Hanging On Could Really Make a Difference

Kebei Li

Ochanomizu University

If I was asked “What is the biggest news of 2013?”, my answer would definitely be “Kim Lee’s divorce with Li Yang”. Kim Lee, an American from Florida, got married to Li Yang, one of the most famous English teachers in China in 2006. Kim Lee then became a victim of domestic violence. She made legal history in Beijing, for the first restraining order was issued for her protection. This is a milestone case not only because it has opened public discussion on domestic violence, but also inspired victims of domestic abuse to start to think about their future.

Every time I read the news about Kim Lee’s divorce, I was reminded of my best friend in primary school, Lili Wang. She suddenly transferred to another school without saying goodbye after her parents’ divorce, because her mother suffered from domestic violence and wanted to escape from her husband. Lili once mentioned to me that even after divorce, her father would visit them unannounced, threaten her mother, or do things far worse than that. In fact, filing for a divorce at that time was not what normal people would do, for it required far more determination and courage than today. It must have taken so much for Lili’s mother to make that decision. However, it turned out that divorce could not set Lili’s mother free either. There was no such thing as a restraining order back in 1997. This concept was firstly introduced and became better known to the public thanks to Kim Lee’s divorce from Li Yang in 2013.

Of course I was too young to understand why Lili left without saying goodbye, and for a long time I was so angry with her. With time passing by, I finally figured out why. Lili’s mother must have told her not to tell anyone about their whereabouts, in case of being found by her ex-husband. Yes, that was basically the only choice she had then, and what was wrong with that? All she asked for Lili and herself was simply a new life without fear. Watching Kim Lee fighting and praying for her, was pretty much was the main impression that 2013 left on me. Though Lili’s mother had to leave for a new life, I still respect her for being such a brave lady to divorce her husband in that relatively conservative age. However, Kim Lee’s case has pushed me to think hypothetically that Lili and her mother might have been able to stay if they had had a restraining order issued by the court. This means we might have been able to go to the same junior school, high school, or university. Indeed, who knows? That is why I did, and will always back Kim Lee up, for she has made the concept of “protection order” well known to the public and inspired a lot of victims of domestic violence to start to think about fighting for their own rights.

There is no doubt that Kim Lee’s victory is a hard-won. Her husband, Li Yang, is one of the most famous English teachers in China, who at the same time owns a successful company in the English education industry. Given the fact that the current Chinese law still has space to improve in the field of domestic violence, when Kim Lee went to the police and to the neighborhood committee, their hands were tied, too. There are several laws, for instance, marriage law and criminal law that deal with domestic abuse. However, their descriptions are ambiguous which might result in irregularities. Also, in Chinese culture, it is generally considered that family conflicts should remain between family members. Domestic abuse might be considered a private family matter, and as a result, victims tend to keep quiet after being abused. However, Kim Lee, refused to give up fighting for her own rights. Even Kim Lee’s friends thought she was out of her mind too. She could have directly turned to the American Embassy for help, but instead of doing that, she decided to sue Li Yang under China’s legal system. That is because she wants her daughters to know that no one can beat her—not just because she is an American, but because she is a person—a  woman. As a courageous woman who never compromised in the face of adversity, she survived the long trial. That was one small step for her, but one great leap for victims of domestic violence.

I want to thank Kim Lee, for she has taught every woman in China the importance of hanging on. Hanging on to their rights, hanging on to their hope, and hanging on to their life. Only when women do not tolerate domestic violence and fight for themselves, could security, hope, and peace be guaranteed.