An incident in Tangshan in China has stoked fresh discussion in the communist country about unchecked violence against women. On June 10, 2022, Gangsters entered a restaurant, sought sexual favours from women diners and tried to molest them. The criminals severely beat the women when they resisted. They broke furniture and beer bottles on the heads of women and dragged them by the hair on the road. Other diners in the restaurant and the bystanders on the road did nothing to help the victims. In this surveillance state where every individual is tracked continuously, the police took a long time to respond and to arrest the culprits.
Communism has always made tall claims about the rights of women. In November, 2018, Lenin had said, “One of the primary tasks of the Soviet Republic is to abolish all restrictions on women’s rights.” Then, in March, 1921 he boasted, “Over here, in Soviet Russia, no trace is left of any inequality between men and women under the law.” Yet, that legal equality was nowhere visible in Soviet society even 50 years later. In a research paper “Women’s Role in the Soviet Union: Ideology and Reality” published in July, 1971 in the Russian Review, Alice Schuster described how women were overwhelmingly confined to the lowest echelons of physical labour and excluded from the higher rungs. She wrote, “more than 90 per cent of swineherds, poultry workers and milking personnel are women while only 20 per cent of women are engaged in some kind of administrative agricultural work.” It further said that female specialists in all fields are concentrated in the lower and middle echelons. While 20 per cent of Communist Party members were female, the higher reaches of the Communist Party had “remained under exclusively male control”.
No woman has ever headed a Warsaw pact Communist country or any other country like Vietnam, Laos, Cuba or Nicaragua when run by that totalitarian ideology. Even in India, where the Communists ruled West Bengal and Kerala for decades, the party did not consider any woman fit enough to head the government. A woman never headed the Naxalites or the underground Maoists In India and Nepal. All these examples without an exception show that the absence of women leaders is not incidental but is a part of the practice of Communist ideology, the pious pronouncements like that of Lenin quoted above notwithstanding. How then, can China be an exception? From the very founding of the CCP in 1921, till today, the party has been never led by a woman. For a short while, Mao’s widow Jiang Qing displayed the ambition of donning the forbidden crown; she was promptly arrested and sentenced to death, which was later commuted to life in prison. Xi Jinping’s wife Peng Liyuan has been adorned with the jewellery of various administrative titles including the rank of Major General in the PLA but woe betide her or any Chinese woman who shows the slightest ambition of leading the party or the nation. Compare this with the strong women leaders who rose in democracies; Indira Gandhi, Bandaranaike, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel – just to name some.
Coming back to the brutal attack on women in a restaurant in Tangshan that happened in full view of multiple surveillance cameras, the focus of the Chinese state was not on apprehending the criminals or giving succour to the victims. The state perceived the incident as a threat to the social order established by the party rule. The mouthpiece of the party, China Daily, declared immediately, “The case is nine males using violence against three females, but it should never be interpreted as any form of sexual antagonism.” Two of the women were so seriously hurt that they were placed in the ICU. Rumours were circulating that they were dead. The state denied these rumours but did not issue any update on their health beyond saying that they were alive. The families of the victims have not been able to issue any statement about the incident or their condition. China Daily said that anybody, male or female, could be a victim of gang violence. Another party paper, Beijing Youth Daily, described the incident of nine gangsters beating three women to pulp as “fair fight”.
As the incident was attracting too much criticism of the police on the social media, Weibo, the dominant microblogging website in China, went into overdrive and deleted 15000 posts, suspended more than 8000 accounts and closed more than 1000 accounts for “inciting gender opposition”. There is nothing new in this approach. The Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai accused the former deputy prime minister of repeatedly raping her. She disappeared for three weeks and then reappeared on TV to deny her own allegations. The Famous Five, a group of five women who had planned to distribute leaflets against sexual harassment on International Women’s Day in 2015, were arrested a day before the event. There was international hue and cry and they were released 37 days later. Mao had said, “Women hold up half the sky”. Yet, under Communist Party rule, the pronouncements of Lenin or Mao are meant as mere propaganda. Any online use of terms like “feminism” or “Me Too” meets with an immediate response from censors. Feminists have seen their social media accounts suspended for publishing what authorities called “harmful or illegal information”.
How can gangsters thrive in a totalitarian surveillance state like China? It is because the focus is not on crime prevention; it is on activities that are deemed to be anti-party or subversion of the party rule. Very little budget is assigned to crime prevention, investigation and prosecution. Those who fall foul of the state for any reason disappear and reappear after some time on the TV confessing their crimes. The gangs are useful as instruments of party control and for protecting illegal activities of the party elites and the tycoons favoured by the party, all of them being incredibly rich. After the Tangshan incident, there was a tacit admission of collusion of the local law enforcement with the gangs when it was announced that the local police will not investigate the crime and the matter has been handed over to the police in neighbouring Langfang.
Patriarchy still reigns supreme in China with domestic violence rampant even against educated, professional women. The rights of women and the handling of complaints of marital and sexual offences is the responsibility of an organ of the Communist Party, the All-China Women’s Federation. In cases of marital violence, it counsels the victim to work for strengthening the family and advised one woman in her quest for divorce that “Demolishing ten temples is better than destroying one marriage”. In cases of sexual offences at the work place, the party unit at the office counsels the victim to forgive and forget in the interest of “social harmony”. If she persists, she may lose her job and meet the fate of Peng Shuai. Every society suffers from crime against women and there are rogue elements in every state apparatus. Yet, China alone stands out as a country where suppression of reporting of such crimes and victimising of the victims is widely practiced as a state policy.