The assault in Tangshan, in the northern Hebei province, was caught on closed-circuit TV and sparked widespread condemnation, renewing a national discussion about misogyny and violence against women.
A hashtag on the social media site Weibo referring to the incident has been viewed hundreds of millions of times. Hundreds of thousands of people commented after videos of the attack were posted online, many calling for justice.
And on Wednesday the Civilization Office of the Central Communist Party Committee removed the city from the nation’s honorary list of “civilized cities.”
“National civilized cities” are selected on eight criteria including good social order and a healthy and upward-moving social atmosphere, according to the office’s official website. Tangshan has been awarded the status four times since 2011, most recently in 2020.
The committee’s decision is the latest in a series of official responses to the attack and to the waves of anger it has provoked online. The Hebei provincial security authority on Tuesday launched a disciplinary review and investigation into the Tangshan police bureau’s response to the incident.
Footage from the barbecue restaurant’s cameras on June 10 showed a man slapping and dragging a woman to the street by her hair after she appeared to reject his advances. Other men then joined in, assaulting her female companions and leaving two women sprawled on the side of the street.
Two of the women remain hospitalized in intensive care, officials said this week, while authorities said they had arrested nine people in relation to the attack.
“The incident of group beating of women in Tangshan is shocking,” the ruling Communist Party publication People’s Daily wrote on Weibo shortly after the incident was publicized. “It not only challenges the law, but also challenges the social order and the public’s sense of security.”
State media reports have since framed the attack in terms of a gang war and focused on the need for public security, largely avoiding discussions of gender-based violence.
But the assault has renewed focus on the issue as a fledgling women’s rights movement is struggling to take root under Beijing’s authoritarian regime.
“The rise of women’s rights consciousness in China is quite rapid, faster than a lot of other countries, so I think the feeling of threat from men is especially acute,” Yaqiu Wang, a senior China researcher at Human Rights Watch, told NBC News .
Footage of a middle-aged woman chained to the wall of a shack by her neck in rural China in February ignited a nationwide debate on the protection of women against domestic abuse, while a nascent #MeToo wave has stalled after a Chinese court ruled against a woman in a high-profile case last September.
An imbalance in gender rights persists despite China’s laws guaranteeing the equal rights of women, but the Tangshan incident shows the movement is still growing, activists say.
“We see from this case that many people are not satisfied,” said Feng Yuan, the head of Beijing Equality, a women’s rights and gender equality nongovernment organization. ”We especially need to let many people, including the judiciary, the media and the public see that gender-based violence is gender-based violence, and that gender-based violence should not be simply regarded as a general social security incident,” she added.
“More women utter their own voices, which makes me feel optimistic about the changes,” she said. “But our voices need to be heard, which is very hard.”
Janis Mackey Frayer contributed.