As in India, here too, a gang rape is making news. Here, four of the five accused are juveniles. The difference is that these boys aren’t poor and illiterate. The 17-year-old at the centre of the storm is an achiever, part of the China Youth Hockey team, excelling at English and Maths, the son of army parents. His 74-year-old father is dean of the army academy’s music department, enjoying the rank of major-general, famous for his patriotic songs. His mother, the major-general’s second and much younger wife, is also a singer in the army. The boy himself has sometimes taken the stage with his famous parents.
But Li Tianyi is famous in his own right. Two years back, he and a friend bashed up a couple whose car slowed down in front of them. As a crowd gathered, Li shouted: “Who dares call the police?” Someone did; and Li was sent to a correctional home for a year. His father visited the injured couple in hospital and apologized on his son’s behalf. The latest escapade, coming just five months after his son’s release from the correctional home, proved too much and the major-general is now in hospital.
But his wife is managing fine on her own. Determined to bail out her son, she has already driven away two defence lawyers, reportedly because she wanted them to argue that he wasn’t involved in the incident. Now, her defence has taken a new turn, one familiar to Indians. It wasn’t her son’s fault, she says, it was the girl’s.
Official reports say that Li and four friends raped a drunk 23-year-old they met in a bar, after taking her to a hotel. Li’s mother alleges that the girl was a hostess sent by the bar-manager, against whom she has filed a complaint of pimping and extortion. The manager has threatened to sue; while the girl’s lawyer has denied that she was a hostess. The girl is under psychiatric treatment in hospital, after she passed out last week while discussing the case with her lawyer.
Unofficial reports say the girl, a secretary in an ad agency, worked in the evenings as a hostess. She was sent with another hostess when Li and his friends asked for girls in their private room in the bar. The other girl left early. When the boys wanted to take this girl out, she refused, agreeing only to go for a bite with the manager accompanying them.
A brawl broke out at dinner, and they left, with the manager telling Li to drop the girl home. Instead, the boys took her to a hotel, raped her, put 2,000 yuan in her purse and left her on the road. Li is reported to have slapped her for not cooperating.
Last week, at the two-day trial closed to media because most of the accused were juveniles, only Li pleaded not guilty, saying he had passed out before he could have sex with the girl.
When she questioned her son, says Li’s mother, he dismissed her fears with the explanation: “We were just having fun, and we had paid money.” Blaming the “social environment” for “trapping innocent children”, the mother points out that “Even judges make mistakes”, referring to two Shanghai judges being caught on film last month with prostitutes in a hotel room. Her son, maintains the mother, is “honest, gallant and pure”.
Not surprisingly, everyone is furious at mother and son, but for one unlikely ally. A law professor at the prestigious Tsinghua university declared: “Raping a bar-girl is less harmful than raping a gentlewoman,” going on to explain, “A bar-girl is more likely to agree to a sexual act.”
Will Li Tianyi get the maximum punishment as a juvenile? Is he one? Two classmates have surfaced with a school photograph, claiming he isn’t. The plot gets thicker.