China captivated by tale of a young waitress who fought back

BEIJING LETTER : Chinese citizens, tired of endless abuses, have championed the victim of an attempted rape

BEIJING LETTER: Chinese citizens, tired of endless abuses, have championed the victim of an attempted rape

IN THE popular telling of a story that has transfixed China and has the country’s chatrooms humming, Deng Yujiao (21), a waitress at a karaoke lounge and entertainment club, was doing laundry when she was approached by Deng Guida, a town council official, and his companion and colleague, Huang Dezhi.

The two men allegedly tried to rape Deng and, in the ensuing struggle, she killed one of the officials and wounded the other.

The outpouring of sympathy for the young woman has been unprecedented and it has also prompted an outcry over women’s rights in China.


So great has been public support for Deng Yujiao that the authorities have taken the unusual step of taking her out of the psychiatric institution where she was placed after the incident, because police say they found anti-depressants in her handbag, and have put her under house arrest until her murder trial.

Many see this as a sign of the authorities caving in to public pressure, although the police insist it is because the woman turned herself in.

China is home to a never-ending struggle of common people versus corrupt officials. This case, which unfolded in Badong county, Hubei province, has clearly pushed a lot of buttons in New China – sex, murder, a young woman abused by a cadre and a powerless individual fighting back against the state apparatus.

It is the latest in a similar stream of cases and public opinion is most definitely on the side of the young woman. Last year there were protests in Weng’an in Guizhou after the suspicious death of a high school girl, again with a rape element.

Yang Jia also attracted widespread support as a kind of Robin Hood figure after he attacked a police station in Shanghai where he had been mistreated and stabbed six police officers to death. Back in 2003, there was a huge public outpouring of anger when a college student named Sun Zhigang was beaten to death by the police at a barracks where he was detained for not having his residence permit.

The details of the case say a lot about changing China.

When Huang Dezhi came across Deng Yujiao washing clothes in a service room next to his “hydrotherapy suite”, he asked her to provide “special services”, a euphemism for sex.

Huang demanded she take a bath with him, but she refused, saying she worked as an attendant in the KTV lounge downstairs, not as a hostess in the spa area upstairs.

He later returned with a fellow cadre, Deng Guida, who also tried to force the woman to have sex. An argument ensued, the details of which were released to the media by Deng Yujiao’s lawyer, Xia Lin.

“Aren’t you all the same?” asked Deng Guida. “You are a prostitute but you still want to have a good reputation. Don’t you want money? How much money do you want? Would you believe I am going to beat you to death with money today?”

He then took out a wad of money and used it to slap Deng Yujiao on the face and shoulder. At each slap, the young woman took one step backwards until she was at the edge of the sofa.

She said: “Yes, I have never seen money. If you have the guts, you can beat me to death.” Deng Guida replied: “Indeed, I’ll beat you to death with money. I am going to summon a truckload of money and squash you to death.”

As Deng Guida then pushed her down on to a sofa, Yujiao took out a pedicure knife and stabbed him repeatedly. She also stabbed Huang Dezhi when he moved towards her.

There are reports that pressure has been put on her mother to drop the lawyers, while the internet is abuzz with speculation about her fate and her trial. There are calls for mass protests if she is sentenced to death. People have written poems to her.

Many webizens believe the police planted the anti-depression medication in her bag and there are also vociferous denials of reports that she used a fruit knife, not a pedicure knife, which would suggest the killing was premeditated.

“The people’s rights have been seriously trampled on,” wrote one anonymous webizen on the Southern Metropolis Daily website. “If today we cannot safeguard the rights of the woman, tomorrow when other officials trample on the dignity and the lives of women, what we can do to protect them, what means we have for fighting?”

Another wrote: “Send my sincere condolences to the good son of the Badong police, the king of gamblers and a brave warrior at visiting prostitutes!”

In Beijing, a group of college students staged a work of performance art to express support for Deng Yujiao. A group of male students carried out a young female student bound in cloth, then placed her on the ground, surrounded by signs saying: “Anyone Could Become a Deng Yujiao.”

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan

Clifford Coonan, an Irish Times contributor, spent 15 years reporting from Beijing