Chinese city targets domestic violence – but links to drive to discourage divorce spark concerns
- An initiative in Jiaquan city means that officials with a history of domestic abuse could be denied promotion
- Analysts warn that it treats domestic abuse primarily as a threat to social stability and goes hand in hand with efforts to promote traditional values
Officials in one Chinese city could be denied promotion if they are found to have a history of domestic violence as the country grapples with the problem of how to better protect women.
The policy is part of the Communist Party’s attempts to own the public debate on gender issues, which analysts said were seen by the authorities as a potential threat to social stability.
The “Special Action Implementation Plan” adopted early this year in Jiuquan, a city in the northwestern province of Gansu, requires the local anti-corruption watchdog to keep track of party members’ records of domestic violence or instances where they have violated the rights of women and children.
These factors will then be taken into account when appointing or promoting officials.
The plan adopted early this year also calls on local government departments to work with the police, women’s federations and other bodies to investigate marriage and family disputes, domestic violence and trafficking in women and children.
The plan has been widely celebrated on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, with posters calling for similar initiatives to be implemented in their own cities.
“This is great, if the party cadres have low moral standards and commit domestic violence, how can we trust that they will serve people well?,” one web user wrote.
But the campaign is also seeking to discourage people from getting divorced, according to a person involved with the University of Hong Kong’s Equality Rights Project, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
“While the campaign has shown a lower tolerance by the authorities towards domestic violence, it has also sought to limit marriage choices by people,” they said.
Analysts also warned that the policy was ultimately an effort to reaffirm mainstream family values, a drive which has also seen a raft of measures designed to raise the birth rate.
The Communist Party has for years promoted the concept of a “harmonious family and society” and President Xi Jinping has in recent years repeatedly called on Chinese women to play the role of “a good wife and a devoted mother”, which he said was a key part of Chinese tradition.
The authorities in Jiuquan have investigated more than a thousand cases of marital and family disputes and succeeded in reconciling 99 of the 315 couples who were in the cooling-off period of divorce, according to the semi-official outlet China Women’s News.
Under China’s marriage and families law, couples who are filing for divorce must now wait 30 days to rethink their decision following an amendment introduced in 2020 with the aim of strengthening family stability.
John P. Burns, an emeritus professor of politics at the University of Hong Kong, said the new policy underlined the importance the Communist Party attached to social stability.
“Stability is number one. So anything that disturbs stability, whether it is within the family, work unit or neighbourhood, the party is opposed to it,” Burns said.
Burns also said he was not “not very optimistic about [Jiuquan’s] policy and if it will have a lasting effect on preventing domestic violence”.
He also questioned the use of the local commission for discipline inspection, the primary role of which is to enforce party discipline and tackle corruption, to enforce the policy. “Their involvement, therefore, in a gender issue inevitably raises doubt over its intention,” he added.
David Goodman, the director of the China Studies Centre of the University of Sydney, pointed out that Beijing’s promotion of family values partially came from the urge to increase the birth rate in a rapidly ageing population.
“It is like a workers’ strike that threatens social stability. Domestic violence affects society in the same way, especially amid the recent outrage towards gender-based violence like the Tangshan attack,” Goodman said.
The drive to promote traditional family values comes as the authorities are trying to encourage more women to give birth in an effort to lessen the impact of an ageing population and a probable drop in the country’s population next year.
However, discussions about women’s rights and gender issues are still viewed with scepticism from Beijing, which sees them through the prism of its conflict with the West and is concerned that what it sees as foreign values will be imposed on China.
Earlier this year the Communist Party’s Youth League attacked “extreme feminism” as “a tumour on the internet” on Weibo.
In 2018, in a speech to the semi-official All-China Women’s Federation about how the party’s leadership and values should guide women, Xi said the group should never copy overseas feminist organisations.
He also warned of the threat from “foreign hostile forces” and urged the group “not to lower its political guard for one moment”.