Tea Leaf Nation

Blame It on the Booze

In China, some lawyers and police still think drunkenness -- even condom-wearing -- excuses rape.

A 19-year-old woman in Shangli, a small county in southeastern China's Jiangxi province, died on Jan. 2 after being gang raped by five men. While the suspects were quickly apprehended and later confessed to the crime, the purported cause of death has unleashed a storm of debate online: According to the local police department, the woman died of alcohol intoxication

Though the investigation is ongoing, the initial police statement circulated widely online the morning of Jan. 8, with many web users casting doubt on the police's claim. "She was living just fine and then died right after being raped. Coincidence?" asked one user on Sina Weibo, China's most popular Twitter-like microblog. "Could she have really just died from alcohol?" 

The incident has underscored a continuing debate over sexual assault in China, where rape goes widely underreported, and money and connections are often used to escape legal penalties for sexual crimes.

One seeming exception proved the unfortunate rule: In late December, human rights lawyers celebrated when Li Tianyi, the 17-year-old son of a famous Chinese military general, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of gang raping a woman in Beijing. Though three of Li's accomplices confessed in exchange for reduced sentences, Li maintained his innocence throughout the trial, with his lawyers repeatedly bringing up the fact that the victim was a "bar girl," a Chinese term for a woman employed by bars or nightclubs to consort with male patrons. 

At the time, well-known law professor Yi Yanyou of Tsinghua University, one of China's most renowned universities, caused an uproar on Sina Weibo when he implied that the victim's status as a woman of the night made Li's crime less pernicious, writing, "Raping a chaste woman is more harmful than raping a bar girl, a dancing girl, an escort or a prostitute." Professor Yi later apologized for his remarks, but he retains his position at Tsinghua University, where he is director of the school's research center on evidence law. 

In 2011, an incident in southern Guizhou province garnered further attention to the debate over rape and attitudes towards women. After a teacher in Ashi village levied accusations of rape against the local land-bureau chief, the police commander reportedly told her, "If he wears a condom, it isn't considered rape." Only two months later, after the victim wrote a poignant appeal for help and a Chinese newpaper picked it up, did the local police take action and arrest the culprit. 

In a country of roughly 1.4 billion, fewer than 32,000 cases of rape were reported in China in 2007, the latest year for which such statistics were released. The actual figure likely considerably higher: In a September 2013 report jointly conducted by four U.N. organizations and programs, 22.2 percent of 998 Chinese male respondents said that they had raped a woman, including a partner, while 2.2 percent admitted to having taken part in gang rape. 

AFP/Getty Images

Tea Leaf Nation

Crawl for the Cause

A Chinese professor bet that officials would disclose their assets -- then lost.

On any other day, Chinese scholar Fan Zhongxin might have been standing before his students in a lecture hall, but on Jan. 1, he found himself outside on his hands and knees. The professor of legal history at Hangzhou Normal University in eastern China had lost a bet, made one year prior, that Chinese authorities would require most village- and town-level officials to disclose their financial assets before the end of 2013. Advocates have argued that compelling officials (and perhaps their families) to make their income and holdings public could help curb government corruption.

Fan had publicly wagered that the Chinese government would agree, and within the calendar year. "If I lose, it means I'm not even as smart as a dog," he wrote on Jan. 1, 2013, "And I will punish myself by crawling" for about half a mile.

On the first day of 2014, Fan followed through on his promise, bringing renewed attention to the lack of transparency within government ranks. He uploaded to Weibo, China's Twitter, video footage of a lakeside trek that occupied "almost two hours" and left his palms and knees bloody. Many prominent domestic papers picked up the story, and on Jan. 7, video site Youku promoted a version of the clip, which then received over 2 million views in one day. Commenters applauded Fan for publishing it. "I'd like to express my great respect for Professor Fan," wrote one anonymous Weibo user. "Although he was crawling on his knees, he was standing tall in his heart."

Over the past several years, as Chinese Internet users have posted images of bureaucrats wearing luxury watches, smoking expensive cigarettes, or finding themselves caught in flagrante with mistresses, public mistrust of government has deepened. Demands for a more systematic method of public supervision have shown up in online and offline protests. In December 2012, 65 activists, scholars, and lawyers signed an open letter to top leaders calling for official asset disclosure, and in April 2013, activists organized a protest in southern Jiangxi province demanding something similar, which landed three participants in jail.

The ruling Communist Party did not appear pleased with what an op-ed in party-run Global Times called Fan's "performance art," which it declared "not very constructive." State-controlled Xi'an Daily questioned whether it was "appropriate" for a legal scholar to "use such a primitive method" to express views on a serious subject.

In response to allegations of showmanship, Fan told the influential Beijing Youth Daily, "I was only keeping my promise." In the interview, Fan insisted he remained optimistic that asset disclosure would eventually become law -- just not this year. When asked on Weibo whether he would renew his bet in 2014, Fan replied: "Thanks but no thanks," adding, "I have given up gambling."

Weibo/Fair Use