Two recent cases, with very different conclusions, have again shone light on the problem of domestic violence in China. The existence of marital abuse is only beginning to be acknowledged in Chinese society, and is often considered by law enforcement to be a “family matter.” In Sichuan, Li Yan faces the death penalty for killing her husband after he brutally abused her. In Beijing, Kim Lee, the American wife of celebrity English teacher Li Yang, made Chinese legal history by winning a court settlement against her abusive husband after she posted gruesome photos of her battered face on weibo.
Domestic violence is a pervasive problem in China, as Christina Larson reports for Bloomberg Businessweek:
It is difficult to measure the extent of domestic violence in China. Although most officially cited studies are thought to underestimate its prevalence, even those numbers are deeply unsettling. In 2011, the All China Women’s Federation, a state-steered non-governmental organization, released its findings that 25 percent of women in China have been victims of some form of domestic violence. A survey by the China Law Society put that number at 35 percent. An academic study published in 1999 in the International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics found that 16 percent of pregnant woman admitted to the clinic of Hong Kong’s Tsan Yuk Hospital had suffered domestic abuse in the preceding year. By any yardstick, the problem is severe.
In an op-ed in the Guardian, writer Lijia Zhang writes about the “epidemic” of domestic violence in light of these two cases:
These two high-profile domestic violence cases are far from isolated; in fact, they are part of an epidemic. Traditional wisdom in China is to deal with domestic violence as something “best kept inside the house”. In September 2011, when Lee first broke the silence by posting the pictures of her battered face on the internet, her husband and like-minded male observers accused her of “airing the dirty laundry”. He also argued that it was “no big deal,” and that domestic abuse was part of Chinese culture. But now Lee has become an unlikely hero for having the courage to speak out.
Lee’s victory is hard-won. There were four hearings before Sunday, but her case was undoubtedly helped by the fact she is an American – and because of her determination and intelligence. More ordinary cases have to meet evidential standards before a court can even consider accepting it. When the case does go forward, punishment for the abuser tends to be light. A few years back, I interviewed a victim named Sun Xueqing, from Hangzhou. Her husband Mo Wenhui received a six-month jail sentence for throwing her from a balcony. Her spine was broken. Her lawyer explained : “My personal guess is that the court saw it as a family dispute. He wouldn’t have gotten away with it so easily if he had thrown a woman other than his wife from the second floor.”