Three Women Attacked in Northern China

On June 10, 2022, three women in Tangshan, China, were violently attacked after one of them turned down a man’s advances. This interaction was recorded on security camera footage and soon posted to the internet, causing a response from a passionate coalition of women’s rights activists from around the globe. These women are advocating for the equal treatment of women in China and a renewal of the Me-Too Movement, which specifically addresses the culture of sexual harassment and sexual violence against women in contemporary society. While nine men involved in the attack were arrested for their crimes, the impact of this attack spreads far beyond those directly involved and is highly representative of the attempts to secure equal rights for women in China. 

The video of the incident depicts a man walking into a barbeque restaurant in Tangshan and putting his hand on the back of one of the three women, who then shakes him off. After facing rejection, he slaps her across the face and starts hitting her further. When the three women attempt to defend themselves, male bystanders join in, throwing them to the floor and hitting them with beer bottles and chairs, kicking them in the stomachs, and dragging the first woman out by her hair while shouting to beat her to death by stomping on her head, leaving her bleeding on the sidewalk outside of the restaurant. 

While young women in China are becoming aware of the necessity to advocate for the protection of their rights, it is widely understood that China remains a patriarchal society. The desire of young women to have their rights recognized was followed by the advancement of women’s rights in China in January earlier this year. As Vivian Wang of the New York Times reported, the government of the People’s Republic of China announced that they were going to legally redefine sexual harassment to protect women’s rights. While this had been labeled as a victory for the women’s rights and Me-Too movements in China, activists were skeptical and believed that it would unfortunately not lead to real change in Chinese society. This was reflected in the contradictory nature of the Chinese Communist-Party (CCP) sponsored press, who reported on the benefits of the law while still condemning women’s rights movements, specifically the Me-Too Movement.

The Me-Too Movement took off in China in 2018 and has sporadically gained traction over the years since in response to highly notable instances of domestic abuse and sexual violence. One of these instances includes the disappearance and reappearance of Peng Shuai, an athlete in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics who had accused the Chinese Vice Premier, a CCP official, of sexual assault in a public post on social media. This incident sparked outrage across China and led to a global reaction, with many progressive and notable powers, including the United Kingdom and the United States, choosing to diplomatically boycott China as a result. The handling of the situation was also condemned by international organizations, including the Women’s Tennis Association and the United Nations. Despite recurring surges of support for the Me-Too movement in China, it has been primarily suppressed through censorship, disinformation campaigns, and legal persecution by the CCP, which condemns the organization of grassroots groups. The Global Times, a CCP-owned news source, dismissed the Me-Too Movement in China as having been planted by Western media attempting to bring down the rule of law in China, specifically having been sponsored by the United States. 

The widespread outrage at the violence against women in Tangshan, China, forced the hand of Chinese officials, compelling them to take action and arrest the nine men involved, two of which had fled. However, many activists in China point to the number of cases in which women are sexually abused and suffer extensive violence without their perpetrators facing repercussions. The Foreign Policy publication has reported that while Chinese officials originally engaged in this issue, new censorship methods have been imposed to repress grassroots discussion. Additionally, many conversations have been initiated online that assign blame to gang violence, which, although relevant, distracts from the shortcomings of Chinese society and government in protecting women as well as the overwhelming damaging implications of a strong patriarchal society in China. 

The horrific attack on the three women in Tangshan is representative of a wider need to hold perpetrators of sexual abuse and violence against women accountable as well as to generate support for the women’s rights and Me Too movements in China. Ultimately, the perpetual violence against women and the lack of support from Chinese governing forces is an atrocious attack on the fundamental rights of women. Encouragement of the flourishing women’s movements is vital to put pressure on the CCP to protect women from horrific attacks such as these.

Britt Gronmeyer