The Slaughter Pavilion was based on stories that trickle into the Chinese media about missing children. Today, the excellent South China Morning Post, Hong Kong's English language newspaper, ran this story that I am going to show in full because of all the questions it raises. There are so many echoes here of The Slaughter Pavilion – from the sweets, to the fear of the parents, and even the pools – that it chills my blood.
Children missing for 4 days drowned in pond, police say
February 24, 2010
Police say five children in Zhejiang who went missing for four days – sparking fears that they had been abducted by child traffickers – drowned in a pond shortly after leaving home last week, Xinhua reported yesterday.
The bodies of the two boys and three girls, aged seven to 13, were retrieved on Monday from a fish pond about 500 metres from their home, four days after they said goodbye to their grandmother and disappeared together on Thursday.
They were the children of two brothers from Xialuwang village in Tiantai county. Four were siblings living in Gansu – where their parents work – who had returned home for the Lunar New Year. The fifth was a cousin.
Jin Xianshun , a spokesman for the county's Public Security Bureau, said yesterday there were no signs of outside interference with the children's bodies, the official Zhejiang Online news website reported.
Jin said the children died at about 2.30pm on Thursday, only half an hour after they left home. Police found water in their lungs, and some evidence to show that they had slipped while struggling to get out of the pond.
It was the second case of its kind this month. The bodies of four children who were reported missing on February 4 in Putian , Fujian province, were found under a bridge on February 11. Police identified the cause of death as accidental drowning.
In the Zhejiang case, a flood of reports from worried residents led the children's parents to fear that child traffickers were behind their disappearance.
A nine-year-old boy told police that he saw a child bundled into a minivan on a country road on Thursday. Two other villagers said they saw the five children on the same road that afternoon. Police found many sweets scattered along the road and took some samples for testing.
Before the authorities found the bodies, Zhejiang Online quoted the parents as saying they had not had any problems with their neighbours, had not received any ransom demands and believed the children had been taken by child traffickers.
At about 2pm on Thursday, the oldest of the five children told their grandmother she would visit classmates with the other children.
The parents reported the children missing at 7pm on Thursday and more than 200 people searched neighbouring villages, hills and rivers until midnight.
A Tiantai police team combed the area for four days and pictures of the children were broadcast on television, published in newspapers and posted on the internet.
A worker draining water from the pond reportedly found the first body at about noon on Monday. The other four were recovered at about 6.30pm.
The pond owner has been detained as police investigate inadequate safety measures around the pond that could be the cause of the deaths.