The shocking video of an attack reveals the problem of gender-based violence in China

The shocking video of an attack reveals the problem of gender-based violence in China

Tangshan, northern China. On a late spring evening, three girls are having dinner at a local restaurant when a man approaches and puts a hand on one of their shoulder. After being rejected, the man starts beating up the girl. And he receives support from other men, who drag the group of women out of the room and beat them savagely, with punches and kicks while they are on the ground. The surveillance video captures everything. Those images quickly go viral not only in China, but around the world.

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The restaurant's other customers stay on the sidelines without intervening. A passer-by seems to want to come to the aid of one of the women, but the man who is with her quickly pulls her aside and blocks her.

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A story of (extra) ordinary violence that set in the prefecture city of the Chinese province of Hubei and which tells much more than the "mere" and shocking aggression perpetrated by a group of men against a group of women. The story offers profound food for thought on the condition of women in China, on the narrative that the government and social media make of it and, finally, on some political dynamics within a country that has transformed at an unprecedented speed in recent decades. and which is now preparing for the XX Congress of the Communist Party, called to give President Xi Jinping a historic third term.

Criminal gangs are better than gender violence The media and especially the Chinese government have preferred to tell the story as an example of the difficulties in eradicating gangs and organized crime in that area of ​​China. All while refusing to describe aggression as a symbol of gender-based violence. Many voices have been raised to denounce the spread of the problem, but have been silenced from a different perspective. Too uncomfortable to speak of a phenomenon with national shades that had the violence of Tangshan as a more plastic example. Instead, according to the authorities, it is better to focus on the problem of organized crime. This despite the horrendous aggression represents a direct challenge to the image of China as a country with a low crime rate and with a society ready to be defined as "harmonious".

It is precisely on the safety of Chinese cities that the Party founds a fundamental part of his rhetoric on human rights. In its narrative, the Chinese government protects the security and therefore the "life" rights of its citizens better than Western governments. The episodes of violence, especially the mass shootings that regularly fill the news in the United States, are used as evidence of the alleged superiority of the Chinese model. In 2018, the homicide rate recorded in China was almost one sixth of that recorded in India and one ninth of that recorded in America.

Admitting a problem with gender-based violence would mean admitting that the Party and the government are doing something wrong in avoiding an unwanted cross phenomenon. Focusing instead on the criminal gangs of Tangshan, protagonists of crime news episodes in the past, allows us to limit the issue to something more concrete and localized. Therefore, it can be eradicated through a new anti-crime campaign to be carried out under the spotlight in search of public consensus.

Inequalities and violence against Chinese women And here is that then that the state media admonishes opinion public not to interpret aggression as a "form of sexual antagonism". And here the opinions that link the incident to the gender issue disappear from Chinese social networks. The words chosen to tell what happened angered many readers because of the vague and tendentious formulas with which the violence was described. Several social media users and state media have criticized the Tangshan police for slowness in apprehending suspects in the assault. Indeed, the Hubei Provincial Commission has investigated five police officers for their work, including the Lubei District Public Security Chief in Tangshan. But some have also blamed the women on some of the blame, wondering why they were out late at night and saying they shouldn't have reacted. And even some scholars, such as Lu Dewen of Wuhan University, argue that it is the component of pure criminal violence against the "weakest", beyond gender, that prevails.

Yet, it is a the fact that gender equality is also a mirage in China. In recent years, the news cases that have seen women victims of violence have been several, starting with the two passengers killed by their respective ride-hailing drivers in 2018. Judges very often deny divorce to women attacked by their husbands, even when the medical records of the injuries suffered are shown. A 2020 report from Beijing Equality showed that more than 900 women have died at the hands of their husbands or partners since China's law against domestic violence went into effect in 2016. Politically, only one of the 25 members of the Politburo outgoing is a woman. However, this is a very sensitive issue for the Party. As well as the issue of LGBTQ + rights, that of women's rights is viewed with great suspicion by the authorities. The goal, as well as the close to digital groups of fans, is always the same: to avoid any form of activism or associations as much as possible.

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