SAN DIEGO, California — China is currently one of the most economically productive countries on the international stage. The country enjoys significant improvements in its technology and poverty rates. However, there is one epidemic that continues in the background: domestic violence. In China, about 40% of women experience domestic violence. Additionally, about 10% of murders in China are a result of intimate partner violence. These incidents continue despite the laws against domestic violence because of deep-seated patriarchal norms in Chinese society. Right now, the fight against domestic violence in China is one of governmental accountability and social change.
Effectiveness of Chinese Law
China has two statutes in place that outlaw domestic violence. These are the Marriage Act passed in 2001, and the Domestic Violence Law passed in 2015. The 2001 passage was the first to outlaw domestic violence in China. However, it did not include specifics of enforcement and mechanisms for reporting and prosecuting. Although, the later Domestic Violence Law did. It included reporting mechanisms not only for victims but also addressed victim shelters, child support and custody, personal protection orders, and schools’ role in reporting domestic violence.
The 2015 passage had the potential for long-term societal change. Yet, to this day, it lacks full implementation because of societal emphasis on family harmony and obligation in China. Law enforcement may avoid addressing domestic violence cases because they often see the issue as a “family matter” and therefore feel it is not their place to intervene. Chinese society and government also highly value family harmony and social stability. This means that every person fulfills their role in their family through sacrifices.
This often means that a woman must sacrifice her happiness for the stability of the family. Even within the 2015 law, one of the first articles states, “Family members shall help each other, love each other and live in harmony, and perform familial obligations.” This highly coveted notion often outweighs a victim’s safety in domestic violence cases because law enforcement’s first steps in cases normally lean toward conflict resolution or a written warning instead of initial separation. Unfortunately, this only encourages further violence and conflict and often discourages women from seeking help in domestic violence cases. According to Lin Shuang, a prevalent anti-domestic violence advocate, many women encounter 30 instances of violence before they decide to get help from law enforcement.
Where Is Domestic Violence in China?
Domestic violence occurs everywhere in China, but it is most pervasive in rural areas. Of the 40% of women in China enduring domestic violence, the highest proportion live in rural areas. Despite the government’s efforts to eradicate poverty, Rural China still experiences the highest rates of poverty and, therefore, present higher risk factors for domestic violence.
In a public health study by BMC on married, rural to urban migrant workers (who mainly reside in rural areas), it was found that their low social status and poverty were the highest risk factors for intimate partner violence. Additional studies have found that lower levels of education and low socioeconomic status, especially of males at the head of a household, are higher risk factors for domestic violence. This is because rural areas have less access to domestic violence resources due to their geographic isolation. Rural areas also tend to stick to traditional gender values strictly. Some of these values include marrying young, having women stay at home and husbands as family leaders. Because these values are so highly regarded, domestic violence cases go largely unaddressed in impoverished rural regions.
While domestic violence in China persists, its biggest and most effective combatant is social movement and digitization. Since the introduction of social media, China has seen several cases that brought domestic violence to the forefront of the societal conversation. For example, in 2011, Kim Lee, the American wife of “Crazy English” mogul Li Yang posted pictures of her injuries on Weibo and exposed the violence she suffered under her husband. Her post went viral and brought momentum to their 18 month-long legal battle, which ended with Lee gaining custody of her children and over $2 million in alimony.
Lee described the difficulties in getting a medical examination for prosecution and how law enforcement failed to show active investment in her well-being and justice throughout the process. This case was extremely influential because it exposed the flaws of the Chinese legal system. It also helped focus the public discourse on typically “taboo” topics.
The Anti-Domestic Violence Little Vaccine
Digitization is also helpful in gaining traction for social movements against domestic violence. During the initial COVID-19 lockdown in Wuhan, social worker Guo Jing launched the Anti-Domestic Violence Little Vaccine campaign. This campaign offered support groups for women through WeChat to discuss the pandemic and how it affected them personally. The group also wrote and published a public letter. The letter discouraged domestic violence throughout the lockdown and encouraged others to speak up. Through their platform, they also mobilized others to contribute essays and questions to their social media pages to continue the fight against domestic violence. Through their efforts, they have amassed 8.3 million views and over 700 comments on their content. Their movement has renewed the conversation around domestic violence and continues important social change.
Hopefully, stories like Kim Lee’s will continue to surface in the media. Chinese women will see a change in how their culture and power structures treat them. Political and governmental accountability for domestic violence in China starts with the widespread declaration that it is a pervasive, unsettled issue. Thanks to enhanced communication and technology, these declarations frequently challenge Chinese society to make headway on domestic violence.
– Hariana Sethi