Li Tianyi, the 17-year-old son of a Chinese general, denied gang-rape charges yesterday as his trial got underway. Along with four others, Li has been accused of assaulting a woman in a Beijing hotel this February. His father, Li Shuangjiang, is a general in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and well known as a singer of patriotic songs on television and at official events. Li’s mother Meng Ge is also a famed PLA singer.
Supporters of both Li and the victim gathered outside the courthouse in Beijing yesterday. One of Li’s supporters was taken away by police. Two women protested with signs that read “Protecting the rights of mothers, females and young girls” and “Believe in justice.”
In July, Tsinghua University law professor Yi Yanyou incited a furor on Weibo when he suggested that the victim’s status as a prostitute made the rape less harmful. He wrote: “Raping a chaste woman is more harmful than raping a bar girl, a dancing girl, a sanpeinu or a prostitute.” Yi later apologized for his remarks.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
In China there is a prevailing sense that children of the nation’s political elite – popularly referred to as fuerdai, or “second-generation rich” – can get away with whatever they please. A number of high profile cases have inflamed public anger over the sense of entitlement portrayed by these privileged youths. The most famous of these was 22-year-old Li Qimin who hit and killed a college girl in 2010 while speeding down the road drunk in his luxury car. Upon being apprehended by police he infamously shouted, “My father is Li Gang!” Li Gang was a deputy police chief of a city. His son was subsequently given a six-year prison sentence.
Li Tianyi has had past run-ins with the law, driving his BMW into another car in Beijing, beating up the couple inside the car he hit and shouting at bystanders, telling them not to “dare call police.” In response to the charges yesterday, the youth claimed he was drunk and had no memory of his alleged involvement in the crime. Angry netizens were swift to criticize the trial and the family of the accused.
One Weibo user wrote: “The Li family continues to challenge the intelligence of normal people. They’re using despicable, rogue means to acquit Li. If a heavy sentence is not imposed, it will not satisfy the people’s resentment.”
Zhang Ming, professor of politics at Renmin University, added: “The general public is worried that his family, because of their relationships and power, will be able to use their connections. In China, this kind of privilege is very powerful. It’s omnipresent,” Zhang said. “The people’s fears are not groundless.”
Lan He, Li’s legal adviser called for fairness in a question-and-answer session with bloggers on Tuesday. “Celebrities are also citizens and should not be held to ransom because of emotions,” he wrote. “A moral judgment cannot replace justice.”
Li’s ongoing case is sure to be lightening rod for criticism and take center place in this larger debate. Yesterday “Li Tianyi” was the second-most searched topic on Weibo, generating some 9.7 million searches. Even the People’s Daily wrote that the bad behavior of the elite’s children could spark “antagonism among the people”.