Stabbing of local officials triggers massive outpouring over women’s rights in China — Deng Yujiao’s case highlights official corruption and violence against women
The legal drama in Hubei province after a young pedicurist stabbed two government officials, killing one, has generated an unprecedented groundswell of sympathy for the arrested woman among netizens and Chinese youth. Deng Yujiao, 21, was arrested after she stabbed the two men with a fruit knife on May 10 in a hotel in Badong, central Hubei province. The two officials had demanded “special services” – a euphemism for sex – and reportedly threw a wad of money at the young woman. Now Deng is the centre of an unprecedented campaign of internet activism demanding leniancy for her and targeting this as a typical example of the arrogance of power-crazed local officials, but also an exposure of the lack of protection of women’s rights in China.
Internet comment on web forums and blogs is usually negative towards corrupt officialdom, but has broken all records in this case. Coinciding as it does with the anniversary – invisible inside China – of the Tiananmen anti-autocracy and anti-corruption protests of 20 years ago, this case is causing a serious headache for the ruling ‘communist’ party. On Wednesday 27 May, Deng Yujiao was released on bail, reflecting official nervousness. Her lawyers say they have proof that Deng acted in self defence in the face of an attempted rape, and accuse the police of trying to conceal evidence, including her torn bra.
According to police, Deng got in a quarrel with one official, Huang Dezhi, when he “mistook” her for a bathhouse attendant and asked her for “cross gender” services. A second official visiting the hotel, Deng Guida, intervened and in the course of the ensuing argument pushed Deng onto a couch twice. Deng Guida, who died of his stab wounds, worked for an office overseeing investment projects in Badong. According to the Southern Metropolis Daily, prostitution was common at the hotel. When Deng Yujiao told the men she was not selling sex, Deng Guida responded: “Aren’t you all the same? You are a prostitute but you still want to have a good reputation.” Hitting her repeatedly with a wad of banknotes, he said: “Don’t you want money? Would you believe if I am going to beat you to death with money today?”
As well as official corruption, the case has highlighted the issue of men’s violence against women and led to an upsurge in women’s rights activism. Comments on an internet forum run by the People’s Daily newspaper, for example, call the stabbing a “heroic act” and a milestone for women’s liberation. May 10, the date of the attack, “will forever be remembered as the day on which a [girl] bravely defended herself and fought against the corrupt official when her life was threatened,” said one contributor.
Women’s rights activists, mostly students, have staged small but well-publicised demonstrations in support of Deng Yujiao in Beijing, but have also travelled to Badong to show their support. In one such protest action, a young woman wrapped in white cloth and wearing a face mask, lay on the floor next to sheets of paper that read “Anyone may become Deng Yujiao.” Alarmed at this trend, the regime’s propaganda department instructed media groups to stop covering the case, and for provincial newspapers – some with a tradition of greater openness – to recall their correspondents from Hubei.
The Deng Yujiao case underlines the seething discontent that exists in China as the gap between rich and poor, the second widest in Asia, continues to grow. Women are among those, along with migrants, factory workers, farmers and national minorities, who have lost most from the government’s pro-rich policies. Rural women face the reassertion of feudal family structures and, for example, in many localities are not allowed to lease farmland, only men can do this. Women make up the vast majority of the migrant workforce in the manufacturing and service sectors (the exception is construction and mining which are male-dominated), which places them at the bottom of China’s social ladder: the worst pay and working hours, and almost no job protection. The one-child policy also disadvantages women as the punitive measures imposed to enforce this policy are almost always directed against women, with involuntary abortion and sterilisation among the consequences. Women are the clear majority among the nearly 2 million attempted suicides every year in China. There is a crying need for a new fighting women’s movement in China, independent of the state and ruling Communist Party.
The case shows the widespread hatred of the abuses committed by the rich and powerful. Students in Hangzhou took the streets in early May after the son of a wealthy businessman killed a student due to reckless driving, but escaped immediate prosecution. Xinhua News Agency reported that the driver’s family have since agreed to pay 1.1 million yuan ($165,000) to the victim’s family. But it also shows the political vacuum that exists in China in the absence of any formal or organised opposition to the one-party state. One of the themes in the net debate of recent days is an idealisation of the individual ‘heroine’ who avenges the injustices suffered by the multimillion-strong masses. This is a trend we have seen before, in the outpouring of sympathy last year for Yang Jia, for example, the Beijing youth who was executed for killing six policemen in Shanghai. There is more than a germ of the idea of what Marxists call ‘individual terrorism’ in these moods, which are a product of the frustration of the masses over their seeming powerlessness in the face of the ruling party’s money-grabbing machine. The longer the masses are deprived of organisations of struggle – real trade unions, women’s struggle organisations, political parties that stand on the workers’ side – the more such moods can develop. This is not something that can advance the struggle against dictatorship and injustice.
Socialists solidarise with the outpouring of sympathy and support for Deng Yujiao. From the reports that have so far emerged it seems she was the victim of a horrific attack. Self defence is not a crime, and her actions have been instantly comprehensible to millions of other victims of official abuse. To end the system of bureaucratic terror however a mass movement is needed: open and democratic organisations based on the oppressed layers of workers like Deng Yujiao. By welding together a mass force with a programme to abolish all inequality, sexism and discrimination, in other words a programme for genuine socialism, the working class can insure such injustices are ended once and for all.