Hello and welcome to another edition of "Frontline," the weekly feature program brought to you by China Radio International. I'm your host, Wang Jing.
Lili was an 18 year-old-girl who lived in China's northern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. In 2012, she and her boyfriend Jin Yongjun moved to Dalian in the northeastern Liaoning Province to find work in the coastal city. Her boyfriend quickly found a job while she didn't, so Lili spent her time cooking and doing the housework at their rented home while her boyfriend went out to work everyday. Except for going to a nearby market to buy some vegetables and food, she seldom left their apartment. To her boyfriend's great surprise and without any warning, Lilil suddenly went missing one day. What happened? Let's follow Li Peichun as we find out more.
One evening, Jin Yongjun returned home from work, only to find his girlfriend Yang Lili was not there as usual. He was a bit surprised. Wondering where his girlfriend was, he called her mobile, only to find that it was powered off.
"I felt a little annoyed, and also worried."
In the days that followed, Lili's whereabouts remained in the dark. Jin Yongjun called her family, relatives and friends, everyone he could think of, but no one knew where she was. He was being plunged into ever deeper despair, when on the fifth day, someone dialed his phone number.
"The telephone rang several times before being hung up. I thought it was a wrong number at first but when I dialed back I got connected."
To his great surprise, the person on the other end was Lili. Delighted as much as he was surprised, Jin Yongjun couldn't wait to ask her where she was. Breaking into tears, Lili said that she had been kidnapped and sold in a village in the remote hinterland of Inner Mongolia and was to be forced to marry a stranger.
"She said they had bought a TV set, earrings and bracelets, and also had the room decorated in preparation. The wedding was scheduled for May 1st. I was shocked. I couldn't bear to let this happen and knew I had to find a way to get her back."
A few days after his girlfriend disappeared, Jin Yongjun learned that she had been kidnapped and sold to a remote village in Inner Mongolia where she was to be forced to marry a stranger who had paid to buy a wife from traffickers. In a great rush, Jin Yongjun called the police to report the case. The police wasted no time in forming a special task team and set to investigate the case immediately. It was a difficult one. The only clue available so far was the number of the phone Lili had used to contact Jin Yongjun.
Jin Yongjun said he had just said a few words with Lili and not asked anything more before the phone was hung up.
Kong Fandong was a policeman working on the case.
"She said it was a household in a village in Inner Mongolia. There were trees around the flat and a desert. The flat sat in a large yard and was painted white. She gave no information about anything else."
Where to find more useful clues? The police assumed that the human traffickers could have taken Lili away from Dalian by train or bus. So they cast their sights to railway and bus stations. Video footage taken at a railway station on the day Lili was found missing, showed her going through the security check.
"Look at this, here's the girl, who looks the same as the one in the picture from Jing Yongjun's mobile phone."
The footage revealed that two other women were with Lili. One was wearing a gauze mask and could not be identified.
"Look at the woman wearing a gauze mask. We couldn't identify her for the time being, but we were sure she was with them."
The other woman seen with Lili in the footage was, however, known to Jin Yongjun.
"Although the picture was a bit blurry, Jin Yongjun recognized her. She was named Hou Yuhuan."
Who was Hou Yuhuan? Jing Yongjun said she was one of his relatives, a younger sister of the wife of his third brother. Where were Lili, her and the other woman headed? Why hadn't Lili told Jin Yongjun that she was traveling with the relative? Had Lili been kidnapped or not?
Yu Miao was another policeman.
"We then suspected that she had left due to some other reason, such as a quarrel with her boyfriend."
Jing Yongjun told the police that his third brother and wife Hou Yufeng had also come to Dalian as migrant workers and lived not far from Jin Yongjun's rented home.
"I had lent money to my sister-in-law when she didn't have enough to pay her child's school fees. I also bought shoes and clothes and a schoolbag for her child as gifts. Good or not, they were new items."
Jin Yongjun's girlfriend sometimes went to Hou Yufeng's home to help her with the housework and the two families were on very good terms.
"We had been on very good terms with them. She often went to help her with various errands, feeding ducks and chickens, picking vegetables and all that."
After Lili went missing, Jin Yongjun asked his third sister-in-law if she knew anything of her whereabouts, but she said she didn't. Jin Yongjun became suspicious. A few days earlier, Lili had mentioned that Hou Yufeng had found her a new job. When Jin Yongjun asked what job she had found for Lili, Hou denied the matter entirely.
"I went to her home and asked if she had found a job for her. She said there was no such thing. She denied having called her or found her a new job."
Greatly worried by Lili's disappearance, Jin Yongjun searched everywhere and asked everyone he could think of for her whereabouts. When he talked about it with Hou Yufeng, she made no effort to comfort him but instead tried to persuade him to let Lili go.
"She said she had spoken with a fortuneteller, who said Lili had left Dalian and had a good chance for romance."
More strangely, Hou Yufeng also suggested to Jin Yongjun that he'd better move away and change his mobile phone number.
"She kept nudging me to move away and change my phone number. Then my brother joined her and said that Lili had run away with someone who might harm me. If I didn't go, I would be in danger."
Not only was Lili last seen together with Hou Yufeng's younger sister, Hou Yufeng's behavior appeared rather absurd. But the police decided not to alarm Hou Yufeng before they had any sure clues.
Using the phone number from which Lili had called, the police roughly pinned down a spot at Keyouzhongqi in Xing'an prefecture in Inner Mongolia. Together with the police, Jin Yongjun went to Inner Mongolia, the home of the vast steppe. But where was Lili?
"80% of the people living in Keyouzhongqi were of Mongolian nationality and spoke the Mongolian language, which we didn't understand."
The area was sparsely populated with people living far away from each other. Having searched the place for several days without making any progress, the police were at a loss. Jin Yongjun received a text message from the same number Lili had called from.
Shang Qingzhao was another police officer.
"The text message said: he was named Dejirihu."
Delighted at the development, the police immediately checked their online database. To their disappointment, they found no satisfactory results. Each time the police tried to dial the number, the phone was powered off.
"This made our heart plunge. We feared that they had moved Lili to another place after finding her using the phone. We were very worried."
By checking the phone log, the police pinned down a farm in Keyouzhongqi as a suspected spot. With the help of the local police, the task team learned that a farmer named Ximanquan was preparing for his son's wedding.
"They said a girl had been brought to Xi Manquan's home a few days earlier. They said a rather short, plump girl was to marry Xi Manquan's son. We felt that this could be the girl we were looking for."
Wasting no time, the police went to Xi Manquan's home. There, they saw his would-be daughter-in-law. Was she Lili, the missing girl? Yes. After being separated for 13 days, the young couple was overjoyed to see one other again.
"Finally she was rescued. I was so happy to see her again."
With the girl back safe and sound, the police could heave a sigh of relief. But who had kidnapped her and taken her to Inner Mongolia? Was it Jin Yongjun's sister-in-law Hou Yufeng? If so, why did she do this? After checking with Lili, the police caught Hou Yufeng, who confessed to everything.
"It was my fault. I shouldn't have sold her. It was all my fault."
Hou Yufeng also confessed that she was not the only one involved. Her sister Hou Yuhuan and sister-in-law Li Shuxian were also in on it. Immediately, the police apprehended Hou Yufeng's accomplices.
Hou Yuhuan was Hou Yufeng's sister.
"I was just too silly and rushed. I thought of nothing except getting some money after it was done. What I did was really wrong."
Hou Yuhuan turned in yet another accomplice named Hai Lijun. This was the woman seen wearing the gauze mask in the video footage, and one of Hou Yuhuan's friends.
"I thought I did nothing except took a trip with them. I didn't realize that I had violated the law until I was here."
Why did Hou Yufeng sell her brother-in-law's girl friend? How had she and her accomplices cheated Lili and taken her to Inner Mongolia? Recalling what had happened in the past few days, Lili said she felt as if had just been through a nightmare.
Two years earlier, Lili and Jin Yongjun came to Dalian from their hometown in Inner Mongolia.
To her disappointment, she could not find a job because of her poor educational background. She had to stay at home doing the housework all day long while her boyfriend worked and toiled to earn wage of about 2,000 yuan a month. She wished to find a job to make life a little bit easier for them. On one morning when Jin Yongjun's sister-in-law called to tell her that she had helped to find her a job, she didn't hesitate to go with her.
"She said the plant produced plastic bags and buckets, and paid 100 yuan a day."
Jin's sister-in-law Hou Yufeng took Lili to see her sister Hou Yuhuan and her friend Hai Lijun, who then took her to the railway station.
"She said they were the boss' wife and relative and told me to go with them, so I did."
Hou Yuhuan found an excuse to take Lili's mobile phone away and turn its power off. She told Lili the workplace was quite far away and they had to take a train to get there. Na?ve and inexperienced, Lili got on the train with them without thinking too much about it.
With the train moving farther and farther away, Lili seemed to sense that something was going wrong but was stalled by the two oil-tongued women. In the evening, they arrived at the destination, where they told Lili that they had found a new boyfriend for her.
"I was so distressed. I already had a boyfriend. How could they have done such a thing? I could not accept that while I had Jin Yongjun."
The so-called new boyfriend Hou Yuhuan had found for Lili was Xi Manquan's son. Xi Manquan, a farmer, was a cousin of Hou Yuhuan's husband. His only son was already 25 years old. Most men in the village would already be fathers at that age but Xi Manquan's son remained single. Xi had asked Hou Yuhuan to help find his son a girlfriend. Hou Yuhuan agreed but said she wouldn't do it for nothing.
"I said we are relatives, don't ask for money, please. She said why not. It is difficult for a villager like your son to get married without spending 80 to 100 thousand yuan. With my help, you could save a great deal."
So they bargained and orally agreed that Xi Manquan would give Hou Yuhuan 20,000 yuan once she brought a girl over.
A few days later, Xi Manquan and his son came to Hou Yuhua's home to have a look at Lili.
"I was told that she was an orphan that had been abandoned by her parents. Someone had taken her in and brought her up. She was dressed in plain clothes and looked timid and guileless. I thought she was OK for a villager like my son. I was not very critical and hoped my son could get married as soon as possible."
The Xi family didn't realize anything was wrong until a few days later when they overheard Lili talking on the phone stealthily. Xi Manquan went immediately to ask Hou Yuhuan where she got the girl.
"I felt my heart in my boots. She already had a boyfriend. How could I have done such a silly thing?"
Learning Lili had secretly called Jin Yongjun, Hou Yuhuan immediately rushed over to soothe the Xi family while trying to cow Lili into submission.
"I said, 'See what you are doing? Had you not agreed? How else could I have brought you here? You must keep your promise and behave yourself. Otherwise I won't let you get away with it.' In this way I tried to intimidate her."
"Hou Yunhuan and her husband looked rather fierce. I was scared. So I pretended to agree."
To make things sure, Hou Yuhuan called to ask her sister Hou Yufeng to help cow and cajole the girl into agreeing to the forced match.
"She said just don't let go of your good luck. Don't try to run away or call him anymore. Jin Yongjun already has a new girlfriend."
Xi Manquan said he hadn't known the girl had been kidnapped until the police came to find her. He had intended to find a wife for his son and never expected that things would turn out to be so messy and troublesome.
"I'm in my sixties and no longer young. The moment I learnt of it, I fell ill and could hardly walk. I never expected that my relative could have taken me and harmed both my family and the Jin family. I had been through so much bitterness in my life and this time it was really nasty."
Why did Jing Yongjun's sister-in-law kidnap and sell his girlfriend to a household in Inner Mongolia? What grudges did she bear against Lili who was yet to be married into the Jin family?
Hou Yufeng said she and Lili did not bear any particular grudges against each other. But she did hold some resentment against her father-in-law, who favored Lili while taking to her less kindly.
"Lili and I were not enemies. I had bought her dresses and took to her kindly. I found she was sometimes likeable, sometimes annoying. I kept her pictures in my mobile phone and missed her after she left. I thought she could have a better life if she was married to someone else."
One day Li Shuxian, Hou Yufeng's sister-in-law, came to visit her from her hometown in Inner Mongolia. Chatting with Hou Yufeng, Li Shuxian asked if she could help find a girlfriend for one of her fellow villagers. On the spur of the moment, Hou Yufeng thought of Lili and had since been unable to get rid of the idea.
The mishap that befell the Jin family made Jin Yongjun's elderly father so aggrieved that he fell seriously ill. Jin Yongyun left Dalian with his father and girlfriend Lili and never contacted his third brother or his family since.
"I couldn't regret more for what I had done. I never expected to become a criminal. I had no understanding of the law."
"I was willing to forgive her, but she had broken the law. So there was nothing I could do about it."
Now the Hou sisters, their sister-in-law Li Shuxian and friend Hai Lijun had been handed over to the procuratorate department for public litigation for the suspected crime of kidnapping and human trafficking. Hou Yuhuan's husband was also detained in suspicion of harboring criminals. Undoubtedly, the firm hand of the law was awaiting them.
With that, we conclude this week's edition of "Frontline." If you have any comments or suggestions, don't hesitate to write to us either by e-mail or post. Our address is email@example.com. Alternatively, you can send a letter to: English Service, China Radio International, Beijing, China. The postal code is 100040. For program producer Zhao Jianfu, I am Wang Jing. Thanks for listening. Until next week, good-bye.