China is coming to grips with domestic violence, and the judiciary is taking up measures to combat the menace after a series of high-profile cases recently highlighted the plight of domestic violence victims, sparking nationwide outrage.
As education, awareness and employment make their way across the country, more and more women are speaking up about domestic violence. It has elevated to a national concern in recent years. The latest data is not available, but past figures show how severe and alarming the problem is.
Way back in 2010, the National Bureau of Statistics of China and the Third Survey of Social Status of Women said 24.7% of women in the 20-64 age group experienced domestic violence in various forms. Women’s support groups on average received between 40,000 and 50,000 complaints of domestic violence annually.
The first law targeting the problem was passed only in 2015. The main principles of the Anti-Domestic Violence Law are “to prevent and stop domestic violence; protect the equal rights of family members; preserve equal, harmonious, civilized familial relationships; promote family harmony and social stability.”
One media outlet asserted, “unfortunately, the last objective (preserving and protecting family harmony) directly contradicts the first (preventing domestic violence), which is the main issue leading to the law’s overall ineffectiveness.”
The Diplomat, which did a survey a couple of years ago, said, “In China, the principle of family harmony and social stability stems from Confucianism, which spreads patriarchal values of female submissiveness. Violence against female family members is normalized and even encouraged, as shown in sayings like ‘a beating shows intimacy and a scolding shows love’. Indoctrinated with ideas of female subordination and that being beaten by their significant others is normal, women rarely stand up against their partners even if they are abused. It is a common belief that protesting against their husbands is a demonstration of lack of obedience and modesty — if a wife were to leave her husband, she would disrupt the social harmony of the family and provoke the disdain of the community.”
Even today, violence against a woman by her husband is still “concealed within the sphere of private life and, as such, is largely overlooked.” Violence committed by husbands is seen as “his family’s private matter instead of a larger social concern.”
Before legislation came to rescue the victims, Chinese society believed mediation was enough to endorse “family harmony” and “fulfilling familial duties.” It avoided “reporting” cases of violence or involvement of the authorities to settle the issue because of the belief that “victims (especially women) should remain virtuous in the face of abuse and be obligated to tolerate abuse.” Women were encouraged to trust “the notion that they should not openly protest about their significant others’ transgressions in order to protect family harmony.”
According to The Diplomat, studies have shown mediation is ineffective since victims gloss over the extent of the violence they endured out of fear and intimidation, resulting in thousands of cases being dismissed.
Since the anti-domestic violence legislation came in, “mediation” has taken on a different meaning. The report explains: “Mediation allows the convergence of the state’s interest in stability and society’s belief in family harmony. This also raises serious safety concerns for victims.
First, the Anti-Domestic Violence Law calls for informal mediation by “people’s mediation organizations” and “employers” to “prevent and reduce incidents of domestic violence.” But such mediations are typically conducted by inexperienced people. Second, police response to domestic violence favors conflict resolution through “criticism and education” instead of taking coercive action against abusers.
For instance, where a person assaults a family member for which the law can jail him, “police are nevertheless directed to mediate disputes among family members instead.” Extending the mediation concept, family members are encouraged to act as mediators to “reduce conflict by criticizing abusers.” These instances have their side effects, some of which affect the victim in the long run.
The latest development is that the anti-domestic violence law is being criticized for using mediation as the “primary method” in dealing with the cases. The critics say the law “fails to acknowledge the potential negative impacts of mediation on victim safety.” Pro-women groups say that the mediation does not punish the abusers and only encourages them.
Reacting to the public sentiments, the Chinese Supreme Court has opened the doors for more restraining orders to better protect victims of domestic violence. The courts started issuing the orders in 2008 as part of a pilot program. Soon, lower-level courts started launching their own pilot programs. However, it took some regions years to issue ROs. The city of Shiyan in Hubei issued its first RO in April 2022.
Most people, however, are not aware of the procedure for obtaining restraining orders. There are, as a result, very few ROs issued when compared to the number of complaints. The courts are only now updating the legal processes to make ROs more accessible.
But for China’s ruling Chinese Communist Party, women have long been little more than a welfare benefit that can be distributed to men and employed as a tool for the regime to maintain “familial harmony, social (and thereby political) stability.”
Women are certainly not encouraged to awaken — purportedly the result of “infiltration by foreign forces” — to engage in rebellious agitation and destabilize long-standing male dominance, let alone do or say anything that the CCP perceives as a threat to its continued existence. It will be a long way to go for the women of China to protect themselves from their husbands, society or even their government in the male-dominant one-party system that does not tolerate women’s rights.
• Xueli Wang, an independent scholar, is managing director of CSI Research and co-author of “Made in China — Marken- und Produktpiraterie: Strategien der Falscher & Abwehrstrategien fur Unternehmen.” Jianli Yang, a former political prisoner of China and a Tiananmen Massacre survivor, is the founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China and the author of “For Us, The Living: A Journey to Shine the Light on Truth.”
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