A domestic abuse arrest in China has sparked a national debate about victims’ rights.
Police detained celebrity sprinter Zhang Peimeng over allegations that he physically abused his ex-wife and mother-in-law in 2020, multiple state outlets confirmed Thursday. The news sparked a social media uproar with users furious that it took more than three years for Zhang to face punishment after courts granted him multiple appeals to delay detention.
“It took three years,” wrote one Weibo user. “That just indulges men and does nothing to protect women.”
Authoritarianism protects abusers
Researchers say China’s authoritarian “paranoia” sees divorced, single men as a “destabilizing element,” so courts often deny survivors their rights like reporting abuse or granting divorces, Foreign Policy reported. China passed its first anti-domestic violence law in 2016, but experts say it is inadequate for victims. Families are the “cornerstone” of the state, and Chinese bureaucrats are willing to ignore a woman’s wellbeing to keep a family intact. The state pays lip service to NGOs dedicated to victims’ rights, but these groups often urge “women to remain with their abusers.”
China’s push to discourage divorces may backfire
Women in China are reconsidering marriage over worries of domestic abuse, raising concerns for Beijing as it grapples with a population crisis. Widely-shared reports of domestic violence this year have fueled conversations that marriage is “actually more of a constraint on women,” one Beijing-based feminist scholar told CNN. The push to sustain marriages and discourage divorces has intensified under Chinese President Xi Jinping, largely because of his concerns over the declining population, experts said. But the initiative could be backfiring. “It’s just ridiculous to think that preserving abusive and toxic marriages is somehow going to promote fertility,” said one sociologist.
Social media paves the way for (some) reforms
Insufficient police response is driving survivors to online platforms like Weibo and Douyin in the hopes of generating attention about their cases, according to Sixth Tone, with many celebrities speaking out about their own abuse in the years after the #MeToo movement. The results have been mixed: some provincial reforms in the last three years have, on paper, appeared to benefit survivors, but in reality protect suspected abusers. Federal changes, although fewer, have been more substantial, with the People’s Supreme Court this month ruling that emotional abuse is a form of domestic abuse. Political commentators have also become more vocal about the state’s patriarchal culture. “Domestic violence…is a ‘cancer’ that hinders the progress of social civilization and affects social peace and stability,” wrote one blogger for Rule of Law Daily, a Chinese legal news site.