‘It could happen to any of us’: Video of men stepping on woman’s head rocks China deeply

ANALYSIS. More and more cases of violence against women are shared on Chinese networks, which in turn delete the content.

Tata, a 34-year-old woman from the Chinese city of Chengdu, was browsing social media in her office on Friday afternoon when she came across a chilling video that shook her to the core.

Surveillance footage shows three women sharing a meal at a barbecue restaurant when a man approaches their table and puts his hand on the back of one of them. The woman pushes him away, but the man refuses to back down and reaches for her face again. As she pulls her hand away, the man punches her and pushes her to the ground as she struggles to defend herself.

His friends try to help him, but they too are attacked by the man and his friends, who rush into the restaurant as violence erupts. The group of men then drag the first woman through the door by her hair, crushing her with bottles and chairs, and repeatedly stepping on her head as she lies on the sidewalk, her clothes stained. of blood.

The video was so graphic and the heist so wild that Tata had to take a break halfway through. “I was immediately filled with outrage and horror. I could totally sympathize with her – the terror she must have felt at that moment,” she said, asking to be singled out only by his English name. “And it could happen to any of us.”

Shock and anger reverberated widely as the video spread like wildfire on Chinese social media. By night, the attack – which took place around 2.40am on Friday in the northern city of Tangshan – sparked a nationwide riot, attracting hundreds of millions of views and discussions online over the weekend.

Many were shocked that a woman was so brutally beaten just because she rejected a man’s sexual harassment. Others criticized the police for not taking action until the incident went viral.

After the protest, Tangshan police issued a statement on Friday saying they had identified the suspects and would “spare no effort” to arrest them. By Saturday afternoon, all nine suspects involved in the robbery had been arrested, police said, including four who had fled about 965 kilometers south of Jiangsu province.

Two women were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries and were in stable condition, police said.

The attack also reignited the debate about violence against women and gender inequality in China, which critics say remains a highly patriarchal society with widespread misogyny despite growing awareness of gender issues. gender in young women.

“What happened at the Tangshan Barbecue restaurant was not an isolated social incident, but part of systemic gender-based violence. We must…recognize that we still live in an environment that supports, encourages and pushes men to engage in gender-based violence against women,” reads a widely shared media post.

In recent years, a series of horrific incidents of violence against women have sparked outrage. Last year, a Tibetan vlogger died after her ex-husband set her on fire while she was livestreaming to her fans on social media. The ex-husband was sentenced to death in October. Earlier this year, a mother of eight was shown in a video chained by the neck in a shack in rural Jiangsu province. After repeated initial denials, authorities eventually admitted that she was a victim of human trafficking.

“Of course, we must take legal action to punish individual abusers and perpetrators. But without addressing systemic gender oppression, without changing social norms that promote machismo and encourage violence, we will simply continue our anger over the next incident,” the social media post said. media.

But such discussions do not appear to have gone down well with the Chinese government, which has long suppressed the Chinese women’s movement, arresting and silencing activists and censoring online debates. The article, which was posted on WeChat along with other news articles on gender issues, has been removed from the internet.

Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, said in a statement on Saturday that it had blocked 992 accounts for violations, including “deliberately causing gender clashes” when investigating the Tangshan attack.

The official Weibo account shared some of the messages from blocked users, which included violent and derogatory language towards Chinese women. However, other censored Weibo posts captured by CNN were from users who raised concerns about violence against women and urged people to “keep talking”.

Some state media initially called the man’s act of sexual harassment an “attempt to strike up a conversation”, which drew backlash from female readers.

State authorities and the media sought to portray the attack as an isolated event, shifting the focus from gender issues to local gang violence. Five of the suspects had criminal records, ranging from unlawful detention offenses to intentionally harming third parties, according to China National Radio. On Sunday, authorities in Tangshan launched a two-week campaign to crack down on organized crime.

Photos and videos published by Tangshan residents in the media show police, some armed with firearms, surveilling customers at outdoor barbecue restaurants; some used loudspeakers to remind diners “not to drink too much” and “not to engage in conversations with strangers”.

Lv Pin, a prominent Chinese feminist now based in New York, said that by delinking the Tangshan attack from gender, the Chinese government is distancing itself from the responsibility it should bear for not addressing the issues of gender inequality and violence in society.

“When we talk about systemic problems, the responsibility should lie with the government. But now the government is using its crackdown (on organized crime) to bolster its legitimacy. This type of campaign-style crackdown will not solve the problem of gender-based violence. ,” she says.

Feng Yuan, founder of Beijing-based women’s rights group Equality, said that to eliminate systematic gender-based violence, China should start by incorporating more gender equality content into education.

“It’s not just about teaching children slogans and abstract concepts, but showing them how to apply them in real life – how to respect each other,” Feng Yuan said.

Law enforcement agencies should also abandon their passivity when it comes to handling gender-based violence cases, Feng said.

“In many domestic violence cases, the police response has often been superficial, while many sexual assault cases have been easily dismissed on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence” , did he declare.

The relatively light punishment for gender-based violence has also not deterred offenders. Following the Tangshan attack, social media users circulated reports from state media about a similar incident that happened in 2020. In the eastern province of Zhejiang, a 25-year-old woman was beaten by a group of men until she passed out. a restaurant after rejecting a man’s sexual harassment. She was hospitalized for 15 days, while the men were detained for 10 to 13 days. No other charges have been filed.

Tata, an office worker in Chengdu, said the attack on restaurants in Tangshan showed that gender-based violence can happen to anyone.

“Chinese women have long suffered the stigma of victims of gender-based violence, but the girls who were assaulted in Tangshan are ‘perfect’ victims of accusations that are often made against victims of sexual assault in China.

“All they did was try to protect themselves and their friends.” But even though they did everything right, they continued to be subjected to brutal violence – that’s what scares a lot of us.”

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