As in many countries and cultures, domestic violence has long gripped Chinese families—especially Chinese women—in silent torment. Often urged to simply endure or told that their experience “isn’t that bad,” a disturbing number of women and children face repeated beatings and hospitalizations.
In March China introduced its first-ever comprehensive domestic violence law. While celebrated as an important step toward the protection of women and children (and, occasionally men experiencing abuse) the law also raises a number of questions within the Christian community. Here lawyer and Christ-follower Cheng Pangzhi wrestles through these issues, ultimately offering hope for reconciliation of families and a call to make use of the new law in order to protect victims of violence.
The Introduction of China’s First Domestic Violence Law Has Drawn Widespread Media Attention.
The question is, just how much will this new law affect the current problem of domestic violence? Should Christians seek to understand and apply these laws? Will this policy solve the root problem of domestic violence?
On April 27, Gospel Times reporters interviewed lawyer Cheng Pangzhi of the Good Light Law Firm in Hunan. They asked him to specifically address the provisions of this new law and the issue of domestic violence in general. Brother Cheng addressed these topics both from legal and faith perspectives.
Domestic Violence Laws Are Good
The “People’s Republic of China Domestic Violence Law” came into effect on March 1, 2016. Cheng sees the implementation of this law as a good and needed action. More than 20 years in the making, it began with groups such as the All-China Women's Federation who began promoting the law as early as the 1990s.
Highlights of the law include:
- Revocation of guardian rights
- Mandatory reporting
- Written incident reports allowed as evidence
- Temporary shelter provision
- Establishment of a protection orders system
Mr. Cheng pointed out that this law represents significant progress, from a purely legal standpoint. He also noted that the establishment of a protection orders system provision is particularly innovative.
Difficulties in Implementation
From Cheng’s perspective, however, the most difficult thing to change will be the mindset summed up in the generally accepted Chinese idiom: “Don’t wash your dirty laundry in public.” This attitude towards hiding domestic violence is even deeper among those in rural areas.
If we are to truly see this law make an impact, Cheng asserts, then there must be a serious effort to influence the old-fashioned mindsets still found in rural culture.
Public security departments will play a significant role in the implementation of this law. When a police department receives a domestic violence call, how will they determine the degree of violence and to what level will they go to solve the problem? If the local police departments fail to pay attention to domestic violence, the effect of the law will be greatly reduced.
An additional challenge will be the difficulty of establishing accompanying programs to support the particulars of this law. Some foreign countries require offenders to attend a series of courses immediately after the first offense. Mr. Cheng feels that China requires another decade or two of work in order to set in motion similar programs.
Domestic Violence Also a Serious Problem among Christians
Women make up a large portion of the Christian population, but not all of their husbands are Christians. Some of the abuse is the result of tensions rising from intermarriage between Christians and non-Christians.
A few days prior to this interview Cheng found himself dealing with a case in which a sister’s unbelieving husband repeatedly beats her. Sometimes the beatings are light, but at other times they are severe enough that she needs to be hospitalized.
When this sister once again found herself in the hospital Cheng urged her to file a report, but she refused. Upon leaving the hospital, the wife reconciled with her husband. A short time later, her husband sought to beat her again but she ran away and her daughter called the police. As of this writing, she has not returned home.
Mr. Cheng pointed out that in facing domestic violence many pastors simply urge the victim to respond with love and patience; however, he does not agree with this approach. From his perspective the new domestic violence laws are a good thing for Christians, providing an additional channel for protection.
If you need the protection this law offers, what do you do? Cheng explains that we often overlook an important factor: evidence. Victims of domestic violence rarely consider this in the moment, but if the offender refuses to admit his or her crime and you have no evidence, there is ultimately nothing that can be done from a legal standpoint. It’s important to take pictures of injuries and keep on hand any medical reports and prescriptions. These can be shared with the local police when the complaint is filed.
Building Marriages: The Prescription for Domestic Violence
While the current law provides protection for victims of domestic violence it lacks any power to solve marital problems. Cheng says that he has yet to see the domestic violence law result in any cases of families coming back together in health.
He believes that if we want to resolve domestic violence we must focus on building up marriages. Cheng strongly recommends that young couples find and attend marriage courses in order to strengthen their relationships. Many city churches currently offer this sort of resource, providing courses such as “Journey to Intimacy,” marriage retreats, and singles' love relationship classes.
Cheng encourages young couples to make a covenant with one another prior to marriage stating what they will do in the event of any sort of domestic violence, including specific penalties or measures that will be taken in response.
Cheng also points out that much of current society, including Christians and pastors, lack any concept of what it is to build a marriage, not recognizing the need to study and learn how to be married. In order to drive one needs to study for a driver’s license. Why would we expect to enter and live out a marriage without significant learning? Churches often lack the skills necessary to resolve practical marriage issues. In order to respond to this need, Cheng is currently developing a class, “Journey to Intimacy,” which can help connect Christian faith with married life.
Take First Offenses Seriously
“First offenses, even small ones, must be taken seriously!” Cheng emphasizes. Based on his experience, if the first offense isn’t dealt with directly, further offenses will occur and will become increasingly severe and difficult to resolve.
He also said that the problem of domestic violence must never be left to the couple to address privately between them. When held in private, there is no pressure on the offender to change and it becomes very easy for the behaviors to continue. He suggests that the best solution is to involve trustworthy friends or a pastor and set up consequences for behavior. In this way pressure from the outside keeps the offender in check and the victim comes under greater protection.
“When domestic violence comes out into the open there is the possibility for resolution, but when kept in the dark it will become more and more serious,” he explains.
When the Offender Rejects Change
When victims report violence to their pastors, some pastors simply respond, “What God has joined together let not man separate”. On this point, Mr. Cheng disagrees.
He believes that there are times when divorce is the right choice, and that this “let not man separate” concept can create greater tragedy than the divorce itself.
For example, some victims see that they cannot divorce but can’t find any way to solve their problem [in the event of an unrepentant spouse]. Feeling trapped, some victims ultimately kill their abusers.
Some are afraid that divorce will steal the opportunity for their child to experience a “complete” family and they worry that single parent homes create many problems for children. Mr. Cheng believes that a loving, single-parent home is a better option than one in which domestic violence breeds serious health problems for the child.
From his perspective, if the offender earnestly repents it is appropriate to give them a second chance. However if the abuser truly believes they are doing nothing wrong and he or she is unwilling to accept help, we must seriously consider the needs of the victim.
As a Christian lawyer, Cheng finds divorce cases extremely distressing. He operates under the principle “urge reconciliation, not divorce.” However, he concedes that there are special circumstances requiring extreme measures. In regards to the Christian spouse, he recommends that we listen to their complaint and consider what sort of outcome they are capable of bearing.
Original article: 【专访】基督徒律师从法律和信仰两方面谈“家暴”问题 (Gospel Times)
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