Crazy Li Goes to Court

A new round of divorce hearings between Li Yang, the founder of a controversial and high-decibel English education program, and Kim Lee, his battered American wife, began last week. Last year, Lee posted pictures of the injuries her high-profile husband inflicted upon her on Weibo. This was the third round of hearings, and was kept private at Li’s request. The court’s results have yet to be reported. The Economist explains how this high-profile case shines light on domestic-violence, a topic oft-ignored in China:

IN 2006, when she was seven months pregnant, Kim Lee was kicked so hard in the abdomen by her husband that she needed hospital treatment. Such domestic violence, though shocking, is not uncommon in China. Around a quarter of Chinese women have experienced domestic abuse, according to the All China Women’s Federation (ACWF), a state-controlled NGO, but experts say the real figure is probably much higher. Concerns about losing family “face” mean many incidents go unreported, and few offenders are ever punished.

What makes Ms Lee different is that she is a white American. Her husband is Li Yang, the celebrity founder of Crazy English, a wildly popular English-language training institute, which encourages students to learn English by shouting it at the top of their voices.

The few people Ms Lee confided in, including her Chinese sister-in-law, told her to stop provoking her husband. When she complained to the police, after suffering concussion and bruised ribs, they told her to “relax and go home”. Frustrated, she turned to the internet, posting photos on a Chinese microblog last August. One showed a lump the size of a golf ball protruding from her forehead. Another showed a bloody ear. The photos caused a sensation. Hundreds of thousands of comments were published about them on microblogs. Since then, many more victims of domestic violence have come forward, and the issue has been reported and discussed more widely in Chinese media.

China.org.cn reports from outside the courtroom last Friday, noting the gathering of activists outside the courtroom showing their support for Lee and her cause:

At 8:40 am, as Lee walked into the court, she was surrounded by the activist group. The volunteers painted fake injuries on their face and held a banner saying “Zero Tolerance to the Domestic Violence – Anyone Could Be the Next One,” also presenting a scroll with over 1,000 signatures to Kim.

In response to the display, Li Yang called the tactic a publicity stunt, saying “A Lawsuit is a lawsuit, you can’t engage in such planning” to reporters encircling him outside the court.

Li Yang insisted that his actions did not constitute domestic violence, saying the incident with Lee was an isolated spat of anger which had been building up over a long period. “I don’t think that I’m a [perpetrator] of domestic violence. I think I did a good job in taking care of my family,” Li said.

[…]”When I walked into the court, Li Yang threatened me and said that you have to shut up today because this is in China. He also demanded that I shut down my Weibo,” Lee said.

“I’m so touched and very happy because so many people paid attention to me and helped me,” Lee said of the support she received after news of the incident broke.

China Daily reports on what was on the table at the hearings:

According to Lee’s lawyer, Lee gave up real properties that had been transferred by Li before the trial because she did not want to spend much more time on the suit and hoped to end her relationship with Li as soon as possible.

“My client gave up dividing stock and brand rights of Li’s company, Crazy English, since it will cost her more energy and make the trial longer,” Qi said.

“The transferred real properties were also hard to divide, so Kim Lee will also give up the appeal on them.”
However, for nine estate properties that Li did not transfer or that he changed to other names,Lee will ask to have eight of them divided, the lawyer said.

In addition, Lee is insisting on custody of the couple’s three children who are living in Beijing with her, Qi said, adding that the court will likely make decisions on all issues by the end of August.

[…]When reporters asked Li whether there was domestic violence, Li did not answer directly. Instead, he added the perceived violence might be a difference between Chinese and Western cultures.

Currently, there is no strong legal mechanism protecting women from domestic abuse in China. As public concern grows around this issue, that may soon change.

Also see CDT coverage of how Lee’s public outcry has stimulated a debate about domestic violence in China.

August 17, 2012 12:44 PM
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Categories: Human Rights, Law, Society