China: One in four women have suffered domestic violence – real situation can be even worse

The anti-domestic violence law is more of a tool for the CCP dictatorship to improve its own image and at the same time promote ‘family values’ and ‘social stability’

Zhou Yi, (International Socialist Alternative in China)

In recent years a movement for women’s rights, against sexism and sexual violence has mobilized millions worldwide. In China public protests and political activity of any kind are outlawed by the dictatorship. But at the base of society and among youth especially, anger and awareness over the treatment of women is growing.

In 2010, a survey by the regime-controlled All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF) found that 24.7 percent of married women between the ages of 24 and 60 suffered domestic violence from their spouses. A UNFPA survey of more than 2,000 Chinese men in November 2013 revealed that approximately 52 percent acknowledged they had committed physical or sexual violence against female partners.

Among 277 reported cases of domestic violence monitored by the Supreme People’s Court in 2015, 82 percent of victims were female, and 54 percent of victims under 18 were also female. Statistics in this regard in China are woefully incomplete, often not updated and of poor reliability, so the real situation is believed to be much more serious.

Anti-domestic violence law

The first anti-domestic violence law came into effect in China in 2016, but like many of China’s laws it has been weakly enforced. Victims will only report to the police after 35 abuses on average, fewer than 4 percent of domestic violence complaints have been upheld and the fewer than 20 percent of these victims have succeeded with a restraining order application.

Due to economic factors most female victims choose to seek limited help from their families, relatives or friends, while the minority who seek help from the police or go to court are often persuaded to continue living with their partners (instead of separation) regardless of their situation. At the same time, 1 in 5 of those who could no longer stand long-term domestic violence and eventually killed their spouses will face a death sentence (with or without a reprieve). This also makes the anti-domestic violence law more of a tool for the CCP dictatorship to improve its own image and at the same time promote ‘family values’ and ‘social stability’.

Although there are more than 2,000 domestic violence shelters in China, they only provided 149 asylum places in 2016, and the low standard of services has made women seeking asylum more frightened. Weak protection of female victims has also led to a series of deaths caused by domestic violence. From March 2016 to October 2017, there were 533 cases of domestic violence fatalities disclosed, with 635 adults and children killed, the vast majority of whom were women.

In addition, Chinese women face the risk of getting robbed, beaten, assaulted, and killed by strangers. These will only be reported on any significant level when the CCP regime feels like doing that. Otherwise, China is only portrayed by state-controlled media as a very safe country where it is not at all dangerous to walk in the streets and lanes at 2 or 3 am. It can be seen that the laws, police and media that serve capitalism and the authoritarian regime are not friendly to the victims of violence, and public services for victims of domestic violence are unable to sufficiently protect the victims.

In November 2018, Chinese actor Jiang Jinfu was revealed to have assaulted his ex-girlfriend Haruka Nakaura. Although many Chinese netizens severely condemned Jiang Jinfu, there were also many people claiming that Nakaura had “asked for it” after reading certain media reports, or expressing nationalist anti-Japanese rhetoric to defend the violence. In other public cases of domestic violence, female victims have often been blamed for not getting out of relationships earlier. This shows there is no shortage of victim-blaming arguments, and the emergence of such opinions is reinforced by the rise of the capitalist system, which emphasizes individual responsibility while ignoring structural oppression.

In a capitalist society, the nuclear family of one man and one woman is not only a social relationship but also an economic unit, which is generated along with private ownership and patriarchy, while a very important feature of the new wave of global feminist struggles is the emphasis on collective struggle of workers. This has been reflected in Amazon and McDonald’s workplace actions against sexual harassment in the United States and large-scale strikes against sexual violence connected to the #MeToo movement. These movements also have influenced China.

After Chinese Revolution in 1949, on the basis – despite major bureaucratic distortions – of state ownership of the means of production, and with the spread of socialist-influenced ideas, women were able to participate widely in public services and their social status was significantly improved for a time. However, with the so-called economic reform and the return to capitalism, women have gradually returned to the family and shouldered more unpaid labor.

“Female morality schools” with the purpose of restricting women’s independent development also came into being. Even where women have entered the workplace, they are more likely than men to face issues such as low pay, job instability and discrimination due to their supposed responsibility to give birth to a child.

There are not many restrictions on abortion in China, but it is only because of the government’s long-term implementation of family planning policy. With the decline of China’s working-age population and the rapid growth of the elderly population, the government has turned to encouraging fertility and some regions are now even restricting access to abortion in disguise. This degraded status of women has made them more vulnerable to violence in a capitalist society in which patriarchal structures and attitudes are also being reinforced to bolster the repressive capabilities of the authoritarian regime.

Feminist movement suppressed

In 2015, the “Feminist Five” planned to hold activities against sexual harassment on public transport before International Women’s Day. These young women were detained for more than 30 days and continuously interrogated and abused by the police. Under the pressure of international opinion, the government eventually retreated, but this has shown that under the one-party dictatorship, the feminist movement is considered to pose a greater potential threat to the regime. This makes it is impossible under the current regime to become a public mass movement as in most countries. A degree of underground work with the risk of severe repression is unavoidable.

Under these circumstances, the feminist movement in China needs an anti-authoritarian orientation and needs to link itself with the nascent workers’ movement in which female workers play an important role. In addition to opposing the dictatorship of the CCP, demanding freedom of speech and the press, and giving the public a chance to learn about the reality of violence against women, it needs to be recognized that capitalism is a system intertwined with patriarchy and driven by exploitation, and therefore is also authoritarian for the majority of women. Hence we need to oppose capitalism which underpins and reinforces the CCP’s dictatorship and sexism, and put forward a socialist perspective that unites all the oppressed and enables all women to enjoy economic and social emancipation.