China's serial rape case sparks debate over women 'saving face'


CHINA IS transfixed by the horror story of a farmer pleading for his life after raping 116 women, many of them wives of migrant workers and ranging from young girls to the middle aged.

Dai Qingcheng (46) was condemned to death for raping the women, and robbing 91 of them, between 1993 and 2009 in Anhui province in eastern China. Among the victims was a pregnant woman, and some of the rapes took place in front of family members of the victims.

The case has sparked a debate about how women will often not go to police after sexual assaults to preserve traditional notions of “face”. Any discussion of sex or sexual assault is taboo in deeply conservative rural China, and many victims initially refused to mention attacks by Dai.

“In the villages, people are very conservative and any conversation about sex is deemed shameful. Even if you are violated, you are ashamed to talk about it,” Chen Wei, a lawyer specialising in women’s studies, told the China Daily.

During the investigation it emerged that such incidents were “not rare”, that many women had experienced similar horror, especially migrant workers whose husbands were away in cities.

The hunt for a rapist began in July 2008 after a 49-year-old woman from Linquan county reported that a masked man with a knife had forced his way into her home and attempted to rape her. The victim’s husband and son were away and the woman was alone with her 11-year-old daughter. “I was very afraid but I realised I had to protect my daughter,” she said. “I screamed and some neighbours heard me. The man escaped quickly.”

But the idea that it might have been a serial offender did not occur to investigators because few people complained about the crimes. Officers found that the attacker usually broke into homes at night and Dai soon emerged as the main suspect.

“But we were surprised when he told us he had raped about 100 women,” said Yang Yongkui, a police officer from Linquan police bureau. “The victims he violated ranged from very young girls to women in their 50s and one of them was six-months pregnant.”

Dai is described as an unlikely rapist. “He is kind of short, introverted and honest looking and I wouldn’t relate him to such atrocities by his appearance,” Ming Tian, his lawyer, told the China Daily. “He doesn’t communicate with people much but he treats his family well and most villagers thought he was a simple and honest guy.”

Online comments were broad ranged. However, some said the case exposed the way women in China were traditionally forced to absorb their pain. “These women are victims of those traditional concepts of ‘dignity’ and ‘face’, and it’s the time to change,” said one posting.