(CNN) – Tata, a 34-year-old woman in the Chinese city of Chengdu, was browsing social media in her office on Friday when she came across a shocking video that rocked her to the core.
Surveillance footage shows three women eating dinner in a restaurant when a man steps up to their table and places his hand on the back of one of them. The woman pushes him away, but the man refuses to back down and reaches for her face again. When she wipes her hand off him, the man slaps her across the face, knocking her to the ground as she struggles to defend herself.
Her friends try to help her, but they are also attacked by the man and his friends who entered the restaurant when the violent episode began. Then the men pulled the first woman by her hair out the door, beat her with bottles and chairs, and repeatedly stepped on her head as she lay on the sidewalk, her clothes stained with blood.
The anger of the video in China
The video was so frank and the assault was so brutal that Tata had to stop it halfway. “I immediately felt angry and terrified. I was able to get to know her completely, the horror I felt at the time,” said the student, who asked not to be named except by her English name. “This could happen to any of us.”
Anger and outrage went viral as the video spread like wildfire on Chinese social media. Para la noche del viernes, el ataque, que ocurrió alrededor de las 2:40 am de ese día en la ciudad de Tangshan, ya conmocionaba a todo el país, generaba cientos de millones de reproducciones y dominaba las discusiones en líne weekend.
Many were horrified that a woman would be brutally beaten for simply rejecting sexual harassment by a man. Others criticized the police for not taking any action until the incident went viral.
After widespread outrage, Tangshan police issued a statement on Friday saying they had identified the suspects and “will spare no effort” to arrest them. On Saturday afternoon, authorities announced the arrest of nine men believed to be involved in the attack, including four who fled 600 miles south of Jiangsu Province.
Two women were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and are in stable condition, according to police.
The debate on violence against women is being revived
The attack also reignited the debate about violence against women and gender inequality in China. A country that critics say continues to have a highly patriarchal society with rampant misogyny, despite a growing awareness of gender issues among young women.
“What happened in Tangshan Restaurant was not an isolated social incident, but part of systematic gender-based violence. We need to… realize that we still live in an environment that supports, encourages, and motivates men to engage in violence against women. Women on the basis of gender, Read an article that was widely shared on social media.
In recent years, a series of horrific incidents of violence against women have sparked outrage in the country. Last year, a Tibetan vlogger died after her ex-husband set her on fire while he was broadcasting live to his followers on social media. The man was sentenced to death in October. Earlier this year, a mother of eight was shown on video being chained by the neck to a shed in rural Jiangsu Province. After the authorities repeatedly denied this at first, she finally admitted that she was a victim of human trafficking.
“Of course we must take legal action to punish specific criminals and perpetrators. But if we do not address the systematic oppression of women, and if we do not change social norms that reinforce male chauvinism and encourage violence, our outrage will simply continue to the next incident.”, the article that went viral on Social Media.
The Chinese government seems to be upset with the discussions after the video
However, such discussions do not seem to align with the Chinese government, which has long used harsh measures against the women’s movement in the country, arresting and silencing activists and censoring online discussions. The article, which was posted on WeChat alongside other social media content on gender issues, has been removed from the internet.
China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo said in a statement on Saturday that it had banned 992 accounts for abuse including “intentionally provoking gender confrontation” while discussing the Tangshan attack.
The official Weibo account shared some posts from users it had blocked, which included violent and degrading language towards Chinese women. However, other Weibo censorship posts, which CNN was able to pick up, were from users expressing concern about violence against women and urging people to “keep talking about their opinions”.
At first, some state media reports downplayed the man’s act of sexual harassment, saying he was “trying to open a conversation”. This caused a negative reaction from readers.
Authorities and state media sought to portray the attack as a lonely event, shifting the focus from gender issues to local gang violence. State-run China National Radio reported that five of the suspects had criminal records ranging from offenses of unlawful detention to intentional harm to others. Tangshan authorities on Sunday launched a two-week campaign to crack down on organized crime.
“This will not address violence against women”
Lv Pin, a prominent Chinese feminist activist now living in New York, said that by separating the Tangshan attack from a gender perspective, the government is distancing itself from the responsibility it must bear for not addressing issues of gender inequality and violence in society.
“When we talk about systemic problems, the responsibility should lie with the government. But now, the government is using its heavy hand [contra el crimen organizado] to enhance its legitimacy. She said that this type of campaign-style repression will not address the problem of gender-based violence.
Feng Yuan, the Equality Foundation, a Beijing-based women’s rights group, said that to eliminate systemic gender-based violence, China should start including more content about gender equality in education.
“It’s not just about teaching kids abstract slogans and concepts, but showing how to apply them in real life, such as showing mutual respect,” he said.
Feng added that security forces should also put aside their negativity when it comes to cases of gender-based violence.
“In many cases of domestic violence, the police response was often routine, while a large number of sexual assault cases were easily dismissed due to a lack of sufficient evidence,” he said.
Relatively light penalties
And relatively light penalties for gender-based violence do not deter criminals. After the Tangshan attack, social media users re-shared state media reports of a similar incident in 2020. In eastern Zhejiang Province, a group of men beat a 25-year-old woman to her death. After she refused sexual harassment by a man. The victim was taken to hospital for 15 days, while the men were held for between 10 and 13 days. No other charges were brought.
Tata, an office worker in Chengdu, said the attack on women in Tangshan showed that gender-based violence can happen to anyone.
“Chinese women have always suffered shame for being victims of gender-based violence. But the young women who were abused in Tangshan are ‘ideal’ victims. They did not go out alone and did not wear scanty clothes,” she said, referring to the accusations often leveled against victims of abuse. sexuality in China.
“All they did was try to protect themselves and their friends. But even though they did everything right, they were still subjected to such brutal violence. And that scares so many of us.”