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domestic violence in China
April 22, 2012 5:40 AM   Subscribe

Li Yang, founder of the most popular English-language school in China, Crazy English, (previously on MeFi) is now found to have beaten his American wife multiple times. Domestic violence is found in some 25% of Chinese marriages (!) but the actions of Li's wife Kim Lee to publicize the abuse has raised the profile of spousal abuse in a country where this was not often publicly discussed previously.
posted by gen (42 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Evan Osnos' excellent profile of Li Yang in the New Yorker from 2008.
posted by gen at 5:44 AM on April 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's discouraging. I've been doing some reading about Chinese history, recently, and my impression is that there was a considerable thread of feminist thinking in the early Chinese Communist movement, but that a lot of the gains have been rolled back in the last 30 years or so. Lack of voice leads through lack of status to abuse pretty predictably.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:28 AM on April 22, 2012


my impression is that there was a considerable thread of feminist thinking in the early Chinese Communist movement

GenjiandProust,

I find your comment very interesting. I ask this next question as someone who is more schooled in English Literature and less in history, economics, & government: Is it possible for feminism to flourish in a government that is not democratic? Maybe it's ignorant or naive to think this way but wouldn't the first order of business: establish a more democratic way of governing before you tackle the larger problem of feminism?
posted by Fizz at 6:50 AM on April 22, 2012


I would not hesitate to say that this same situation of not losing face and keeping these things private, exists in "democratic" India. So perhaps this is more about cultures and patriarchies than politics alone. I've also read of the same kind of embedded expectation among women in Africa, that's "its alright if he beats you, if you've made him angry."

Lack of voice leads through lack of status to abuse pretty predictably.

This is key.

Women should barely be seen much less heard is still the prevalent cultural thought across much of the 'rest of the world'.
posted by infini at 6:54 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't want to give the impression that simply having a democracy is the way to solve the problems of patriarchy, feminism, etc. I guess what I'm saying is that, it's already hard enough in a democratic society for women to gain equality, respect, & a sense of humanity. It would seem much worse in a society that squashes other civil liberties as well.
posted by Fizz at 6:59 AM on April 22, 2012


The revolution in China was motivated by a desire to increase equality, respect & a sense of humanity for the majority of the population - whether or not you agree that it succeeded. Surely it's a limiting viewpoint that only in "democracy" can ideas such as women's rights be forwarded?

I mean, say what you like about the tenets of Maoist socialism, dude, at least it's an ethos.
posted by iotic at 7:11 AM on April 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


What impact has Communism had on women's rights in China?

I have the sense that physical violence in general more acceptable and commonplace in China than in the West. When a pickpocket gets caught, he'll be surrounded by a mob and beaten. Tudou (the Chinese YouTube) is full of people getting into skirmishes... and not just thugs and young people, but people of every status and walk of life.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 7:16 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


qxntpqbbbqxl your link makes me think that it would be interesting to see now what the impact was on feminism in Russia.
posted by infini at 7:30 AM on April 22, 2012


qxntpqbbbqxl your link makes me think that it would be interesting to see now what the impact was on feminism in Russia.

The internet is wondrous.
posted by Fizz at 7:36 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah all those talking about feminism only flourishing in a democracy need to bone up on the Soviet Union
posted by spicynuts at 7:59 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


A story about her accusations and the photos she put online. I hope this high-profile case will give some hope to other battered women in China. Although hope without legal protections and societal support systems is pretty hollow.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:23 AM on April 22, 2012


While Li Yang was the love of her life, apparently to him, she was just a trophy laowai wife that he saw fit to keep by his side to give credibility to the Crazy English empire that he was building.

One commenter said to her, in a knowing tone, "I dont know if you love him when you two were dating, as i know, he dont love you, never."

She responded, "I know now. He said this in tv/magazine interviews, too. Privately told me it was just to promote his image. I know the truth. The truth is painful sometimes."


.
posted by infini at 8:27 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fizz: couldn't you imagine that in certain ways a democracy would present more of a challenge to drastically improve women's rights, if a nasty way of doing things were engrained into the culture? The thing about democracy is you let people do things the way they want to. Communism sucks for a lot of reasons, but one of the "features" of most implementations has been that you get to force fit culture and ideologies from the top down. I don't know much about China, but look at certain stretches in the USSR.
posted by floam at 8:28 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Yeah all those talking about feminism only flourishing in a democracy need to bone up on the Soviet Union

Huh? There were a few feminists in the early Soviet Union (e.g., Alexandra Kollontai) but they were quickly marginalized or worse; the USSR was every bit as much a man's world as any capitalist society. Women had lots of jobs in areas they were less well represented in in, say, the US (doctors, for example), especially after WWII when there was a serious shortage of males, but those jobs got far less pay and respect than in the West, and after work women had to come home and do everything involved in running that as well (which notoriously included standing in long lines for hours to get basic supplies). Sure, the USSR officially promoted women's equality, just as it officially promoted democracy and worker's rights; the 1936 Soviet Constitution was one of the most progressive and democratic ever. It also bore no relation to the facts of life in the USSR, where there was no democracy and both women and workers who tried to stand up for themselves were brutally suppressed.

However, the official talk of women's equality managed to poison the well effectively, so that for decades after the rise of feminism in the West, women in first the USSR and then Russia rejected it out of hand—"We don't need jobs, we've got jobs, we want to be respected and loved and taken care of by good men who don't get drunk and beat us!" There are, of course, genuine feminists trying to change attitudes, but it's a desperately hard and thankless struggle.
posted by languagehat at 8:46 AM on April 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


Mao on women
posted by iotic at 8:47 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


floam,

Great comment, but just one thing. This assumes that those in charge are doing it the "right" way, whatever way that is. And how many significant FEMALE leaders can you name that come from a communist or socialist framework? And yet, I'm sure you can name some of the top dog male names from Cuba, Russia, China, North Korea.

I have no knowledge about the inner workings of these political systems. If anyone has a good book or an article that references females within these types of systems and the types of things they are doing for their gender and their politics, please share them.
posted by Fizz at 8:47 AM on April 22, 2012


Indeed, it depends entirely upon that being an ideal subscribed to by intellectuals in the leadership.
posted by floam at 8:53 AM on April 22, 2012


how many significant FEMALE leaders can you name that come from a communist or socialist framework?

How about Jiang Qing, Mao's last wife and member of the infamous "gang of four".
posted by iotic at 8:54 AM on April 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


iotic,

I've never heard of her. Clicking and reading.
posted by Fizz at 9:03 AM on April 22, 2012


Ok languagehat I guess "flourish" was a poor word choice but look at 1917 America and 1917 USSR. Can you imagine any discussion in the US around women participating in the political process or even their role in society that came close to the mind of discussion around it in the early years of the revolution?
posted by spicynuts at 9:17 AM on April 22, 2012


Khertek Anchimaa-Toka, the chairwoman of the Tuvan People's Republic, was the first non-hereditary female head of state in the world.
posted by Apocryphon at 9:21 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


The World Economic Forum did a survey of gender equity in East Asia a few years back (based on United Nations Development Fund for Women findings) and China scored better than neighbouring democracies in many areas (not all, and behind the OECD) and thus on the overall aggregate of their measures; IIRC the UN report the revolution, its ideology and subsequent propaganda and various concrete measures were the clear factor in giving this advantage.
posted by Abiezer at 9:29 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


And should add, the report of course noted there is a very great deal still to be done (and a fair bit of regression in my personal view).
posted by Abiezer at 9:31 AM on April 22, 2012


I don't think there were many women in real USSR leadership at any point Fizz. I certainly can't think of a single name and Google doesn't turn up much. But when I compare to western countries at some of the same times, it's hard to argue they were much better in regards to women's rights. And the US had been around for quite a while in the early 20th century. Keep in mind just how back-asswards these communist states were to begin with, then look at how many hundreds of years it took the US to get to where it is, or any recent western attempts at democratic nation-building. I'm not arguing the reds came close to becoming the utopias they promised, but it's hard to deny that there wasn't some kind of extremely rapid modernization and social liberalization going on.
posted by floam at 9:32 AM on April 22, 2012


In my observation, I have noted that gender parity has increased since I studied engineering in Bangalore U about 25 years ago and the ration of men to women in my class was 10:1 and in the entire college, it was closer to 100:1 (there were many specializations without any women, mechanical engineering for example or mining where the law prevented women from entering mines) and women are more and more getting into professions previously unheard of, HOWEVER, and this is a major caveat, that they still are expected to come home and be the bashful bride.

Something like what languagehat is saying about the situation in Russia. These are deeply embedded cultural and social mores, made harder to dislodge by having eons of writing, literature, religious treatises and whatnot referring to women's roles and places in society. They may not change in the way socioeconomic and geopolitical changes have taken place nor at the same speed. Yes, footbinding is obsolete now as is sati. But so much more remains and its in the language, in the idioms and proverbs and thus so much deeper than a law or a job can easily change.

communist or socialist

Not the same thing imho, Fizz. India was/is socialist even as it was a democracy. And countries like Finland in the Nordic Region, or even Iceland, may not be as far away from "socialist" nor consider it a bad word.

However, this is an FPP about China, and Chinese culture and what it means when someone blows the whistle on what everyone knows but does not talk about.
posted by infini at 9:47 AM on April 22, 2012


Also... some of these Arab Spring revolutions restoring power to govern to the people do not appear to bode as well as we had initially hoped for women in the middle east. Fundamentalist parties jockeying for legitimate power in Egypt and Tunisia very well could end up being serious downgrades to what they replaced as far as women are concerned. The repressive Syrian government falling would probably be bad news for a lot of women too. It is quite unfortunate.

Here's a few news articles.

posted by floam at 9:50 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whoops, last link was supposed to be this.
posted by floam at 9:52 AM on April 22, 2012


Domestic violence is found in some 25% of Chinese marriages (!)

Depending on the source, it looks like the rate is around 25% in the US, too, so you might need some extra exclamation marks.

Regarding the question of democracy and women's rights, the version of democracy for the first hundred and some years of US history is a good example of how having an established and functioning democracy did not automatically provide women's rights. Getting the vote, along with things like criminalizing domestic violence, took many, many years of activism and struggle, and the democratic system itself was both a help and hindrance.
posted by Forktine at 10:02 AM on April 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


you might need some extra exclamation marks

Yep. The direct quote from the third link: "a recent nationwide survey by the All-China Women's Federation found that 25 percent of women reported domestic violence from their spouses, almost the same as in the United States."

Blugh.
posted by evidenceofabsence at 10:07 AM on April 22, 2012


I read some stuff in school last year about women in communist/socialist movements that said they have often paid women's rights a lot of lip service and even for women to put in positions of power, but when women have made more concrete demands they were essentially told, "proletariat first, women after" - some of the examples were maybe the Zapatistas and the Nepalese Maoists? I can't really remember the details or what the sources were, but I could try to track it down at some point if people are interested. Sorry if I'm contributing to a derail!
posted by naoko at 10:14 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


The revolution in China was motivated by a desire to increase equality, respect & a sense of humanity for the majority of the population - whether or not you agree that it succeeded.

As far as I recall, the French Revolution was motivated by much the same, but when it was over, women were worse off than before it started.
posted by jeather at 10:15 AM on April 22, 2012


It would be interesting to trace how and where and when the tide started turning for women in non Asian cultures, in that they were not considered chattel nor expected to accept abuse from their husbands.

Was it the vote that did it?

So, was it "democracy" but more in the concept of suffragettes asking for acknowledgment of their existence in their own rights?
posted by infini at 10:20 AM on April 22, 2012


Is it possible for feminism to flourish in a government that is not democratic?

A couple of caveats: I have just recently started educating myself about 20th C Chinese history, so there is loads I don't know. Also, I don't want to either a) apologize for Chinese communism or b) fall into "the Chinese are just like X; different standards apply." However:

As far as I can tell, in 3000+ years of Chinese history, before the early-mid 20th C, there was exactly one woman who held any kind of open political power in China (Wu Zetian). Woman had pretty much no access to education, commerce, legal protection, or even a public status. The communists, in their efforts to overthrow most elements of the Imperial system, pushed, at least in theory, for equality between the sexes, and, it seems like a fair number of women made their way into at least the lower levels of the government. This may not seem like much, but, compared to their options for all of history, this was a huge step forward.

So, from my limited knowledge, no, I don't think democracy is necessary for certain feminist goals being met. The Chinese communists, in their efforts to overturn much of traditional Chinese society, freed women to some degree (the could have hardly restricted them more, after all). Now, you can argue that the top-down approach of an authoritarian regime prevented further progress being made, but I don't have the perspective to say how much that is true.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:23 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have to say, I'm enjoying the discussion and the random knowledge I'm picking up today. Carry on.
posted by Fizz at 11:27 AM on April 22, 2012


I believe East German women took a disproportionate hit after reunification. The DDR government had the idea that women ought to have equal standing to men, but, like most things in the DDR, trying to keep the country afloat was far more important than any sort of abstract idea. Basically, they badly needed as many women in the workforce as possible as well as having as many kids as possible, so a lot of effort went into making provisions for women to work and have children, e.g. making sure plenty of state-funded childcare was available. I believe they also managed equal pay for equal work. Women lost those things with reunification and I think they took a disproportionate hit in terms of unemployment. On the other hand, women still did a disproportionate amount of the housework and there were very few women in high ranking positions, either in work or in government. (Except, weirdly, a lot (just over 50% in 1989) of small towns had women as mayor.) The DDR government also made it harder to have an abortion.

I found a bit in Mary Fulbrook's The People's State that is relevant to this discussion, I think:
Thus the emancipation of women did not mean quite the same thing for the SED as it does for Western liberals or feminists. The latter usually adopt a rather individualistic conception of 'emancipation' in terms of the rights of and possibilities for individuals to exercise freedom of chose with respect to virtually every area of life... But the SED generally sought to replace oppressive patriarchal structures and mentalities not with liberal notions of individual freedom of choice, but rather with new forms of collectivism as defined by the leading Party.
posted by hoyland at 12:27 PM on April 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


Evan Osnos' excellent profile of Li Yang in the New Yorker from 2008.
---
Li stood before the students, his right arm raised in the manner of a tent revivalist, and launched them into English at the top of their lungs. “I!” he thundered. “I!” they thundered back.

“Would!”

“Would!”

“Like!”

“Like!”

“To!”

“To!”

“Take!”

“Take!”

“Your!”

“Your!”

“Tem! Per! Ture!”

“Tem! Per! Ture!”

One by one, the doctors tried it out. “I would like to take your temperature!” a woman in stylish black glasses yelled, followed by a man in a military uniform. As Li went around the room, each voice sounded a bit more confident than the one before. (How a patient might react to such bluster was anyone’s guess.)
Heh.
I find your comment very interesting. I ask this next question as someone who is more schooled in English Literature and less in history, economics, & government: Is it possible for feminism to flourish in a government that is not democratic?
Why wouldn't it be? Communism was predicated on equality between people, including (and explicitly) equality between genders. Marx was arguing for equality between men and women in the 1800s, and so communist countries tended to include gender equality as one of their goals. I don't really see why democracy would mean more gender equity if the people as a whole are more regressive then the leadership.

Iraq is a good example, as women's rights (at least rights relative to men) have gone way down since Saddam was in power. Before he was removed, women could work side by side with men, didn't need to cover their hair, etc. Now, women are as repressed as most of the other countries in the region (from what I understand, anyway)
As far as I can tell, in 3000+ years of Chinese history, before the early-mid 20th C, there was exactly one woman who held any kind of open political power in China (Wu Zetian). Woman had pretty much no access to education, commerce, legal protection, or even a public status. The communists, in their efforts to overthrow most elements of the Imperial system, pushed, at least in theory, for equality between the sexes, and, it seems like a fair number of women made their way into at least the lower levels of the government. This may not seem like much, but, compared to their options for all of history, this was a huge step forward.
This is a country where people were still doing footbinding up until the 1910s, but it was only when the communists took over that they were fully able to eradicate the practice. You could argue that the position of women in Chinese society prior to the 1910s was actually worse then in countries like Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, where they simply have to cover up, rather then deforming themselves.
posted by delmoi at 3:16 PM on April 22, 2012


Women had lots of jobs in areas they were less well represented in in, say, the US (doctors, for example), especially after WWII when there was a serious shortage of males, but those jobs got far less pay and respect than in the West, and after work women had to come home and do everything involved in running that as well (which notoriously included standing in long lines for hours to get basic supplies).
Should the government have passed a law requiring men to do an equal share of housework? Even today in the U.S, women tend to do most housework.
posted by delmoi at 3:20 PM on April 22, 2012


As anecdotal, biased even erratic (if not erroneous) as it is, my impression of Chinese social norms is that there's a very fine North-South divide in terms of women-empowerment. The southern Chinese sub-ethnicities such as the Hokkien, Cantonese and even Shanghainese generally have had a much more wholesome social role for women than in the North. Which is why there's this notion of, say, Hong Kong women being more 'difficult to manage' or women from Fujian being more 'fiery' and such. (I freely admit this could be received wisdom, even as cliches go)

From the New Yorker piece:
“I have seen this kind of agitation,” Wang Shuo, one of China’s most influential novelists, wrote in an essay on Li. “It’s a kind of old witchcraft: Summon a big crowd of people, get them excited with words, and create a sense of power strong enough to topple mountains and overturn the seas.”
Wow.
posted by the cydonian at 10:48 PM on April 22, 2012




This is a country where people were still doing footbinding up until the 1910s, but it was only when the communists took over that they were fully able to eradicate the practice. You could argue that the position of women in Chinese society prior to the 1910s was actually worse then in countries like Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia, where they simply have to cover up, rather then deforming themselves.
posted by delmoi at 6:16 PM on April 22 [+] [!]


Correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't women in the West wearing corsets through the 1920's?
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:28 AM on April 23, 2012


Total footbinding derail: One of the most interesting fashion histories I've read is this photo book of shoes for bound feet, most of which are beautifully embroidered and horrifically tiny. But the book makes the point that many women's feet, while undeniably bound and mutilated, were not actually as small as the shoes they wore. Like padded pushup bras make breasts look bigger, many lotus shoes were built with platforms and worn with long pants to hide part of the foot, making it look smaller.

I mean, it's all still grotesque adherence to patriarchal beauty standards that caused real physical harm to thousands of women. But it's interesting that some aspects of that adherence were on the "wear a Wonderbra" level as well as the "have surgery to get breast implants" level.
posted by nicebookrack at 7:15 AM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Languagehat, thanks for the comment, especially the insight about "poisoning the well". Among the many bad things about the USSR, the disparity between the official line about equality of women, and the lived reality of women's poor status in the USSR made the very idea of equality of women into a bad joke, the kind of thing no Soviet person could talk about without a smirk. Women did take a lot of previously male jobs due to the near-eradication of a generation of males in the war, but this only made the remaining males more cosseted.

And worse yet, because the insistence on women's rights was coming from a discredited regime, the very ideas became stained in people's minds. When I worked in media in just-post-Soviet Russia, I met a lot of women who were incredibly capable, and clearly running the show, but totally unwilling to even take credit for it, because that would make them sound like apparatchiks. They would come home from their demanding jobs, and proceed to cook and clean and silently accept the occasional beating from their unemployed, drunk husband, because that was how things were supposed to be.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 7:28 AM on April 23, 2012


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