After a gang of men battered four ladies outside a restaurant this month, a Chinese city was deprived of its honorary “civilised” designation.
The incident in Tangshan, Hebei province’s northernmost city, was captured on closed-circuit television and provoked significant national outrage, reigniting a national debate over sexism and violence against women.
A hashtag relating to the event has been seen hundreds of millions of times on the social media site Weibo. Hundreds of thousands of people commented on the assault footage, many of whom demanded justice.
On Wednesday, the Central Communist Party Committee’s Civilization Office withdrew the city off the nation’s honorary list of “civilised cities.”
According to the office’s official website, “national civilised cities” are chosen based on eight criteria, including excellent social order and a healthy and upward-moving social milieu. Tangshan has received the honour four times since 2011, the most recently in 2020.
The committee’s decision is the latest in a slew of government reactions to the incident and the outpouring of rage it has sparked online. The Hebei provincial security authority initiated a probe into the Tangshan police bureau’s reaction to the event on Tuesday.
On June 10, footage from the barbecue restaurant’s cameras showed a guy hitting and pulling a lady by her hair to the street after she seemed to refuse his approaches. Other males then joined in the attack, assaulting her female friends and left two ladies lying on the side of the road.
Officials claimed this week that two of the ladies are still in critical care, and that nine persons have been detained in connection with the incident.
“The occurrence of gang beating of women in Tangshan is frightening,” commented the governing Communist Party’s People’s Daily on Weibo immediately after the event was made public. “It not only calls into question the law, but also the social order and the public’s feeling of security.”
Since then, state media stories have portrayed the incident as a gang battle and emphasised the need of public security, mainly omitting topics of gender-based violence.
However, the attack has refocused attention on the problem at a time when a burgeoning women’s rights movement is struggling to gain traction under Beijing’s autocratic leadership.
“The increase of women’s rights awareness in China is pretty quick, faster than in a lot of other countries,” Yaqiu Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, told NBC News.
Footage in February of a middle-aged lady tied to the wall of a hut by her neck sparked a countrywide discussion on the protection of women from domestic violence, while a fledgling #MeToo movement has stagnated when a Chinese court decided against a woman in a high-profile case last September.
Despite China’s laws guaranteeing equal rights for women, an imbalance in gender rights exists, according to campaigners, but the Tangshan event demonstrates the movement is still expanding.
“We can tell from this case that many people are dissatisfied,” said Feng Yuan, the executive director of Beijing Equality, a nongovernmental group dedicated to women’s rights and gender equality. “We particularly need to show many individuals, including the court, the media, and the general public, that gender-based violence is gender-based violence, and that gender-based violence should not be considered merely as a general social security event,” she said.
“More women are speaking out for themselves, which gives me hope for the future,” she remarked. “However, our voices must be heard, which is very difficult.”