Prof Reluctantly Apologizes for Rape Comment

Already a member of the cohort of privileged elite adolescents that often breed disdain in China due to his past misbehavior, Li Tianyi, son of decorated PLA singer Li Shuangjiang, was arrested for suspicion of involvement in a gang rape in February. After uncertainty as to the charge that Li would face in court, Li’s lawyers revealed that he will plead not guilty to gang rape since the victim was a bar hostess, much to the irritation of many netizens. A Weibo post from high-profile Tsinghua law professor Yi Yanyou sympathized with Li’s lawyers. After the online community expressed outrage, Yi offered a reluctant apology. From China Real Time Report:

“Raping a chaste woman is more harmful than raping a bar girl, a dancing girl, a sanpeinu or a prostitute,” he wrote on his account on the Sina Weibo microblogging service, in a post dated Tuesday. The statement lists Chinese stereotypes of some women in bars, with a sanpeinu a slang term for one who combines the attributes of the other three.

Mr. Yi on Wednesday deleted the post, but not before it received a rash of criticism from China’s online community, with many saying it left many women unequal under the law.[…]

[…]In an interview with China Real Time earlier Wednesday, Mr. Yi said his comments didn’t amount to a defense of Li Tianyi. “I’m not saying that Li Tianyi didn’t commit rape, nor that prostitutes could be raped,” he said. Mr. Yi said each crime has a certain level of social harm, and the psychological harm is different on different victims.

“The same curse words have different impacts on different people,” Mr. Yi said. “Chaste women and prostitutes have different views on chasteness,” he said, “so [rape has] a different impact on them.”

Mr. Yi told China Real Time on Tuesday that Tsinghua Law School suggested he delete the controversial post, but he refused. “Deletion means that I think I’m wrong,” Mr. Yi said.

But on Wednesday, Mr. Yi deleted the post. “I don’t want to be in this anymore,” he said in a call to China Real Time. [Source]

An op-ed from the Global Times berates Yi for encouraging an unjust understanding of the institution of law:

Yi is the director of the Centre for Evidence Law at Tsinghua University. His voice is an influential one, and yet, he doesn’t seem to understand that the core basis for having laws in society is to ensure equality for all.

This is pretty basic, fundamental stuff. It’s why punishments for crimes, at least on paper, are always based upon the severity of the crime, rather than the profession of the offender or the victim.

[…O]nce we start saying that it’s OK to commit crimes against some people because they are perceived to have lower moral standing, then I, for example, might judge Yi to be less worthy of legal protection than other people, as crimes against him would do less harm than crimes against people who have more respect for women who work in bars.

It doesn’t take much imagination to see the problems this would cause for society. We cannot simply call open season on people we don’t like, however much we might want to. [Source]

Shanghai Daily is also of the opinion that Yi was out of line, questioning his moral qualifications to be a law professor:

[Professor Yi] seems to have lost his conscience in throwing his weight behind the accused rapist Li and his powerful parents.

And his “which-does-more-harm” remarks reflect his blatant contempt for the rights of people he deems lowly and inferior, undeserving of equal treatment under the law – actually, his own law.

If basic concepts such as equality, the very essence of law, are so alien to a law professor, what business does he have holding forth on justice and rights?

Can we trust such morally deficient teachers with our children? [Source]

At his China Law Prof Blog, Donald C. Clarke explains how Professor Yi’s comments, however enraging, carry the legacy of China’s legal tradition:

Prof. Yi’s remarks don’t come out of nowhere – he is in fact channelling a distinction well known in traditional Chinese law (it is codified in the Qing Code) between woman of good family (良家妇女) and licentious women (犯奸妇女). If, for example, a man saw a women engaging in illicit sexual intercourse with another and then raped her afterward, then because she was a licentious woman it could not be called rape but should instead be classified as illicit intercourse by trickery (“又如见妇人与人通奸,见者因而用强奸之,已系犯奸之妇,难以强论,依刁奸律”). (I’m relying for my translation on the Grand Ricci dictionary, which translates 刁奸 as “seduire une femme par la ruse”; that may not be correct as a translation of the legal term.) For more on this, see Vivien Ng, “Ideology and Sexuality: Rape Laws in Qing China,” Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 46, no. 1 (Feb. 1987), pp. 57-70. Although the distinction finds no formal expression in modern Chinese law (not to my knowledge, anyway), here we see it alive and well in legal culture, so to speak, and expressed in exactly the same words as it was centuries ago. [Source]


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