Chinese domestic abuse ruling a landmark

American Kim Lee after she was granted a divorce.

American Kim Lee after she was granted a divorce.

Tue, Feb 5, 2013, 00:00

A high-profile case of wife-beating has resulted in divorce and hope for others, writes CLIFFORD COONANin Beijing

US teacher Kim Lee responded to her husband Li Yang’s brutal beatings by publishing photographs on her microblog, prompting an outcry against his actions and highlighting the plight of many women in China where tradition means domestic violence remains hidden.

Ms Lee was granted a divorce on the grounds of domestic abuse, a landmark decision she hopes will help other women in similar circumstances. On Sunday, she was issued a three-month protection order against her ex-husband – a first in Beijing.

“This takes away some of the sting and the sadness and the pain of divorce. The laws on domestic violence in China are too weak. For many women, divorce is the only choice other than picking up a knife or rat poison,” said Ms Lee.

“My case can be the catalyst for change. There are a lot of guys not hitting their wives tonight.”

Chinese government statistics released in January show that one in four women in China is subjected to domestic violence, including marital rape and beatings, and experts say the real figure is probably much higher.

Her ex-husband Li Yang is a household name in China, famed for the chain of English-teaching schools, Crazy English, that he and Ms Lee developed together. They involve large groups of people shouting English words to learn some basic language.

She ran the photos of the bump on her forehead, bruises on her knees and a bleeding ear on Weibo, the Chinese version of the banned Twitter network, in 2011. She became a hero among Chinese women, prompting online discussions and television debate.

Mr Li also tried to sway public opinion. In one television appearance, he argued that domestic violence was part of Chinese culture. His comments caused outrage, and sympathy for the celebrity teacher evaporated.

The court ordered Mr Li to pay his former wife 50,000 yuan (€5,900) compensation for mental anguish as well as child support. She will also have custody of their three daughters and receive properties worth more than 12 million yuan (€1.41 million) and a fixed sum annually until her daughters reach 18.

Despite the divorce ruling, Mr Li still clearly had influence. The financial settlement awarded to Ms Lee did not reflect her husband’s true wealth and the court failed to try and establish his assets.

Traditionally, women are still required to be subservient to their husbands, but Ms Lee hopes her case will help women in China escape these binds. She is trying to get as much publicity as possible so women learn that they do not have to tolerate domestic abuse.

“I never wanted to be famous, but I will use this to help Chinese women. I did interviews with China Women’s Newspaper and Woman of China magazine, and they seem to feel the decision is monumental and they felt many woman will stop and take action now.”

The success of Crazy English means Ms Lee is a familiar face in China, and men in the street have cursed her for her stand, but this has been balanced by support from abused women and their children.

One woman in particular whose case she hopes to highlight is Li Yan, a woman in Sichuan province sentenced to death for murdering her abusive husband in 2010.

“Women have given me so much support . . . They ask me soul-searching questions. I gave something back to them, a light at the end of the tunnel. I know one or two of them saying ‘ I’m going to do something about it’,” she said.