Save Our Daughters: The Plight of Chinese Women

I spent the weekend with my sweet Zoe away from the computer. So I haven’t been able to blog all weekend. Which was good, I enjoyed the vacation, but it also gave me the weekend to fume over the way women in China are treated without an outlet. Now, I get it off my chest.

Last Friday I wrote about the British man who was arrested for assaulting a Chinese girl in Beijing. Late Friday I found  a quote by the man who first rescued her which said: “After I grabbed his neck and saw he’s a laowai, I felt more obligated to save the girl.” He then continues to try an explain: “When the girl screamed for help the first time, I thought it was a lovers’ tiff, but after she screamed ‘I don’t know this guy’, I realized something was wrong.”

This infuriates me on so many levels. But mainly what it does is it brings to light the issue of domestic violence in China and how is it allowed and accepted. According to Wu, even though the girl was calling for help, he was inclined to ignore her because he thought he was her boyfriend. So according to him, as long as the couple are dating, it is ok to hurt or even rape a woman. The fact that she called for help at all was only secondary to the fact that he was white. This not only angers me, but terrifies me. Seth and I are trying to adopt, specifically, 2 girls over the course of our lives here. We also currently have a 17 year old god-daughter, Zoe. What terrifies me about this is when Zoe and our daughters start dating or just hanging out with their friends, if they are attacked by a man, there is the strong possibility that even if they call for help, no one will stop their attacker on the off-chance that the attacker is a boyfriend. Remember, Wu had no evidence that the man was her boyfriend; only that they were a man and woman fighting. So even though the woman was calling for help, she was ignored because in China, domestic violence is seen as a private matter and that other people should not get involved.

There is very little data on rape and domestic violence in China. The most recent offical numbers of rape cases for China was released in 2005 and the number at a miniscule 15,000 cases that year. According to the book Holding Up Half the Sky, 29% of women in China are abused by their husbands to some degree.  It also does not reflect the truth when looking at divorce number. The divorce rate in China is very low, only about 10% (though it is rising). But in some places in China, in as many as 25% of the divorces, the wife charges her husband with rape. However, many people in China do not believe rape can occur within a marriage. But all these numbers are likely still very low because of the taboo nature of the subject. According to Linda Wong, Executive Director of the Association Concerning Sexual Violence Against Women in Hong Kong, “A woman may be viewed that she should be responsible for being raped because she aspired to date or go to a man’s premises; or that she took the risk of being raped as she went out alone late at night or drank alcohol; or that she enticed others to rape her with her behavior or dressing.”

Being wealthy, being affluent, or even being white does not protect women from domestic violent in China. American Kim Lee was married to one of the wealthiest and most well-known English teachers in China, Li Yang. The couple have 3 children. Lee suffered physical abuse from her husband for years until she finally posted pictures of his abuse on weibo. She did so only to draw attention to it so he would apologize, get counciling, and they could reconcile their marriage. He did, finally, apologize, but none of her other wishes came true and she filed for divorce. But, in an interview, Lee said that her husband was not afraid of the law because the law “can do nothing about him.” Li has hidden 23 properties with his sister, has denied all allegations of abuse, and has been trying to get their marriage annuled. Police, doctors, and lawyers trying to help Lee have all failed because there simply are no laws or regulations for reporting or filing charges for domestic abuse. How can the above numbers be accurate when China doesn’t even have process for filing it? But it goes much deeper than that. One female student told Li, “teacher, you are awesome. You just made a little mistake.” Even to China’s girls, domestic abuse is seen as acceptable and a minor thing. The cycle of violence continues because the next generation of men and women are not taught otherwise. Lee also said something very interesting in another interview. She says that she fears being a role-model for other abused women. She has the freedom to leave her husband and return to the States,  something Chinese wives cannot do. She says that “I would feel deep regret if any woman spoke out and then became the victim of even greater violence because she chose to do so.” Lee knows that if she gives other women strength to stand up to their attackers, it could actually do more damage to them because they have no support. Women in China are held captive by their rapists and abusers, and even their own voice could condemn them further.

My own sister said something very interesting yesterday. She is also currently living in a developing nation (Brazil) and said, ” I was thinking about this today that when something is bad you have two choices, go somewhere else where it isn’t bad or stay and fix it. While I will finish my education in the U.S., a part of me would like to fix the problems that I see here.” While no single person can fix the problems of the world, or even a single problem, we can all still do our best to change it one person at a time. Teachers do much more than teach their subject, no matter where you live. I can name several teachers in my life who changed me. People who are coming to China to teach English or just to work are having a profound impact on the people around them. They are making changes and influencing their students and friends. This can be very positive as long as it is handled carefully. Too much outspokeness or change can result in a mass-deportation. But one student, on friend at a time, we can protect our daughters. If I had never come to China, Zoe would just be another nameless, faceless girl in a sea of people. Should she grow up to be treated kindly or abused by a man, few would know and less would care. But my husband and I start with her. We will protect her and not allow her to be part of this cycle (PS, her mother is not abused by her father and they have a good (albeit, distant) marriage, so that isn’t they kind of cycle I am referring to). Also, our own daughters will influnce the world. Lisa Ling once said that the daughters from China being raised in America will be the ones to change China. I hope I have the ability to raise them in view of the challenges ahead.