The Mental Patient in the Cage

(Southern Metropolis Daily)  By Tan Lin (谭林).  December 21, 2005.

[in translation]

In Shantou City, Chenhai District, Longdu Town, Zhucuopu Village, a 52-year-old mental patient Chen Zhisheng killed another person but he could not be convicted in court because of his state of mind.  The village wanted to send him to a mental hospital, but they did not have the money.  In order to prevent a recurrence, the village held a meeting and "invited" him to live inside a two-square-meter space steel cage as of early September last year.  He has been living there for over a  year.

The unexpected thing was that since Chen Zhisheng moved into the cage, he has become a celebrity among many local residents who are obsessed with playing the lottery.  They came to ask him for predictions of the "special" lottery numbers.  Anything that he does becomes a "mystery clue" that they spend a long time trying to decipher.

"The Cage Man" incident shows the dilemma of grassroots administration. Today, we are promoting the harmonious village.  The placement of mental patients becomes a test of the legal capability of the local governments.  But legal professoinals believe that while it was understandable why the mental patient was put into a iron cage, the action constitutes illegal detention and is therefore extremely inappropriate and should be stopped.

The time is the afternoon of December 14 and the place is Shantou City, Chenhai District, Longdu Town, Zhucuopu Village.

There are just a few fat geese wandering around leisurely looking for food.  When the reporter walked by, they stretched their wings and scattered.  Their sounds woke up the dog which was lazing in the sun.  The dog got up, shook its body and fled towards a house in the square.

Inside the house, Chen Zhisheng lifted up the curtains that covered the cage.  Through the space between in the wooden fence in front of the cage, he watched the reporter approach.  He had no expression on his face.


Chen Zhisheng lives in a dilapidated old house; known in the Chao-Shan area as "the tiger which came down the mountain."  Chen Zhisheng is locked up in a large iron cage.  The area of the cage is about 2 square meters, and it was constructed by welding thumb-sized iron tubes.  It is very robust.  There is a bed in the cage.  Next to the bed is a bed pan.  The ground is moist and smelly.

Cheng Zhisheng is a mental patient.  He is a "celebrity" in Longdu Town, Zhucuopu Village: the outside rumor is that Chen Zhisheng can foretell the special numbers in the Hong Kong lottery draws.  This is an open secret among all the local lottery players who play the underground lottery.  When the reporter asked for directions to Chen Zhisheng's residence, the villagers laughed knowingly: "You came here to ask for the numbers?  There have been two or three groups here earlier today already."  Then they pointed the reporters in the right direction in a friendly way.

The following is an exchange between the reporter and Chen Zhisheng, using the Chao-Shan dialect:

Reporter: Ah Sheng, have you eaten yet?

Ah Sheng: I have.

Reporter: How do you feel now?

Ah Sheng: Not bad.

Reporter: Are you cold in there?

Ah Sheng: I'm not cold.

Reporter: Did anyone come to see you today?

Ah Sheng: Yes, quite a few people.


During this exchange, Ah Sheng sounded very calm and lucid.  His responses were precise and his mental state seemed to be no diffrenent from normal people.

As we chatted, two men in their 40's/50's came near the iron cage and offered him a cigarette.  After chatting a bit, one asked: "Ah Shwng, what is the special number tonight?"  I heard Chen Zhisheng mumbled something.  One man could not hear clearly, so he gave Chen a piece of paper to write.  I saw Ah Sheng doodled something and I understood nothing.  But the two men thought that they had just found treasure and went into a corner to discuss in a whisper.  A short while later, three people came.  They look like "regular customers."  They came in and immediately asked Ah Sheng questions.  Later, a man handed a deck of poker cards to Ah Sheng and asked him to draw one.  The woman who came with him handed Ah Sheng a set of Chinese chess pieces and asked him to help her choose one ... These people left only after they think that they have a satisfactory 'answer.'

Why was Chen Zhisheng living in an iron cage?  According to the local villagers, the reason was that Chen Zhisheng was not only a mental patient, but he had a foul temper and he killed someone before.

According to a villager named Chen, Chen Zhisheng has a hereditary mental condition.  It began to manifest itself when Chen Zhisheng was around 20 years old, but it was not very severe at the time.  Since getting married and having children, the condition worsened and he often beat his wife and children and destroyed family utensils and appliances.  His wife could not take it any more.  More than ten years ago, she divorced him, married someone else and took the two daughters away to live elsewhere.  After that, Chen was single and wandered around.

According to information, Chen Zhisheng's mental condition was unstable.  When the condition came on, he would insult or assault others.  One day, big trouble occurred.

On July 21 last year, Chen Zhisheng came out of his house with a wooden pole on his shoulder and he was ready to head towards town.  On the way, he met a 70-year-old man named Chen also from the same village.  For unknown reasons, as soon as the two saw each other, Chen Zhisheng used his pole to attack the other man.  The old man tried to run away but fell down in a pool of blood.  Meanwhile, an old lady doing her morning exercises nearby came up to try to stop Chen.  She was also attacked by Chen, got bloodied and fled for her life while shouting for help.  Other people heard her cries and came over.  Chen Zhisheng then stopped the attack, and walked away.  By that time, the old man was already dead in the pool of blood.

When the local police received the report, they arrested Chen Zhisheng.  After an examination by the legal medical doctor, Chen was diagnosed as a mental patient and therefore not guilty of murder under the law.  Instead, Chen was sent to a mental hospital for treatment.  One month later, since there was no money to pay for medical expenses, Chen Zhisheng was sent back to the village.

After Chen Zhisheng returned to the village, the villagers were concerned that he would revert to the same condition and hurt people again.  So they asked the village cadres to deal with the situation properly.

According to the village committee cadres, Chen Zhisheng lived by himself and had no direct relatives.  After the killing, his mental examination fees as well as hospital fees of more than 10,000 yuan were paid for by the village committee.

In order to avoid another incident from Chen Zhisheng, the village held a meeting of the party representatives, the villager representatives, the senior citizen representatives and Chen Zhisheng's distant cousins in September last year.  The final decision: they would collectively pay for someone to build a cage to lock Chen up.  At the same time, his cousin Lao Wu would be responsible for feeding Chen, with a subsidy of 100 yuan per month from the village.  The water and gas bill would also be paid with village funds.

According to a source who wishes to remain anonymous, Chen Zhisheng became less irritable and more calm after his incarceration, except that he seems to be in a daze.  After the incarceration began, Lao Wu would come every few days to let Chen take a stroll outside for a few minutes.  Presently, Chen Zhisheng is in reasonably good physical health.  Apart from a case of diarrhea some time ago, he has not been seriously ill.

In speaking of the assignment, Lao Wu complained.  He said that since accepting the assignment to look after Chen Zhisheng, he has been worrying about things going wrong.  The visitors even brought cigarettes and lighters for Ah Sheng, who tried to lit up the straw mattress and blankets.  If they did not found out just in time, the consequences would have been dire.

But, following the "popularity" of Chen Zhisheng among the underground lottery players, the job of looking after him which nobody wanted previously became quite popular within a month's time.  During the interviews, many villagers complained about Lao Wu: he collects money to let people see Chen Zhisheng.  Previously, this cousin could not care less if Ah Sheng lived or died, but now the mental patient has become the tree on which money grows.

According to an informed source, ever since underground lottery betting appeared in eastern Guangdong, a lot of people believed that crazy people can foretell the numbers.  Therefore, many of these came to see Chen Zhisheng for the "special numbers."  Previously, Chen Zhisheng had no fixed abode; besides, they have to worry about him going beserk anytime.  Now that he has "moved into the cage, it is easier to reach him.  Thus, there is a constant stream of people visiting him.  On lottery days, people (men and women, young and old, nearby and faraway) come to see Ah Sheng, who seems to have become a 'celebrity.'"

According to an informed local source, Lao Wu saw that the number of people seeking 'advice' has been growing.  So he placed a wooden box at the entrance, with the words "Thanks for the donation."  The people who show up know well that they must "donate" in order to be able to ask Chen Zhisheng for the "special numbers."  The "donations" can be as much as dozens of yuan, or at little as several yuan.  Moreover, these people would not "mistreat" Chen Zhisheng.  Other then giving money and cigarettes, they also give food, rice, and cigarettes to "give thanks" for the "mystery clues" for the special numbers in the last drawing.  But when the reporter came, he did not see any wooden box.  According to information, the wooden box has been hidden away because there have been too many media coming around recently.

But how do the lottery players decipher the "special hints" offered by a mental patient?

According to a middle-aged woman who was riding a bicycle with her granddaughter, this is what her son-in-law observed one day: one day, her son-in-law came to ask for the "special number" at Chen Zhisheng's home.  He said a lot of nice words to make Ah Sheng happy.  Then he gave a 50 yuan note to Ah Sheng and ask about the special number.  Ah Sheng did not reply.  He held the money in his hand.  After being asked many times repeatedly, Ah Sheng ripped the 50 yuan note in half and threw it back out.  "A 50 note became two halves!"  After her son-in-law saw that, he thought that Chen Zhisheng was indicating that the special number was 25.  So he immediately played 25.  Surprisingly, the number that night was 25.

One person told ten persons who told a hundred persons in turn.  The mental patient Chen Zhisheng became the god among the lottery players.  But even if the middle-aged woman admits that Chen Zhisheng does not give an exact number.  Rather, he does certain things that the visitors must decipher.  Most of the time, the indications are wrong.  But the lottery players still hope to get indications from Chen Zhisheng and therefore they continue to come.

According to the local villagers, the local police have been patrolling in the neighborhood and they have even arrested outsiders who came to ask for the special numbers.  But there are still people who are obsessed, and the outsiders would find a "representative" among Ah Sheng's villager friends, or else arrange to have "informants" nearby to pay close attention to every move by this mental patient and gather the "information" that he communicates.  Then the information is relayed via telephone so that the "special number" can be decoded.

According to the cadres interviewed by this reporter, the village did this only reluctanly.  They considered that Chen Zhisheng is capable of harming people at any time.  Besides putting him under restraint, they could not think of any better way.

Is locking someone up in an iron cage illegal?  Our reporter interviewed lawyer Wang Xuyang of the Yi Chunqiu Law Offices in Guangdong.  He believes that it is not easy to say whether this was illegal detention by the villagers and the village committee.  Based upon the various facts, Chen Zhisheng is a mental patient with violent tendencies.  In order to prevent him from harming innocent people, his guardian has the duty to restrict his actions, including restricting his personal freedom.  If the guardian fails to act properly and then the mental patient injures others, the guardian will be liable for damages.

But lawyer Wang also emphasized that mental patients are a special group.  While the guardian has to take care that other people are not harmed, it is also necessary to offer humanitarian care and seek medical treatment.  The medical fees can be gathered by the villagers and the village committee, and also through the other departments of the Civil Affairs Bureau as well as the rest of society.  A mental patient should not be locked up solely on the basis of economic hardship.  When the mental patient is not in danger of harming others, it would seem to be illegal detention to not seek medical treatment and use straight imprisonment.

"It costs money to send him to the mental hospital.  Who is paying that money?  Should the government pay?  If he is not locked up, the mental patient does not have any responsibility when he kills people.  Then if he kills someone, who is going to be responsible?" said the village cadre.  The case of the man in the iron cage showed the dilemma of grassroots administration.

But lawyer Wu Xiang with the Guangdong Shengbang Law Office said that mental patients have their own personal legal rights.  Based upon Chen Zhisheng's behavior, he did not appear to be a mental problem constantly.  Thus, this type of detention violates his legal rights.  Besdies, even if Chen Zhisheng's problem is serious, he should not be locked up in an iron cage.  What the village committee did should be condemned, and they need to stop this type of action immediately.