When a Woman Dares to Say ‘He Hit Me’ In China
On the cultural acceptance domestic abuse in China, and how an American expatriate wife who was beaten by her Chinese husband and spoke up about it might have opened the door for change.
Six years ago, shortly after I moved to Shanghai, I overheard a furious argument between the couple who lived next door to me. The couple screamed at each other and then came the unmistakable sound of an open palm slapping skin — once, twice and a third time.
This continued for another 15 minutes. Neither my other neighbors nor I intervened or called the police.
This was the first of many such episodes. When I’ve expressed my feelings of helplessness over the ongoing battles between my neighbors, my friends have often responded with a Chinese proverb: “Even the wisest judge can’t adjudicate family disputes.” One Chinese friend advised, “You can’t do anything. If you call the police, they’ll tell you to mind your own business.”
He had good reason to think that: China has no law related to domestic abuse. Its courts and law enforcement agencies did not even issue protection orders for victims of domestic abuse until 2008.
Yet domestic abuse is pervasive in China. According to a national survey by the All-China Women’s Federation, China’s largest non-governmental organization for women, a third of Chinese families are affected by it, and 85 to 90 percent of the victims are women. Those numbers are extraordinary in part because the respondents were willing to admit that their families are imperfect. In traditional Chinese culture, one must overcome intense social pressure to say such a thing. Perhaps that explains why 33 percent of respondents said there was abuse within their marriage but only 5 percent described their family as unhappy. […]