The 2013 Chinese Sexual Abuse Cases

Many incidents of sexual abuse against young girls were reported in China in 2013, causing widespread public concern. At the beginning of May the case of a headmaster and an official who had intercourse with elementary school girls in Wanning, Hainan sparked an outburst of indignation from the internet community. On May 27th, the AIDS and sex workers’ rights activist, Ms. Ye Haiyan, protested in front of the school. After pictures of her protest were posted on Weibo, more and more internet users followed her example to support the sexually abused girls. On the photos, you could not only see the telephone numbers of the Women’s Federation [妇联] and the police, but also creative slogans such as “headmaster, have intercourse with me.”

On May 30th, following the controversial arrest of Ms. Ye, Sun Yatsen University professor Ai Shaoming protested naked, leading to even more internet attention. The frequent cases of sexual abuse against young girls have revealed the current lack of sex education in families and schools, the lack of work being done in this area by relevant government departments and public organizations, as well as the absence of sufficient legal deterrence.

In Chinese society where sex is still secretive in nature, many parents themselves have not received proper sex education. Their knowledge of sex is lacking and not only are their explanations un-informed, they are also ashamed of broaching the topic of sex when talking to their children. As people from the countryside move to the cities for work, millions of “left behind children” receive neither basic warnings to guard against sexual predators nor any education concerning sexual hygiene. Furthermore, sex education in China’s schools often does not fulfill its function, and is completely non-existent in many rural schools. In this blank field the Women’s Federation, local governments, and the Public Security Bureau are not very active and relevant civil society organizations are completely absent. Most children’s rights’ NGOs tend to focus on educational equality and nourishment. China urgently needs to develop sexual abuse education for children.

In addition, the lack of deterrence at the legal and institutional levels is also a significant reason for the frequent sexual assaults on young girls. In the photos of Prof. Ai’s naked protest, besides her breasts, one can also see a pair of scissors. She says, “These scissors represent how our system to protect children should be. They are sharp to punish the attackers. The system should contribute to create a new social culture which has no tolerance at all for rape, sexual harassment, and sexual abuse. It should also give clear information to children and make sure that girls know how to handle offenders.” Looking back at the controversies about sexual assaults on young girls, one should consider the 1997 revision of the “crime of intercourse with young girls”.

Even though the goal was to crack down on sexual offences against young girls (it defined the minimum penalty for this crime to be two years higher than the penalty for rape), the maximum penalty was only 15 years imprisonment, whereas for rape it was the death penalty. Furthermore the criminal code defines rape as “a violation of a citizen’s rights to bodily integrity and therefore a civil crime,” whereas the “crime of intercourse with young girls” is categorized as a violation of public order. This means that the persecution of this crime is mainly for the protection of public order, and not for the protection of the abused. This severely infringes upon the rights of these young girls.

In addition to these objective factors, another important reason lies in the fact that in this absurd society the female body is put on the same level as power, capital, and class and pursued in the same way. This kind of judgement also sparked debate after the protests of Ms. Ye and Ms. Ai. The “Southern Window” [南风窗] commented on the abuse case stating, “For the offenders, who don’t have sufficient power, money or other resources, these sexual assaults against young girls is a logical means of revenge and psychological compensation for the weakness of having lost the competition for these resources1 .”

As Simone de Beauvoir wrote; the female gender is not innate, but rather shaped. In societies in which men possess the wealth, power, opportunities and other resources, women are just the object of male desire and men are the judges of whether a female body is seen as beautiful or ugly, valuable or cheap. Young virgins are considered the most valuable. Older female bodies that have already given birth are ‘devalued’ bodies. Bodies which have been used in the commercial sex trade are believed to have even less value. According to this logic, low grade bodies should not appear in public places. This was reflected in the words of the economist Xue Zhaofeng in his blog post concerning Ms. Ai’s protest, “Posting pictures of old womens’ naked breasts online is polluting the aesthetic sense of internet users.”

According to this classification system, sex workers are of a lower grade and the people that are protecting their rights are being attacked as well. Ms. Ye boldly moved forward and had to face anonymous insults. After spending thirteen days in prison she was still accused of corrupting public morals and seeking fame, only because she was challenging the intrinsic hierarchical order of gender. In the words of Ms. Ai, in a system that classifies female bodies, even a well known university professor such as herself is only seen as an “old and feeble” woman. That showing her body, which has been shaped by the births of her three children, in public would challenge the male elite is nothing new; that this would cause an attack by the traditional values advocates is no surprise at all.

Meanwhile, within this classification system, the bodies of young, naive elementary school girls are seen as ‘rare goods’. This is supported by many traditional concepts such as the pursuit of virgins and the superstitious belief in “picking Yin to complete Yang”. Therefore no matter whether they are powerful officials and bosses or low class men squeezed by the sex ratio, abusers of young girls and rapists can see their as an expression of their absolute power.

The rape of young girls cannot therefore be attributed solely to the education and legal systems and a loss of moral and ethical control, but also to other interconnected factors such as gender, class, wealth, power and culture. Innocent young girls have thus become the final victims of the intertwined contradictions in gender and society. In order to defend against sex crimes and to protect minors, the government and NGOs have to increase their efforts in school sex education, family education and the support of “left behind children”. Furthermore they have to make efforts to change the intersection of gender and power. To challenge these authorities that consider themselves omnipotent depends primarily on the future actions of grass roots activists.


  1. ‘Who will protect weak young girls? ‘ http://focus.news.163.com/12/1112/10/8G3SVU2O00011SM9.html 

In Brief

CDB Deputy Editor Guo Ting discusses the sexual abuse cases that were uncovered in China in 2013 and the campaigning efforts of activists.
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