On October 1, National Day in China, the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Chinese President Xi Jinping celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the United Nations. In particular, he wished to attend the UN Women ceremony via video.
It was also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Women’s Conference held in Beijing from September 4 to 15, 1995, and President Xi confirmed his contribution of $10 million to the cause of women, noting that “Equality between men and women is the basis of China’s national policy.”
However, these days, a case of domestic violence is riling up public opinion in China: Lamu, a peasant girl from the Tibetan Aba ethnic minority living in a village in the southwestern province of Sichuan, on the border with Tibet, died after being set on fire by her husband. On Douyin, the Chinese Tik Tok, Lamu had thousands of followers. “Lamu was not a star, she was a working woman,” says one of the online commentators. She was a young country girl who, although she had her problems, lived in peace in her village. She had opened an account on Douyin, but not for money—she had no more than 1000 RMB, about €100—but to look for solidarity and get out of the isolation of the village.
After her marriage at the age of 19, her husband, someone she had known since childhood, had become violent and she had managed to divorce him after the birth of their two children. Faced with threats from him that he would take the children away, Lamu gave in and remarried him. The death of her mother, her only defense against her husband, was also a part of what forced her to become the wife of this violent man once again.
Lamu continued to post videos of herself, joyful and smiling, on Tik Tok, while she collected vegetables and herbs from the mountains in her tracksuit or prepared food over a wood fire, inside the tent where she drank the tsampa, the salty drink made of barley and yak butter typical of Tibetan shepherds, or danced in traditional clothes for her followers.
Her pickings, her recipes, her dances were recorded without make-up and without filters, and this, in the world of social media, where nobody wants to show how things really look, attracted the interest of many.
On September 14, when during a live broadcast, the husband she had left and then remarried attacked her, dowsed her with gasoline and set her on fire, thousands of fans were watching. The screen went dark and all one could hear were the screams and noises of a tragedy in progress. Through crowdfunding, the family collected thousands of euros to pay for hospital treatment. But every treatment turned out to be of no avail.
Her death has provoked a wide-ranging reflection and touched on the delicate issue of family violence. Her fans are asking themselves: how will the law behave towards this husband? Will the husband be sentenced to death? During the last year, many voices have been raised against family violence in Chinese society. They want domestic violence to be considered a punishable crime, in the same way as violence outside the home. “No to family violence! Violence in the home is violence and nothing else,” one can read many times among the comments.
Domestic violence in China is not regulated by law, and women who are attacked by their spouses are not protected: if a husband abuses or kills his wife, this is treated as a “family matter,” a private offence, and not a crime in its own right.
Many times, when women who are victims of violence don’t report it, they are pressured by their family to keep quiet; but even when they report, it is too often the case that the persecutors are not punished. A commenter on Weibo wrote: “If someone in the village had protected her, if she had found a law, a state, that was ready to defend her from this violence, Lamu would still be here. Her only hope would have been to leave the village, leave with her children.”
This is true, because for many country women who are victims of violence, the only hope is to leave everything behind and become anonymous in any city in China, where one works like a slave for little money and where the wind of the Sichuan hills, with the smell of its herbs, remains nothing but a vague memory.
While people are posting comments such as “The dark places of society are problems of the law; we need to speak strongly about domestic violence,” Xi Jinping, who said he wanted to “take care of women living in poverty, elderly women, disabled women and groups with frailty” and also to “eliminate discrimination, prejudice and violence against women, so that gender equality can truly become a code of conduct and a standard of common values for the whole of society,” now has a real opportunity to demonstrate the sincerity of his commitment.
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