Reports of a local official in Jiangxi province detained on suspicion of raping a 12-year-old girl while her parents were in quarantine have touched off public anger and a chorus of demands for greater accountability and transparency about the case. There has been little coverage of the case by Chinese media, and the official statement from police offered scant details, raising as many questions as it answered.
Earlier this week, numerous social media posts alleged that the party chief of Tianlu, a small town near the cities of Guixi and Yingtan in Jiangxi Province, had raped a young girl while her parents were being held in a fangcang, or makeshift quarantine hospital. Furthermore, when the parents received the news about their daughter, they were reportedly prevented from leaving the facility. A public notice from local police later confirmed that a 52-year-old man surnamed Liu had been placed under criminal detention for the assault, and that an arrest warrant was imminent. The notice also stated that the parents had not been placed in a fangcang, but it did not specify their whereabouts, or the age of the victim. Just days before the rape allegation, the Yingtan People’s Congress published a post praising Liu for his skillful handling of the pandemic. The post has since been deleted.
The crime allegedly took place on Saturday, September 10, the day of the Mid-Autumn festival traditionally marked by family gatherings, according to 陆火Media (Weixin ID: LuhuoNews), one of the first blogs to break the story. The now-deleted WeChat post has been archived by CDT Chinese. Later reporting by Caixin, one of the few news outlets in mainland China to cover the story, confirmed the date of the crime, the age of the victim, and the identity of the accused. Caixin’s Cui Xiankang, Shi Jiaxiang, and Wang Xintong reported on the details of the case, including reactions from local authorities and social media users:
Some angry social media users blamed the incident on Covid control measures, saying such a tragedy would not have happened if the girl’s parents had been home.
In the Tuesday statement, Guixi police denied online accusations that the rape occurred when the girl’s parents were in a makeshift Covid-19 quarantine facility, after such allegations reignited anger over Covid control measures.
Vowing to strictly punish any violations against women and children, the authorities said the victim’s parents had never been in a Fangcang hospital. They urged residents not to believe or spread rumors, or fabricate or disseminate information involving the girl’s privacy, so as to avoid “secondary harm to the victim,” according to the statement.
[…] The police statement didn’t provide any further details about the rape, but Caixin has learned that the suspect’s full name is Liu Liangzong. He serves as party chief of Liuqiao village and as a representative of Guixi’s people’s congress, the city’s top legislature. [Source]
Many angry netizens blamed the tragedy on draconian COVID-19 measures, and faulted local police for leaving important questions unanswered. WeChat blogger 桃花潭李白 (ID: IRIS-UKIYOE) pointed out that the police statement was short on facts and long on verbal sophistry:
The official statement issued by the municipal police department refuted rumors without setting forth the facts. It skillfully skirted all the issues that people actually care about.
Is the rape victim an underaged girl?
Were her parents under quarantine at the time of her rape?
By putting so much emphasis on saying that the parents were never in an actual “fangcang,” the statement is simply playing word games with us ordinary folks. [Chinese]
Others lamented how widespread censorship has rendered mainland Chinese news media incapable of holding the authorities accountable. Former journalist Xiang Dongliang discussed this issue on his WeChat blog 基本常识 (GetCommonSense):
Were it not for the fact-checking and outspokenness of bloggers and citizen journalists, this tragedy would likely never have been made public, nor would the police have issued any statements.
How do I know? Because one of the bloggers (who broke the news) is someone I know. He is a journalist working for a well-known newspaper. Upon hearing about the case, he conducted interviews and confirmed facts according to best journalistic practice, and asked his publication to run the story, only to be rejected. Having no other choice, he elected to publish his findings on a blog.
I am putting this information out only after validating it with two independent sources. [Chinese]
China has seen a series of high-profile cases involving gender-based violence this year. In June, a group of men brutally attacked four young women in a restaurant in Tangshan, Hebei, after one woman rejected advances by one of the men. Nine suspects were subsequently arrested and are awaiting trial. In February, a viral video of a woman shackled and chained inside a freezing shed in rural Jiangsu sent shockwaves through social media. After weeks of public outcry, official reports finally identified the woman as “Xiaohuamei,” and admitted she was a victim of human trafficking. The Xiaohuamei case spurred some activists to push for accountability via offline actions, a rare step in recent years, and at least two activists were detained in retaliation for their efforts.
In all of these cases, netizens have chafed at the stifling censorship that has effectively silenced most media outlets, leaving rumors and citizen journalism competing to fill the information vacuum. This week, while steering clear of the Guixi case, many official media outlets instead focused on condemning Li Yifeng, a well-known actor who was recently detained by police for hiring sex workers. Online commenters and bloggers have expressed frustration that important stories involving vulnerable or powerless individuals are all too often drowned out by content such as light entertainment news, celebrity scandals, or censor-approved “positive energy” stories. WeChat blogger “lingu1212” compared the media silence about the Guixi rape case with the flood of coverage about two recent prostitution scandals:
The reports [of the Guixi case] failed to grab the internet’s attention. In 48 hours, actor Li Yifeng’s prostitution scandal would become the most talked-about news across different platforms.
[…] Hundreds of news outlets jumped at Li Yundi’s and Li Yifeng’s prostitution scandals as “melon eaters,” but I have to yet to see any state media comment on the party chief’s crime. [Chinese]
Weibo user @霍岛主 bemoaned the wealth of more important content being crowded out of their social media feeds:
I do not wish to read about Li Yifeng. I do not wish to read about any celebrities. At any given moment, there are things happening that are much more important than celebrity gossip. But it seems like I don’t have much of a choice. Being forced to see stuff about Li Yifeng pushed to my social media feeds means I’m being forced to not see other important stuff. [Chinese]