bed in the small hotel.

At 2pm on November 18, there were no students to be seen in the corridors of the main building for the School for the Deaf.  The iron gates that open to the classrooms were locked.  The famished-looking mother of Liu Chunyuan walked into the conference room.  The parents looked at each other.  It looked that the waiting over the past few days will continue.

Suddenly, a teacher called out in the corridor: "The missing students are back."  Everybody in the room rushed out.

"Immediately, I saw Chunyuan and another girl (Wang Mian)!  They stood so frightened at the door, holding each other up and tears flowing down," said Liu Chunyuan's mother.  "At the time, I could not even stand up straight."  Liu Chunyuan's 18-year-old sister also cried, "Tomorrow will be grandma's birthday.  This is the birthday present that she wants most of all!"

Wang Jinyu head the news and rushed over.  He took Wang Mian into his arms and used his coat and shoulder to cover her up, as if he was afraid that someone might snatch her away.

Seeing so many people around, including some with cameras, Wang Mian hid inside the embrace of her father and refused to come out for a long time.

Wang Mian and Liu Chunyuan were quickly sent to the hospital for check-ups, and found not to have suffered any harm.  In the ensuing police investigation, the two girls who disappeared and re-appeared at the same time gave narratives that were different in many places.

According to Liu Chunyuan, their faces were covered outside the school ground and then they were forcibly taken away.  Two deaf-and-mute persons took them to Changchun, and then to Harbin.  They were locked up in a private home, where several other deaf-and-mute men and women also stayed.  The two girls were not asked to do anything.  She said that she ran away when the others were not paying attention, and returned to Jilin via Jiutai.

According to Wang Mian, Liu Chunyuan asked her to go out and play that afternoon.  Later on, she went to mail a letter and Liu Chunyuan also came with her.  When they were taken away, no force was used.  When they left Harbin, the group of people actually paid for the tickets and took them to the bus.

In front of their families, Wang Mian and Liu Chunyuan both wrote down their opinions of their abductors: "Bad people."  Actually, this may not be their true opinions inside.  According to their recollections, they were not threatened or beaten by the "bad people."  When Wang Mian came back, the feather sweat shirt and the color paper fold in her handbag were purchased by the "bad people."  Wang Mian said that she was thinking about home and she wanted to go back to school when she was in Harbin, but Liu Chunyuan appeared to be unwilling to be sent back to school.

Compared to the return of Wang He and Liu Xiliang, the sudden appearance of Wang Mian and Liu Chunyuan seemed more mysterious.  Why did the Heilongjiang deaf-and-mute group abduct these two girls?  Why did they return them?  No one has a clear explanation.

According to Wang Mian, she uses a different sign language system than those other people, so it was hard to communicate.  The case investigators judged that the problem of communications was not enough to force that group of people to release the two girls.  "Perhaps they were pressured by certain people."

Later on, many parents found out through the newspapers that on the night of November 15, three students under suspicion used Internet video chat (under the supervision of the teachers) to contact a middle person.  The three students warned the middle person that the teachers and parents are taking the case of the missing children very seriously.  They also lied to say that the police did not know yet, so the children had better be returned quickly.

The parents can only guess that the fact that Liu Xiliang and others were returned is possibly related to this video chat session.  "Perhaps, this was how the school retrieved the persons previously."  Wang Chunmin told the reporters that he had the nagging feeling that the school knew more about the truth of the missing children than he imagined.

Is there an iceberg hidden underneath the water concerning the missing students?

Faced with this kind of doubt, Lu Hongbo would only tell this reporter simply: "In the past, we went through our own connections to find the children.  If we did not get them back, given the media hype at this time, wouldn't the parents come to the school?  But it usually takes longer to find them, not as quickly as this time."

Wang Chunmin and other parents are perplexed: if the school can "coordinate" with the criminal organization to get the people back, so why wouldn't they ask for police help to eradicate the problem?

The Zhihuo police station refused to discuss the abduction problem at the Jilin School for the Deaf which is within its jurisdiction.  A police officer named Lu told the reporter that he does not know if the School for the Deaf had ever filed reports and he has no means of contacting the police station director.

During the investigation, the Jilin School for the Deaf always used "we cannot interfere with the police investigation" to turn down our repeated requests for interviews.  The school would not even discuss the educational characteristics of the school or the daily administration of student activities.  As the school's supervisor, the Jilin City Department of Education continued to say that the leaders were in meeting out of town.  When the reporter finally got through to the director's office phone, the director Tong Jianqiu said that he was filing a report to his superior.

Since November 17, the iron gates of the Jilin School for the Deaf have been locked.  Visitors were not allowed.  Even the vendor who supplies the school cafeteria with bean curds could not deliver the goods.  The west side of the School for the Deaf is a brick wall, and the north, east and south sides have iron fences taller than a person.  Even during rest days, it is hard to see students moving in the school.  This sealed world is becoming even more isolated and lonely on account of the incident of the missing people.  According to several women who run businesses in front of the entrance, the school was strict about letting people come in and out, but even so, many things seemed to have happened ...

As principal Lu Hongbo said in reflection: "The criminal organizations are competing with us for the students."

On the afternoon of November 21, just like Wang Mian and Liu Chunyuan, the missing students Guo Qiang and Zhang Zhongwu suddenly appeared at No. 95 Yueshan Road.  Obviously, due to the pressure from the "shocking missing people" case, the abductors have temporarily abandoned the fight this round.

Until 10pm on November 23, there are still two students who have not appeared at the entrance of the Jilin School for the Deaf, including Yang Zhonghua who has been missing 80 days.

As for now, Wang He, Liu Xiliang, Liu Chunyuan and other children have gone home to recuperate.  Most of the parents said that they don't want to send the children back to the school.  The father of Liu Xiliang told the reporters that children must study in order to have a future.  He usually used the example of the "Thousand-Armed Guanyin" Tai Lihua to motivate his son.  But then he turned around and expressed his own doubts: "It is so hard to be deaf and mute.  After all, there is only one Tai Lihua."

On November 19, after a huge fight with the school over withdrawal, Wang Jinyu and Wang Chunmin took Wang Mian on the way home with all her belongings.  They admit that Wang Mian was at the school for only two months, but her writing and sign language expression have progressed amazingly well.  But all that was destroyed by four days of nightmare.  They were worried that the shadow of this incident will follow the child for the rest of her life.

As he left, Wang Jinyu turned around to glance at the front door of the school.  There were a dozen gold-colored signs, such as this being the source for the Changchun University Special Education School and the Tianjin Polytechnic University, and so on.  But what seemed incredible to them was that this place has almost become the "source" for certain criminal organizations.