Stepmother in China’s Guangdong Won’t Face Prosecution For Abusing Child

On May 14 pictures of Binbin, a 10-year-old boy from Guangdong, circulated online, causing an uproar. His whole body was full of wounds and burns which, as it turned out, had been caused by the severe beatings administered to him by his stepmother. 

According to reports, she beat the child regularly, once or twice a week (note). Despite the case having been made public, the woman and the family won’t be prosecuted. As China’s state-run news network People’s Daily reported: “The boy’s father worked in Dongguan most of the year and was rarely home. According to local police, the decision to not pursue legal action was made after requests from the boy and his father.”

Although this is an extreme case, it highlights the issue of corporal punishment in the Chinese-speaking world. In mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, corporal punishment was widespread, and it was not just confined to child-beating, but extended to corporal abuse of wives. The awareness that corporal punishment can cause severe psychological as well as physical damage to children has led to a reduction of the phenomenon. However, the belief that corporal punishment is admissible and that it is a family matter remains widespread.

Feng Yuan, co-founder of China’s Anti-Domestic Violence Network, told the Global Times:

There is no legal framework for public institutions like schools and hospitals to report child abuse …The nation has yet to deprive a single abusive parent of guardianship or to exercise national guardianship to guarantee the best interests of children (note).

A recent poll revealed that only 37.5% of respondents from Guangzhou believe that beating a child should be classified as domestic violence (ibid.). 

Surveys suggest that corporal punishment is still viewed as acceptable in Hong Kong, as well. A study conducted in 2008 in Hong Kong found out that 58% of 5,841 children aged 9-18 had been given corporal punishment by parents. A 2004 study further showed that 44% of adult respondents used corporal punishment to discipline their children (Ko-ling Chan 2012, p. 193).

In Taiwan, a 2004 survey revealed that 87% of respondents had beaten their children, although 78% said they later regretted it. 27% of parents said that corporal punishment was ineffective, while 25% said it worked. Some parents explained that they “failed to control their emotions and that the demands they placed on young children were sometimes too rigorous” (note).

Margery Wolf, who studied Taiwan between the 1950s and 1970s, noted that corporal punishment was very widespread at that time. The following excerpt shows that parents not only beat their children but also discussed openly about it with their neighbours, and that corporal punishment was considered a family matter as long as the community did not perceive that a parent was going to far:

A beating administered by a Taiwanese parent is often severe, leaving the child bruised and in some cases bleeding. Parents prefer to use a bamboo rod to discipline children, but they will use their hand or fist if there is no bamboo available, and if they are really angry, they will pick up whatever is at hand. Crueler forms of physical punishment are also used by a few parents, such as making the offending child kneel on the ridged surface of an abacus or tying the child in a dark corner. One mother was pointed out to us who had recently punished her son by tying his wrists, throwing the rope over a beam, and drawing it up enough to keep him standing on his toes. Most parents find such techniques too harsh … 

The following conversation took place between a group of mothers. One of the children was being naughty, and her mother grabbed her and hit her quite hard in the middle of the back. Another woman, Kim-lan, chided the mother. “How can you hit a child there? You’re as bad as Phik-gioq, you never look before you hit.” The mother laughed and said, “I never do. When I’m mad how can I look? I just hit them wherever I can with whatever I have in my hand. If I waited to find a stick, they could do anything.” A-mui, another mother in the group, admitted, “I’m that way too. You have to hit them when you are mad, or they will run off and you’ll forget about it. Like yesterday. I finished cooking about four-thirty. The youngest wanted to eat so I gave her something. Then all the others [five of them] came around yelling, wanting to eat too. I was so hot and so mad that I just grabbed the oldest one and beat her up. I think I really hurt her, but they made me so mad I just grabbed the closest one and hit her, and then they were all quiet.” Kim-lan said, “That is why everyone says, ‘If the children in the upper house are getting beaten, the children in the lower house will be good.’ ” 

Ordinarily, outsiders would not dare interfere in a “family” affair, but anyone, even a stranger, is expected to interfere when a mother clearly has lost control of her temper while beating a child. If this was not an accepted custom, there would be many more severely battered children in the villages than there are (Wolf 1972, Chapter 5)



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