It is early in the morning in a restaurant in Tangshan, a city of more than seven million inhabitants in central China. Three friends are having dinner when a man approaches one of them and starts groping her back. The girl brushes his arm away and the guy slaps her with his open hand. After her, he knocks her to the ground and drags her by the hair out of the restaurant. The other two friends try to help her, but the assailant’s colleagues start beating them too. There are more customers sitting at other tables in the room. They don’t flinch. They passively contemplate the violent scene.
The aggression continues in the street. Two of the girls are on the ground, kicked in the head and abdomen. One of the attackers breaks a beer bottle on the head of one of them while two others continue to kick her. The restaurant’s cameras record the entire incident. Hours later, the video ends up posted on social networks, causing a wave of indignation and reviving the debate on sexual harassment and sexist violence.
The attack at the Tangshan restaurant happened around 2:40 am on Friday. The video quickly became a trend on Weibo, the Chinese brother of Twitter, with several hashtags that attracted more than a billion views. “In China there is an epidemic of gender violence,” was one of the most shared comments among users. On Saturday morning, police said they had arrested nine people in connection with the brutal beating at the restaurant.
Many Chinese accused the authorities of not acting until the video exploded on networks. Public anger was also directed at various media outlets for using vague and biased wording in manipulating perceptions of what happened. In a now-deleted Weibo post, a Beijing newspaper said the main attacker was “talking to the women” before his friends “joined the battle to fight them.” Other media described the attack as “a physical conflict” and said that the trigger for the assault was that the man “had been rejected after flirting with a woman under the influence of alcohol.”
Several days after the attack, the victims are still recovering from their serious injuries in the hospital and the angry mob calls for an exemplary punishment for the aggressors. The event has reached the Supreme Court, the highest court in China, which published a strange note over the weekend taking the case to the extreme, assuring that the murderers of women will be sentenced to death, urging both the People’s Court Intermediate and the Superior, the two judicial bodies that are below, to apply capital punishment when these events occur.
Three months ago, in the southern province of Yunnan, a man was sentenced to death after sneaking into his neighbor’s house at night and strangling her while she slept. In January, a court issued the same sentence against another man who cut the throat of his ex-wife because she refused to return to him. The latest revision of the Chinese Penal Code states in article 48 that “the death penalty shall only be applied to criminal elements who commit the most heinous crimes.” From Amnesty International they assure in their 2021 dossier on the death penalty that China is the biggest executioner in the world, but that there is no way to know the number of annual executions because the country keeps them classified as a defense secret.
There is also no official data on the number of women who have been killed by a man. The latest report (from 2020) published by Beijing Equality, an NGO that investigates gender-based violence in China and provides assistance to victims, ensures that more than 900 women have been killed by their partners since the first law came into force in 2016. law against domestic violence in China, which brought to court violence against women in the domestic sphere, which until then was considered a “private matter” to be resolved in the family.
Many of these murders have resulted in death sentences. She was greeted in 2020 by a man who murdered and dismembered his wife in the southern province of Hainan. In April this year, a US citizen, Shadeed Abdulmateen, was sentenced to death for the murder of his partner in the eastern coastal province of Zhejiang.
One of the most notorious cases was that of the Tibetan influencer Lhamo, murdered by her ex-husband, Tang Lu, after she reported him several times to the police, who ignored him and never gave him the protection he was looking for. Lhamo and Tang divorced in mid-2020. Three months later, the man attacked the woman with a knife and a can of gasoline. He set her on fire while she was in the middle of a live stream to her millions of followers. Two weeks later, the influencer died. Last year, a court sentenced Tang to death.
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