Police in the northern Chinese city of Tangshan have announced a citywide crackdown on violent crime after a viral video of thugs beating up a woman at a barbecue restaurant sparked massive public outrage.
Nine people were arrested in connection with the incident. Tangshan mayor Tian Guoliang said the city would “strike hard” against organized crime and improve public order after several of the woman’s assailants were found to have ties to a Jiangsu-based criminal gang, the Tian ‘an Society, according to state broadcaster CCTV.
The anti-crime campaign received widespread public support on social media, where the video has sparked outrage, prompting women to voice concerns about traveling or eating alone.
It will target criminal activities that “spur strong emotion from the public and have an adverse influence on society, including intentional injury, extortion, drug abuse and cybercrimes,” the English-language China Daily newspaper reported.
The video — which shows women initially fighting back after being approached and harassed by an unidentified man — has been traced to the early hours of June 10, at a restaurant in Tangshan’s Lubei district.
Much of the outrage focused on the fact that nobody watching intervened to stop the subsequent, vicious beating of the women who fended off the initial assault, who was left severely injured as the attackers ran off.
Four women were injured in the incident, two of whom were hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, police told state media.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP)’s disciplinary arm called for the “root causes” of the crime to be investigated and dealt with.
“We must stick to a zero tolerance policy for all kinds of illegal and criminal activities … and build a comprehensive and three-dimensional prevention and control system,” the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said.
“Don’t wait for problems to emerge before you pay attention to them.”
Hebei resident Zheng Cheng said the barbecue restaurant incident was just the tip of the iceberg, in a city plagued by gang violence.
“They have their own independent source of funding, and there are [powerful] people behind them,” Zheng told RFA. “These attackers are very arrogant, and act as tyrants in the local area.”
Further reports of violence against women have emerged in Tangshan since the beating video.
Pictures posted by medical staff from a Tangshan hospital showed a young woman’s injuries after she was kidnapped outside the high-speed railway station, raped and stabbed, eventually crawling two kilometers before being rescued.
A nightclub singer surnamed Zhang also reported being kidnapped by a Tangshan gang who held her for ransom, locking her in a dog cage.
Six people have been arrested in connection with her case, and with that of a cake shop owner who reported extortion, Tangshan police department said on Monday.
A current affairs commentator surnamed Cai said online discussion of the case was relatively free, even on China’s tightly controlled internet.
“The reason they have gone easy on online [reports and comments] is that there was no official involvement here,” Cai said. “That’s hugely important. If officials had played any kind of a role here, they would have shut down discussion.”
“They are now deflecting the blame onto criminal gangs, to take the heat off the government,” he said.
Xue Li, a Generation Z woman, said she has been left sad and angry after reading constant updates on the Tangshan incident on her phone all weekend.
“I just felt so angry at the time, and so disappointed, for the same reason as everyone else, which was why was nobody helping?” she said.
“How is it that men can just get away with beating up women like that?”
Another young woman who asked to be identified as S said she had felt panicky after seeing the video.
“I couldn’t breathe,” S said. “I couldn’t believe that something like this could happen in 2022.”
A Taiyuan resident who gave only the nickname Ellie said many women are well aware that the Tangshan incident was just the tip of the iceberg.
“What makes me feel even more helpless is that this is just one of countless cases of violence against women, and if the authorities hadn’t decided to go in hot [due to the online outcry], they wouldn’t have arrested them so soon,” she said.
‘Powerless in the face of absolute violence’
Another woman who gave the nickname Shirley said telling women to be more careful wasn’t the right response.
“I don’t know why, but every time this kind of incident happens, somebody comes out and says that women should take steps to protect themselves,” she said. “I used to agree with that, but after watching this incident, I wonder if women can actually protect themselves,” she said.
“Even if I stop wearing [certain clothes] or going to out-of-the-way places … I’m still powerless in the face of absolute violence,” Shirley said.
The Tangshan beating was just the latest case of violence against women to rock China in recent months,
In February, harrowing video footage of a woman identified as Xiaohuamei chained by the neck in an outbuilding went viral on the Chinese internet, prompting widespread public anger over the rampant trafficking of women and girls, aided and abetted by local ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials.
An investigation by Jiangsu provincial authorities said Yang was a missing woman known by the nickname Xiaohuamei who was trafficked out of the southwestern province of Yunnan in 1997 and sold twice by human traffickers in Feng county. Nine people have been arrested for crimes linked to her trafficking, including her “husband,” who was identified by his surname, Dong.
However, doubts remain about Yang’s actual identity.
“Both the Tangshan incident and the case of the chained woman a few months ago, taken together, have contributed to a general concern among Chinese women that there are no guarantees for their personal safety,” Human Rights Watch senior researcher Maya Wang told RFA.
According to the government-backed news website The Paper, found a number of court cases in which men stood trial for beating women who spurned their advances.
A man surnamed Gu was placed under 13 days’ administrative detention Anhui’s Fuyang city after beating a woman who wouldn’t talk to him at a soymilk shop in April 2019, while a man surnamed Zhang was ordered by a court in Baoqing county, Heilongjiang to pay 17,000 yuan in compensation after he beat her up for not talking to him.
In southwestern Guizhou province, a man surnamed Zhu was ordered to pay more than 21,000 yuan in compensation to a woman he beat up after she spurned his drunken approaches, leaving her in hospital for a month recovering from serious injuries.
“The decline of women’s rights is closely related to the decline of human rights,” Wang said. “During the past few years since Xi Jinping came to power, under the framework of this so-called superpower mentality, an important pillar of which is the worship of male power, women are being pushed into more traditional, Confucian roles, encouraged to have more children and return to the domestic life.”
Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.