Nanjing is following suit as Beijing embarks on a nationwide effort to better protect victims of domestic violence.
Domestic violence: aggressive or violent behavior within the home; typically involving the violent abuse of a spouse or partner. Such a loud issue has never before been given a microphone much less governmental support from such a tight-lipped nation until now.
“One shouldn’t air grievances in public” from east to west this social conundrum is a factor in thousands of daily lives around the world. How much should one suffer before seeking help? In most western countries the option to seek help from the authorities has been available for some time now; but in China, such an opportunity has only recently become available, due largely to a number of high-profile cases and hard lobbying from activists.
Being hailed as a milestone of public progress on March 1st, 2016 Beijing issued the country's first ever Anti-Domestic Violence Law enabling endangered people to apply for a restraining order. Up until now, no such law existed in China up until now, people in danger (in some cases) needed to supply video, audio and physical evidence of abuse within 72 hours of the attack in order to receive proper investigation. “Public feedback towards the first draft of the law received more than 42,000 comments from almost 9,000 people, making it one of most publicly discussed Chinese laws ever,” Charles Liu (The Nanfeng).
"Nanjing issued its first personal protection order on March 31 when a victim surnamed Yao was put under the protection of the court due to the abuse and threats of her mother-in-law surnamed Guo,” Global Times. Since its insertion the Intermediate People’s Court of Nanjing had issued over 31 protection orders and had accepted over 60 applications in eight months, 20 of which were requested by wives and 7 by parents. “The growing trend of men being battered [in Hong Kong] was also spotted by the Social Welfare Department, which recorded 558 male victims last year, up more than 7 percent from 520 in 2010,” Simpson Cheung South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Case upon case has seen desperate women; men, children and parents alike suffer in silence due to an inaccurate legal system and failing cultural traditions. It is a tradition in China to encourage daughters and sons to stay in abusive marriages for the sake of the family's "face" and the sake of the children. Time and time again the Chinese saying "beating is caring and scolding is intimacy" prevents people from ever seeking help. "Not until recently has the Chinese public started to see domestic violence as violence in a legal sense…People saw it as a 'private matter' in which the police should not interfere,” said Ai Xiaoming, a Guangdong-based women studies scholar and activist (SCMP).
State statistics routinely announce that one in four Chinese women suffer from domestic abuse, however, rights activists dispute this. “It was in 1990 that I started to engage myself in China's domestic violence. At that time, we did not call it "violence" but "an attack from husband" or "a hit to the wife", because many of us didn’t know what domestic violence was and couldn’t accept the "attack" or "hit" as "violence," Deputy Sun Xiaomi (National People’s Congress), said in an interview with China.org.
China’s ESL (English as a Second Language) guru Li Yang was recently entangled in a high-profile custody and restraint battle with his American wife Kim Lee. "You knocked me to the floor. You sat on my back. You choked my neck with both hands and slammed my head into the floor", she wrote on Yang’s Sina Weibo account opening him up to a mountain of criticism from his public admirers.
“The court granted Lee full custody and ordered Li to pay child support and a sum of $1.9 million, including fifty thousand yuan in compensation for the abuse, which lawyers reportedly considered a symbolic achievement,” Evan Osnos, The New Yorker. Since her landmark case against her ex-husband, Ms. Kim Lee has become a spokesperson and a “folk hero for China’s battered women”, with thousands of women across China contacting her every day asking for advice and sharing their stories.
These changes to the law will indeed make a dramatic difference for domestic violence victims like Mrs. Zhang (pseudonym), a middle-aged mother from Nanjing. The story read that she had fled the family home after her enraged husband tried to push her off the roof; her son who had fled with her was then stabbed in the stomach by the father, who had found them; further threats were made against their lives. At the time a restraining order was the best solution but this was not an option and even if the court had rushed an order for her it would have expired within 15 days unless she filed for divorce.
While this may be one small step for China it has proven a large leap forward in the right direction to protecting its people from harm. However, specialists are noting that not all areas of concern are covered. “Even though the anti-domestic violence law is broad enough to cover both unmarried and married couples, it makes no mention of victims of sexual violence, marital rape, or economic control. Furthermore, people in gay and lesbian relationships are not covered by the law despite experiencing higher incidences of violence,” Charles Liu (The Nanfeng).
The All-China Women's Federation (a party organization) still actively promotes obedience first in a marriage. “As a female comrade with a family, you must first behave yourself and do well in your role as a wife, and second, if your husband makes trouble for you, you have to say it,” Director of the federation’s Luyi County office Guo Yanfang, said to the Washington Post. “Guo [also cited] a Chinese expression — “demolishing 10 temples is better than destroying a marriage” — she said the federation encourages mediation in most cases of domestic violence “If he corrects his mistakes, things will be fine”.
While this new law is already proving extremely useful in a lot of domestic violence cases in China, it is hard to say how long such entrenched belief systems, customs, and values backed by the government will take to completely level out. The Beijing Zhongze Women’s Legal Counselling and Service Centre were one of the major pushes that helped pass this landmark law; four months after it was approved government officials shut down the counsel because its work highlighting domestic cases was considered too sensitive.