The Plight of the Mentally Disabled in China

Yesterday I noted that things seem to be improving for China’s physically disabled, unfortunately I’m not so optimistic about the situation for China’s mentally disabled.

Generally speaking there are few opportunities for such people, both in terms of education and employment. Children who are severely disabled are often kept in their homes for reasons of protecting their families “face”, those who are less severely impaired are placed in classroom situations that are ultimately frustrating for everyone involved.

I know of one project that works with mentally challenged adults. The project is a small bakery here in Nanjing, whose main source of income is selling moon cakes. Currently it only “employs” 5 adults, and is only possible financially because of volunteers, but it is an encouraging start. The adults have experienced pronounced changes in their ability to care for themselves, and have demonstrated to their families that they are far more capable than they had previously imagined.

A friend who teaches at an elementary school noted that one of the students was autistic, but the parents refused to acknowledge that there was anything different about him. So everyday his grandmother would bring him to class and wait for the teacher to kick him out of the room. In Nanjing there are a few programs for autistic children (which is becoming more widely known here), but it is difficult for these parents to accept the actual situation.

The teachers employed by these autism centers often lack specialized training, and don’t always act in a professional manner. One friend who worked in a center noted that when the manager was gone, the teachers would use spray bottles to try to keep the children disciplined. One of the major obstacles yet to overcome, is that these autism centers are still focused on making autistic children “normal” instead of accepting that these children are different in some ways (this is an important point to keep in mind for an upcoming post).

Sadly, in the last few years there have been a few stories that make me worry deeply about the situation of the mentally handicapped in China.

One of the more disturbing trends in China is that in the last 4 years there have been several major cases of mentally handicapped adults being kidnapped or sold into slavery. These slaves are often forced to work 15+ hours a day in brick kilns that are incredibly dangerous. The most recent of these cases involved a man who had established a “charity” for these adults, before selling them to a company in another province. There they were fed from the same dishes as the factory dogs (full story here, with heartbreaking photos).

An even more disgusting incident occurred only a few weeks ago. A group of miners purchased life insurance under another man’s name, and acquired that man’s ID card. They then purchased a mentally handicapped adult to work with them in the mine, where they killed him in order to collect the policy. Sadly this too was not the first time this kind of thing has happened in China (full story here).

The man who was killed was sold for roughly $800, and came from a village where few families earn more than $100 a year. It is a terrible reminder of the desperate acts some take when poverty seems inescapable.

The consequence of these actions being so widespread is that there are many families that are afraid if they allow their mentally handicapped child out in public, they could be kidnapped (usually by cab drivers). This in turn limits the interactions others have with these adults, and allows the stigma to continue.

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About T

I have been working in China for nearly five years now. I have traveled to more than 30 cities and towns, and have lived in 3 provinces. I am interested in issues concerning development in China and the rest of the world. I hope to provide a balanced look at some of the issues facing China as it continues its rise to power.
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7 Responses to The Plight of the Mentally Disabled in China

  1. Jin Zhao says:

    This is disturbing. The situation in rural areas for the mentally disabled is perhaps the most bleak. Your last story reminds me of a movie “Blind Shaft“ (盲井).

  2. Hi Tom,

    Let me say I couldn’t be more satisfied with the content of a blog regarding China issues. Informative and leading to important reflection.

    I too live in Nanjing since last year as a Master Dg. student. :) What can you say about status here rg. the mentally disabled care institutions?

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