Li Tianyi, the 17-year-old son of a singer in the People’s Liberation Army, has been accused along with four others of gang raping a young woman in Beijing. His case is yet another example of a fu’edai (second generation of rich) arousing the anger of Chinese netizens.
The latest twist in the high-profile rape case is the defense’s decision to request a public trial. Lawyer Lan He has claimed that the mother of the defendant, Li Qingdi, known by her stage name Meng Ge, has opted for a public trial, saying she plans to present evidence and reveal the truth.
“In the choice between privacy and truth, Ms. Meng Ge bravely chose the latter,” posted Lan on Sina Weibo – a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter. “Meng Ge will submit a request for a public hearing, so that all the facts, evidence, and processes can be open. She accepts the supervision of society to remove the mystery and eliminate public misunderstanding concerning her family and the judiciary system.”
The case comes amidst the efforts by the government to reestablish Communist Party’s reputation and enforce better conduct, in the wake of the Bo Xilai scandal and the death sentence of a Hainan Chinese official for raping 10 young girls.
Li Tianyi, also known as Li Guanfeng, had previously gotten into trouble with Chinese authorities after his implication in a 2011 road rage incident during which he assaulted a couple, a crime for which he spent one year in a correctional facility.
The scandal surrounding Li’s trial was further heightened when Yi Yanyou, a law professor at Tsinghua University, one of the best universities in mainland China and the world, made a statement that shone light on women’s rights and rape in China.
In his comment, Yi seemed to defend the 17-year-old accused rapist by saying that if the young woman raped was a prostitute and not from a decent family, the crime was less harmful:
“Even if it is rape, raping a bar hostess is less harmful than raping a woman from a good household,” Yi wrote.
Although he later deleted the post and apologized, his words highlight the mindset of many toward rape in China.
“Professor, according to your logic, if you go kill a sick person, is it less harmful?” said one NetEase user, as translated by Chinasmack. “After all, a sick person isn’t normal, and has a greater possibility of dying. The amount of harm is based on the amount of harm suffered by the victim.”
Shame and fear often deter women from reporting rape; this was the case for a woman raped in early April by the supervisor of a factory in Shenzhen. Despite being raped more than once by her supervisor, she didn’t report him. The woman was later forced to confess when her husband became suspicious, according to NetEase. Her husband also revealed that he was planning on leaving her as soon as the matter was settled, suggesting that he was interested in the monetary compensation.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reports no figures when it comes to sexual violence, which includes rape, sexual assaults and sexual offences against children, for China. The only figures reported are the ones for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. In 2011, 1,806 rapes were reported in Hong Kong, according to the latest report issued by the organization.
In China, prostitution is illegal, despite the number of places, such as karaoke bars and massage parlors, providing such services, leaving prostitutes at the mercy of law enforcement officers and customers. Bar hostesses are known as “the young ladies of the three accompaniments” – drinking, dancing and singing – said Rob Gifford, former London bureau chief of NPR and China editor of The Economist, in an NPR podcast.
The lack of regulation and the status of prostitutes in Chinese society explain why Li Tianyi’s family has claimed that the young woman was a consenting bar hostess. Li might have a better chance of escaping justice if the investigation of the so-called bar hostess led to a larger prostitution ring.
“The recent Li Tianyi case and other crimes once again test the entire nation’s limit, proving yet again that China’s law is an expensive b*tch, for it easily leans toward the powerful and wealthy people,” wrote @q25231403, a Tencent Weibo user.
By rejecting the prostitution claim, the court has already showed a certain level of severity, perhaps in an attempt to “make an example” out of Li Tianyi. The privilege enjoyed by high officials and their relatives has been the subject of criticism, especially by netizens, who write angrily about the luxurious lifestyles of the rich and the impunity they enjoy in their crimes. A guilty verdict in the case could play a role in restoring some faith in the justice system and the government.
The case is unlikely to be quickly resolved, as Meng Ge responded to the rejection of her initial claim by suing the manager of the bar where her son and the four others allegedly met the girl. She has accused the manager, Zhang Guangyao, of pimping and extortion.