Revised February 20, 2022
Supplementary Case Examples
When a woman asked her husband, Yu Shuqing, for a divorce, he refused and beat her. According to the victim’s testimony, Yu beat her in a government office as they were preparing to complete divorce formalities. For this reason, she sought shelter in the home of a man she met through a marriage agency. Afterwards, Yu went to the other man’s home on more than one occasion to persuade his wife to return to their marital home with him. Fearing that he would continue to beat her if she agreed, she stayed with the other man. The court affirmed that, on one such occasion, she called the police, who advised her “either to resolve the matter privately or to file for divorce in court.” A week later, Yu charged into the other man’s home, attacking him with a wood-splitting machete. When his wife tried to stop him, he chopped off her left hand. Both victims survived, and Yu was sentenced to ten years in prison (Decision #857838, Anyang Municipal Wenfeng District People’s Court, Henan Province, December 13, 2010, Case ID (2011)文刑初字第210号, archived at https://perma.cc/ADN6-FDHV).
When a woman filed for divorce and returned to her natal family, Yan Haimin, her husband, used electrical cords to tie closed from the outside the doors to her parent’s house in the middle of the night, poured gasoline through the windows, and set the house on fire. Her father managed to break through the doors and, with the help of neighbors, put out the fire. Five people suffered burn injuries. Yan was found guilty of attempted homicide and sentenced to fourteen years in prison. Although Yan already compensated his victims ¥12,000 for their economic losses, one witness testified that he had not yet fulfilled his agreement to pay an additional ¥600,000 for medical costs and property damage (Decision #518566, Changge Municipal People’s Court, Henan Province, November 19, 2010, Case ID (2010)长刑初字第421号, archived at https://perma.cc/LDY4-429Y).
When another woman returned to her natal family after requesting a divorce from her husband, Wang Guangdong, he followed her there and attacked her with a cleaver, cutting her head, back, and neck. When her father tried to save her, Wang continued to hack at her with the knife, resulting in cuts on the father’s arm and shoulder. Afterwards Wang cut his wrists in a suicide attempt. They all survived. Wang was found guilty of attempted homicide, ordered to compensate his victims ¥13,234, and sentenced to eleven years in prison (Decision #130778, Yongcheng Municipal People’s Court, Henan Province, August 28, 2009, Case ID (2009)永刑初字第222号, archived at https://perma.cc/3YYK-XLJ5).
Zhang Linlin and his wife had a history of “marital strife” (经常为生活琐事争吵). Expressions such as this implying mutual fighting are common euphemisms that obscure unilateral abuse. After one such episode, she fled to her parents’ home. After several failed attempts to persuade her to return home with him, Zhang entered their home wielding a knife and smashed some glass. He then left to purchase gasoline. When he returned to her parents’ home, he discovered she had called the police and was waiting for them to arrive. He grabbed her hand, opened the gasoline container, doused them both with gasoline, and ignited it with a cigarette lighter with the intent of burning to death together. Zhang released his wife’s hand, rolled on the ground to extinguish the flames on his clothes, and fled the scene. Bystanders rushed in to save his wife, who suffered severe burns on her entire body. The court sentenced Zhang to fourteen-and-a-half years in prison (Decision #3036107, Huzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, Zhejiang Province, August 26, 2014, Case ID (2014)浙湖刑终字第138号, archived at https://perma.cc/L63V-6JSW). Note that serious cases of intentional injury and most cases of homicide were prosecuted in intermediate courts.
A woman who had been trying divorce her husband, Pan Chunming, for years prepared a mutual-consent divorce agreement for him to sign when they were at her natal home during the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year). When her parents were out, Pan charged into her bedroom and cut her face with a kitchen knife. He then poured gasoline on her body before stabbing it several times with a boning knife. Finally, he ignited the gasoline with his cigarette lighter. Their daughter, who was in the room, ran to tell the neighbors that her father was stabbing and burning her mother. When the neighbors rushed in to put out the fire, Pan tried to kill himself with the boning knife. The neighbors took the victim to the hospital, where she was treated for injuries to her face, chest, abdomen, and upper limbs. Pan, who also survived, was found guilty of attempted homicide, sentenced to twelve years in prison, and ordered to pay ¥31,473 in compensation (Decision #395397, Puyang County People’s Court, Henan Province, September 6, 2010, Case ID (2010)濮刑初字第201号, archived at https://perma.cc/ZY6X-XCCN). Prison sentences I report in each example in this chapter are limited to those from first-instance verdicts. Sentences may change upon appeal. Sentence reductions also appear in caiding decisions as court approvals of requests submitted by prisons. The sentence in this case, for example, was subsequently reduced by eight months in consideration of Pan’s good behavior (Case ID (2017)豫05刑更85号, archived at https://perma.cc/9SNE-K7AF).
A woman asked her husband, Yang Shunli, for a divorce and ¥100,000 in lieu of property division. In the middle of the night, when she was fast asleep, Yang bludgeoned her head with a hammer and repeatedly cut her neck with a kitchen knife by sawing it back and forth. She died by bleeding out from her carotid artery. Yang then tried to commit suicide by hitting his head with the same hammer and slitting his wrists with the same knife. He lay down on the bed next to her in order to die by her side. The next morning Yang’s brother discovered the scene and rushed him to the hospital, where he was saved. Yang was convicted of intentional homicide and sentenced to life in prison. By sparing Yang from the death penalty, the court accepted his defense lawyers’ argument that he should receive a mitigated sentence because he suffered from depression and cooperated with authorities. Whether the court also took into consideration the forgiveness he received from his wife’s family members is unclear from its written decision (Decision #335819, Kaifeng Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, Henan Province, August 2, 2010, Case ID (2010)汴刑初字第45号, archived at https://perma.cc/8D6H-577S).
In his confession, Liang Mintao said he wildly stabbed his wife to death with a long knife (about 30cm) because she requested a divorce. The forensic pathologist concluded she died of hemorrhagic shock after sustaining stab wounds in her neck, thorax, abdomen, back, and limbs. Liang fled on a stolen bicycle and was arrested over two months later—and 600 kilometers away—in Tianjin. The court ordered Liang to compensate his parents-in-law ¥33,563 for their economic losses and sentenced him to death (Decision #797526, Anyang Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, Henan Province, May 8, 2012, Case ID (2012)安中刑二初字第14号, archived at https://perma.cc/2A6U-CPN6).
Three months after a court denied the divorce request of a woman surnamed Liu, her husband, surnamed Zhang, broke her nose after punching her several times in the face. Liu had been living with her parents, who brought her to the home of her parents-in-law for the Spring Festival. The attack ensued upon her arrival. The court sentenced Zhang to one year in prison for intentional injury and ruled on Liu’s petition for civil damages by ordering him to compensate her ¥9,019 (Decision #1110363, Puyang County People’s Court, Henan Province, December 25, 2013, Case ID (2013)濮刑初字第318号, archived at https://perma.cc/MHY4-PQ8W). Family members’ efforts to persuade women to stay with their abusers is a prevalent theme in domestic violence cases. Perhaps in this particular case Liu’s parents were trying to facilitate marital reconciliation by delivering her to Zhang’s family. Both sides appealed this decision: the plaintiff for greater civil damages and the defendant for a more lenient sentence. The appellate court upheld the original decision (Decision #1185023, Puyang Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, Henan Province, December 10, 2014, Case ID (2014)濮中刑一终字第12号, archived at https://perma.cc/J4S3-K3CH).
The outcome of the next case was similarly unsuccessful for the plaintiff on her first attempt: “The defendant, gluttonous and lazy, took care of neither the home nor the fields. I did all the farming by myself, and he was still discontent. When he heard idle gossip, he rushed home and beat me without asking questions about what he heard. I silently endured this humiliation for the sake of our child and with hope that he would one day change his ways. And yet, as time went on, his old habits never changed. In order to escape this kind of life, I became a migrant worker beginning in 2008. We have now been physically separated for five years. Our marriage exists in name only.” The court denied the plaintiff’s petition on the grounds that they had “lived together for almost 20 years and had no major conflicts in their everyday life” (Decision #1000491, Lingbao Municipal People’s Court, Henan Province, June 18, 2013, Case ID (2013)灵民一初字第797号, archived at https://perma.cc/2TJ4-YEX4).
The plaintiff in the next case was unsuccessful on her second litigation attempt following the court’s denial of her first petition in 2012. According to her statement to the court, “Only after marrying did the plaintiff discover the defendant’s violent temper and petty jealousy. He frequently beat and maltreated the plaintiff. In order to escape the defendant’s harm, the plaintiff eked out a living elsewhere.” Denying all the plaintiff’s allegations, the defendant claimed the plaintiff’s true motivation for divorce was her desire to devote herself fully to multi-level marketing. In its holding to deny the plaintiff’s petition for the second time, the court invoked the rhetoric and vocabulary that are so ubiquitous in adjudicated denials (Chapter 7). “The court holds that plaintiff and defendant were introduced to each other, became acquainted, and cohabitated prior to marriage, and then voluntarily registered their marriage. Their foundation of affection prior to marriage was relatively good. After marriage, they had two children and established definite mutual affection in their over ten years of marriage. Both sides are currently disputing family and life trifles primarily due to inadequate communication. Both sides are still young, and both sides are abundantly aware of the difficulty forming a family. Frivolously divorcing will bring myriad harms to the healthy upbringing of their children and family stability. If both sides handle things correctly, calm down, mutually understand and accommodate, and cherish their original marital affection, reconciliation remains possible. In sum, the court denies support of the plaintiff’s request to divorce the defendant” (Decision #1012432, Gongyi Municipal People’s Court, Henan Province, July 26, 2013, Case ID (2013)巩民初字第1294号, archived at https://perma.cc/4UB3-R9XF).
In each of the next three cases, the divorce petition was granted on the plaintiff’s second attempt. Each plaintiff recounted her initial attempt to divorce (referring to herself in the third person).
“On March 8, 2012, the plaintiff left to become a migrant worker in order to escape domestic violence. The two sides have been physically separated ever since, and have become like strangers. On March 18, 2014, in order to free herself from her unhappy marriage, she filed for divorce with the Lanxi Municipal People’s Court. When the defendant did not appear for the trial, the court denied the plaintiff’s petition” (Decision #3400274, Lanxi Municipal People’s Court, Zhejiang Province, March 6, 2015, Case ID (2015)金兰马民初字第31号, archived at https://perma.cc/L6MY-TWGY).
“Since 2003, the defendant frequently lost his mind after getting drunk and would beat and curse the plaintiff. In order to escape the defendant’s severe maltreatment, the plaintiff had no choice but to become a migrant worker in the tenth month of the lunar calendar in 2008, and has been separated from the defendant ever since” (Decision #1166509, Fangcheng County People’s Court, Henan Province, May 28, 2014, Case ID (2014)方城民初字第120号, archived at https://perma.cc/ALK2-XD2L).
“The defendant regularly carried out domestic violence. In order to escape the defendant’s torment, the plaintiff became a migrant worker in 2005. In February 2010, when the plaintiff returned home to visit her child, the defendant beat her mercilessly” (Decision #1415808, Zhenping County People’s Court, Henan Province, February 13, 2015, Case ID (2015)镇民初字第235号, archived at https://perma.cc/SGM6-PXD9).
Another plaintiff required three attempts before finally achieving her goal of divorce: “Owing to the defendant’s long-term domestic violence and psychological torture, the plaintiff developed severe depression and other mental illness. The defendant not only failed to care for me, but intensified his maltreatment. For this reason, I filed for divorce in 2008. I was unable to divorce because the defendant tricked me into withdrawing my divorce petition by saying we would divorce at the Civil Affairs Bureau instead. In March 2009 I once again filed for divorce, but the court, narrowly emphasizing harmony, denied my petition. In order to escape the defendant’s violence, I have been a long-term migrant worker, taking care of myself independently, and am now yet again requesting that the court take sympathy on a woman tortured by long-term domestic violence” (Decision #977377, Xinyang Municipal Pingqiao District People’s Court, Henan Province, May 25, 2013, Case ID (2013)平民初字第25号, archived at https://perma.cc/M4FE-D7HB).
In an unusual case in which the court granted a first-attempt petition, the plaintiff recounted an experience similar to the ones above: “In order to escape domestic violence and maintain normal living expenses, I had to rely on earning money outside the village. I have been working in Beijing since the 2007 wheat harvest, and have remained physically separated from the defendant. In order to escape this frightening, hopeless, and painful marriage, I ask the court to grant a divorce.” The court’s willingness to grant the divorce on the first attempt undoubtedly stemmed from the defendant’s consent. The defendant simply stated, “Everything the plaintiff said is a lie, but I consent to divorce” (Decision #576951, Nanle County People’s Court, Henan Province, June 12, 2011, Case ID (2011)南民初字第726号, archived at https://perma.cc/DK5U-GZS8).
Yao Wencui killed her husband by strangling him with nylon stockings when he was drunk. According to the procuracy’s indictment, he verbally abused her and, when drunk, beat her because he suspected she was unfaithful. After affirming that her actions possessed the characteristics of justifiable self-defense, and because she called her parents-in-law after she killed her husband, stayed behind at the scene to await the police, did not resist arrest, and cooperated by making a full confession and admitting her crime, the court sentenced her to four-and-a-half years in prison. The court was silent on whether its order for Yao to pay ¥220,000 to her parents-in-law as compensation—and on whether they forgave her in return—factored into its lenient sentence (Decision #4080553, Wenzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, Zhejiang Province, November 9, 2015, Case ID (2015)浙温刑初字第103号, archived at https://perma.cc/ZP93-UEPM). Also cited on p. 21 of Chen, Fei (陈飞), and Dong (杨冬) Yang. 2016. “家暴案中受虐妇女‘以暴制暴’行为的正当防卫适用 (The Application of Justifiable Self-Defense to Women Abused by Domestic Violence Who ‘Combat Violence With Violence’).” 云南大学学报法学版 (Journal of Yunnan University Law Edition) 29(5):20–30.
A case from my Zhejiang sample suggests the same logic. When Wang Baoling’s husband started beating her in an argument about his gambling after he came home drunk in the middle of the night, she struck his head several times with an axe she had prepared in advance. After immobilizing him, she then lifted the floor boards around the toilet and pushed him into the septic pool below. The forensic pathologist determined the cause of death to be a severe blunt-force head injury. She turned herself in to the police the same day. The court affirmed the husband to be “a lazy, good-for-nothing glutton who drank, patronized prostitutes, gambled, picked fights when drunk, failed to carry out his parental and spousal duties, and carried out domestic violence against his wife and children, and who was therefore irrefutably responsible for the criminal consequences that befell him.” Over 600 villagers and over a dozen close relatives of the victim expressed to judicial authorities their sympathy for Wang and their belief that she had no choice but to act as she did. Although it rejected the defense lawyers’ arguments for probation, the court—given that the victim’s abuse and domestic violence had caused her to live in a chronic state of terror, in consideration of the fact that she surrendered voluntarily to the police, and owing to her remorse—treated the defendant with leniency by giving her a mitigated sentence of four years in prison (Decision #339365, Tongxu County People’s Court, Henan Province, July 30, 2010, Case ID (2010)通刑初字第118号, archived at https://perma.cc/7P5M-UA43). Perhaps the court feared public backlash from a harsh sentence and sought to avoid provoking the wrath and ire of 600 angry villagers.
In another case that showcases inadequate police and family intervention, Liu Manyun and her husband argued over household finances after returning from an evening of dancing and drinking at a nightclub. As they argued, he threw her clothes and other belongings out of the house and into the courtyard, dragged her down the stairs, beat her, and took away her jewelry and wallet. Liu fled to the home of a relative, who, despite noticing bruises on her body, talked her into returning to her husband. After the relative accompanied her back home, she called the police. A police officer came to their home, carried out mediation, and then left. That night, the husband slept on the sofa on the ground floor while Liu slept upstairs in the bedroom. In the middle of the night, when she went downstairs to drink some water, they argued again. When he tried to get up from the sofa, he fell on the floor. She then seized the opportunity to grab a claw hammer next to the sofa and use it to break his skull. She ran out of the house, hid the hammer, and called the police to turn herself in. The court sentenced her to life in prison (Decision #4424180, Zhoushan Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, Zhejiang Province, April 18, 2016).
The trial of Cao Gui similarly brings to the fore the failure of police to intervene in domestic violence cases and thus to prevent them from escalating to homicides. When Cao, who was cohabitating with her abusive boyfriend, tried to break up with him, he threatened to murder her entire family and took possession of her bank card. Shortly afterwards, she sought police help to no avail. Beyond physically beating and threatening her, the boyfriend also limited her ability to use her cell phone and communicate with others. One night, when he was fast asleep, she chopped his left thigh with a cleaver. He screamed for help and ran. She chased him to the building entrance and chopped his right thigh, causing him to collapse. When she saw a neighbor call the police, fearing he would be saved, she stabbed him in the abdomen with a fruit knife. He died of acute blood loss caused by ruptures of the left femoral artery and left femoral vein. In her expert testimony to the court, Chen Min explained: “When a victim faces an offender’s death threat and has no way out, no access to effective legal intervention, and no social support network, and is unable to escape owing to fear or lack of help, she may give up hope and commit suicide. If the offender threatens to murder the victim’s family members, suicide will not help prevent their murder. The victim will come to believe that she and her family members will be unable to avoid getting murdered unless she kills the offender first.” Taking into consideration her boyfriend’s “serious domestic violence,” his obvious wrongdoing that precipitated the crime she committed, her sole motive for killing being to free herself from domestic violence, her not fleeing the crime scene, her not resisting arrest, her confession, and her admission of guilt, the court deemed the circumstances of her crime to be “relatively minor” and sentenced Cao to eight years in prison. Although the court’s order for Cao to pay ¥200,000 in compensation supported the petition for civil damages the victim’s family attached to the criminal case, the court did not specifically cite compensation as a reason for its lenient sentence (Decision #3669958, Wenzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, Zhejiang Province, June 16, 2015, Case ID (2015)浙温刑初字第68号, archived at https://perma.cc/QBG5-LQUB). This case received considerable media attention (e.g., http://rmfyb.chinacourt.org/paper/html/2015-05/21/content_97944.htm). It was also cited on p. 21 of Chen, Fei (陈飞), and Dong (杨冬) Yang. 2016. “家暴案中受虐妇女‘以暴制暴’行为的正当防卫适用 (The Application of Justifiable Self-Defense to Women Abused by Domestic Violence Who ‘Combat Violence With Violence’).” 云南大学学报法学版 (Journal of Yunnan University Law Edition) 29(5):20–30.
When Xin Yafang filed a court petition to divorce her husband Guan Wenwei, he threatened to murder her and her family. On the day of the trial, Guan waited to ambush his wife by the gate of the Wangdian Town People’s Tribunal belonging to the Jiaxing Municipal Xiuzhou District People’s Court. After Xin stepped out of the car with her younger brother and lawyer, Guan stabbed her in the back with a long knife (the length of the blade was about 17cm). After she turned around, ran, and fell to the ground, he continued stabbing her. She fought back by hitting his head with a brick. With blood dripping down his face, he abandoned his attack and fled the scene. Xin suffered hemorrhagic shock, ruptured nerves, and bone damage from knife wounds on her limbs. Because Guan turned himself in to the police, confessed that his intent was to murder Xin, and compensated her ¥75,478, the court gave him a mitigated prison sentence of five-and-a-half years (Decision #2876323, Jiaxing Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, Zhejiang Province, September 11, 2012, Case ID (2012)浙嘉刑终字第131号, archived at https://perma.cc/Z94V-WWM4).
Yang Rong received a lenient sentence after murdering his wife as she was attempting to divorce him. He stated in his confession that she had spent weeks at a time away from home, and that he suspected she was sleeping with her brother-in-law. His suspicions were confirmed by testimony from his parents’ and the brother-in-law in question. According to his confession, he hit her after she bit him during an altercation precipitated by her long absence from home. They both called the police to report each other. The next day she filed a domestic violence report with the municipal branch of the All-China Women’s Federation. Police records indicate she had reported two previous incidents in recent months. After returning from the All-China Women’s Federation, she insisted on divorcing. Yang claimed local police intervened to mediate when she threatened him with a hammer in an argument about child custody. Because they were unable to agree on the terms of the divorce, the Bureau of Civil Affairs refused to grant their divorce request. After she allegedly proclaimed, “if you want the children, you’ll have to choke me first,” he did just that, and choked her to death with his bare hands. In a deal brokered by the local Subdistrict Office’s People’s Mediation Committee, the victim’s parents signed a forgiveness letter after they received ¥286,000 from Yang’s parents. This, coupled with the fact that Yang voluntarily reported the crime, surrendered himself to the police, and confessed his crime, was the basis of the court’s lenient sentence of twelve years in prison (Decision #5368706, Wenzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, March 16, 2017, Case ID (2017)浙03刑初17号, archived at https://perma.cc/USY8-KRX6).
When her husband came home drunk and hit and injured her right index finger and nose with a broken tile, Qu Zhenmei retaliated by stabbing him to death with scissors, which punctured his lung and diaphragm, causing an intercostal artery to rupture. In her defense, she claimed he had frequently behaved this way in the past. Although the court rejected the defense lawyer’s claims that she acted in self-defense and turned herself in (the court held that she did not actively report the crime and did not confess to committing a crime), and also rejected the defense lawyer’s request for probation, it nonetheless showed mercy by sentencing Qu to ten years in prison on the basis of an expression of forgiveness by the victim’s father and a plea for leniency from twenty-two fellow villagers (Decision #1148376, Nanyang Municipal Wancheng District People’s Court, Henan Province, January 12, 2013, Case ID (2013) 南宛刑初字第525 号, archived at https://perma.cc/7BYQ-QZAY). In Qu Zhenmei’s appellate case, the court rejected her claim of justifiable self-defense (and thus her plea for acquittal) but reduced her sentence to eight years (Decision #1233403, Nanyang Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, Henan Province, August 25, 2014, (2014)南刑三终字第00045号, archived at https://perma.cc/G2LN-RB56).
Luo Shiqin filed for divorce twice, her husband withheld consent both times, and, following a common pattern we have seen, she ended up withdrawing her petition both times. One night when her husband was drunk, he demanded her cell phone because he had drained the credit on his own phone. When she refused, he smacked her ear, choked her, pinned her down on the bed, and seized her phone. According to the forensic pathology report, his blood alcohol level was an astonishing 229mg/100ml. Given the sheer extent of his physical and mental impairment, Luo’s ability to wrap a rope around his neck and strangle him to death is not hard to imagine. Although the court found no evidence to support Luo’s defense lawyer’s claim of justifiable self-defense, the court was swayed by the victim’s history of domestic violence, his wrongdoing that gave rise to the crime, his father’s forgiveness of Luo, and the fact that she reported the crime and turned herself in. She was sentenced to ten years in prison (Decision #2821254, Hangzhou Municipal Intermediate People’s Court, Zhejiang Province, May 20, 2014, Case ID (2014)浙杭刑初字第92号, archived at https://perma.cc/6AFL-WXDL).