China Arrests Nine Men After Violent Attack on Women Sparks Fury

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(Bloomberg) — China has arrested nine men after video footage of a vicious attack on a group of female diners at a barbecue restaurant sparked outrage and debate on women’s rights on social media.

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The attack took place early Friday in the northern city of Tangshan, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. The suspects were arrested Saturday after a search that spanned two provinces. An official in Tangshan vowed to “severely punish” those involved, the report added.

Security footage of the incident shows a man approaching a table of three female diners and putting his hand on one woman’s back. When she resists his advances, the man attacks her and a friend, and several other men pile in. The woman is later dragged outside by her hair, where the men repeatedly beat and kick her as she lays on the ground.

The graphic video was widely shared online in China over the weekend, with the attack still trending on the Twitter-like Weibo on Monday morning. Many posters were women sharing their experiences with male aggression.

One woman demanded an apology from a man she said harassed her on a beach in late 2021. “Since then, I no longer dare to leave home alone at night,” she wrote, in a post that received more than 1 million likes. Two members of girl band CKG48 shared a video of being forced to accept a drink from a man despite repeated polite refusals. That topic was viewed more than 26 million times.

President Xi Jinping’s government has suppressed the country’s nascent #MeToo movement, viewing it as a vehicle for spreading liberal Western values. Consequently, women who have braved China’s patriarchal culture that often shames victims of sexual assault have in recent years been repeatedly silenced. Tennis star Peng Shuai last year disappeared from public view for weeks after making allegations of mistreatment by a former vice premier.

The state-run China Daily newspaper dismissed the idea the Tangshan attack exposed any problem with women’s rights in China in a commentary on Sunday. “The case is nine males using violence against three females, but it should never be interpreted as any form of sexual antagonism,” the newspaper said.

Xiaowen Liang, a New York-based feminist and lawyer, said that by denying this was gender-based violence, Chinese authorities were trying to avoid addressing a systemic problem in society.

“I think women’s voices in the current Chinese society are one of the strongest and loudest, outspoken voices that are constantly challenging the existing system,” Liang said.

“That’s why the Chinese government is trying everything they can to try to marginalize women’s voices, or dissenting feminist ideas, and trying to stigmatize feminism as a whole.”

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