Wednesday, Sep 3, 2014, 7:40 AM CST – China

Society

Domestic Violence

Crazy Culture?

Kim Lee’s microblog revelations accusing her celebrity husband and Crazy English founder Li Yang of spousal abuse have forced the debate about domestic violence in China into the open. NewsChina offers an overview of this high-profile case

Li Yang addresses 7,000 students in Haozhou, Anhui Province, December 4, 2008 PHOTO BY CFP

Kim Lee tearfully accepts the 2001 Sex and Gender Defender award from Beijing Forestry University, December 11, 2011 PHOTOS BY CFP

Li Yang, whose “Crazy English” courses and textbooks once enjoyed a millions-strong following in China, has seen his reputation plummet after his American wife, Kim Lee, filed for divorce. On her popular Chinese microblog, Lee alleged that her husband had beaten her head against the floor of their home and attempted to strangle her on August 31, 2011.

“It was not the first time Li Yang beat me, but it was most definitely the last,” Kim wrote in an email interview with NewsChina.

Li Yang did not show up for the second divorce hearing, held in Beijing in March 2012. Despite Li having submitted an “open apology” for “using violence” in the wake of the case, his lawyer insisted in March that his client’s behavior “did not constitute domestic violence.” Instead, Li’s lawyer argued, his client’s actions represented “a kind of family conflict.”

Continued disagreements encompassing custody of the couple’s children and the division of property have left the Li divorce proceedings unresolved. On May 10, 2012, Kim Lee returned to the US, claiming that Li Yang had continued to threaten her with “wildly erratic messages.” One such text message, which Lee forwarded to her microblog account, ran: “In America you should be killed by your husband with gun. This is real American way. You are so lucky to be in China!”

“LY [Li Yang] feels no remorse for his actions. The truth is there is no change in his attitude. LY has always felt and continues to feel that his violence is ‘no big deal…’” Lee told NewsChina.

Stardom

A teacher of English as a foreign language, Li Yang sparked a craze for English language learning in China in the mid 1990s by encouraging students to shout English phrases and sentences out loud. Using eccentric body language and slogans like “I enjoy losing face” and “tread English underfoot,” Li, described by fans as “talented, confident and influential,” became China’s most visible English teacher, with his particular brand of overzealous, accented English spreading far and wide.

However, when his wife Kim published photos online of the injuries suffered at Li’s hands, public support for China’s English teaching icon began to crumble.

“Does ‘I enjoy losing face’ mean ‘I enjoy slapping my wife’s face?” asked Kim on her microblog, a remark re-tweeted thousands of times, drawing an avalanche of comments. Her microblog account’s few dozen followers soon mushroomed into thousands.

According to Lee, Li Yang had beaten her on more than 10 occasions since they first met, 13 years previously. The first beating came in front of her co-workers. Lee claimed this public assault was followed with an apology, which she accepted, starting a cycle of attacks, apologies and forgiveness – which, Lee claims, persisted throughout their marriage.

According to Lee, it was the couple’s youngest daughter who urged her to fight back. After witnessing a beating in August 2011, Lee claims her two-year-old daughter told her “Mom, I would stop Dad with chopsticks or scissors.”

“As my head hit the floor and my youngest daughter’s screams filled the air, I was determined that my daughters would not grow up thinking that horrible violence is something acceptable,” Kim told NewsChina.

“I do not regret exposing his violence. I regret that I made a mistake in letting my daughters believe that this is an acceptable way for a man to treat a woman,” she said.

Exposure

Kim Lee met her future husband in 1999 on a visit to a Chinese school while she was studying bilingual education. Li Yang’s unique method for teaching English piqued her curiosity, and a relationship resulted in Lee accepting a job with Li’s company. The two married in 2005, several years after their eldest daughter was born. “I married her simply to test the difference between American education and Chinese education …. Our children are our guinea pigs,” remarked Li Yang in an interview with China Central Television (CCTV) following Kim’s exposure.

Li’s long hours away from home began to put a strain on his marriage, according to Li’s testimony. Li Yang worked over 15 hours a day, traveling all over the country on lecture tours. His wife and children would only see him once or twice a month.

In her testimony, Kim Lee claimed the first serious abuse began in 2006 when Kim was seven months pregnant with their second child. A disagreement over omissions Kim had made from a book for written Li Yang led to Li grabbing his wife by her scalp, throwing her to the floor and hitting her in the stomach. Lee later claimed her baby was only saved because she turned on her side to deflect her husband’s fists.

“Kim thinks I would stay with my family if she destroyed my work, but for me, without my career, family is meaningless,” Li told CCTV. “Family love is too trivial and narrow… I am not living for my family members, but for millions of English learners.” 

After the August 31 beating last year, Kim Lee filed a police report of spousal abuse and was hospitalized while her husband was shooting a TV show. Lee posted her first allegations and the grisly images of her injuries while her husband was delivering a lecture on family education to 150 mothers, outside the city.

Five days later, amidst the public furor surrounding his wife’s allegations, Li Yang admitted his abuse and made a public apology to his family via his microblog. However, throughout a subsequent CCTV appearance, during which Li was asked to discuss the incident, he appeared defiant. 

“I was half clear-minded and half out of control,” Li Yang explained to the interviewer. “I was fed up with hours upon hours of her [Lee’s] chatter, and just wanted to subdue her quickly, so I banged her head against the floor more than 10 times…”

“It [Kim’s exposure] was not serious enough to be dealt with there and then…” he added. “My lectures are more important. I, of course, would not cancel my schedule for the sake of my family.”

Unsurprisingly, Li’s remarks were taken by many as an unrepentant attempt to justify abusing his wife, with China’s blogosphere attempting to analyze the psychology of this eccentric and increasingly sinister public figure.

Analysis

Li Yang’s former psychologist Liu Fengqin claims his client had “no understanding of love,” an attitude reinforced by the protracted absence of both parents in childhood, an absence supplemented with beatings whenever his parents were present.

“He was introverted and had an inferiority complex in childhood, and has thus embraced the other extreme, becoming excessively conceited,” Liu told NewsChina. “He has to prove himself by constant ‘success.’”

Liu believes that Li’s evangelical approach to English teaching is a symptom of this desire to overcome the isolation and impotence of his childhood. “We learn English to make money! We learn English to conquer Japan, the US and Europe…,” was a typical opener for Li’s lectures.

“It seems he wants to have absolute control over everything, his career, his family – everything ,” said Liu. “For Li Yang to say that he does not care about his family is just an excuse. He actually needs the love of his family – he just doesn’t know how to go about gaining it.”

Since his appearances in sorts of media last year, which fanned the flames of public anger, Li Yang is now refusing all interviews. When our reporter attempted to contact Li, his assistant Sun Zehui explained that “Li did not want to hype this.”

Public Trial

Li’s attempts to calm the media storm surrounding his wife’s allegations have continued to be met with controversy. Despite admitting to various media that “it is definitely wrong to use violence,” claiming he would like to serve as “a negative example of domestic violence,” Li has continued to refer to the beatings meted out to his wife as “family conflict,” claiming that his American wife’s public revelations are the result of “cultural differences.”

Indeed, Li’s supporters have fallen back on cultural arguments to justify his behavior. “A friend of mine sent me a text message, saying ‘it is fairly common for a man to beat his wife. I will support you forever,” Li remarked in an interview with web-portal sina.com. “It is common for men in China to put their careers first. If Kim hadn’t tried to irritate me with her nagging, everything would have been OK,” he continued. 

Other anonymous defenders in the online community have attacked Kim Lee for attempting to drag her husband’s name through the mud. The view that spousal abuse is a matter for a husband and wife, and shouldn’t be publicized or legislated against, is a common one in microblog threads relating to the case, and the failure of the Beijing police to follow up on Kim Lee’s report has reinforced this position.

“Kim, you always criticize Li Yang to the media. Is this not abuse as well?” ran one microblog posting which drew particular criticism. “A Chinese idiom says ‘meet happily, part happily.’ If you could compromise, I believe Li Yang would, too,” it continued.

“I still get this type of comment on my Weibo, and even more sadly from people I once considered friends,” Kim Lee told NewsChina. “Li Yang himself has repeatedly given me this exact accusation: that I hurt him, I hurt his image. I hurt his brand and his company. My response is quite simple: ‘No, you hurt all these things. If you had not committed violence, there would have been nothing for me to expose.’”

“I scheduled 14 psychiatric consultations for Li Yang, but he stopped coming after the second session,” Liu Fengqin told NewsChina. “I don’t think he wants to solve his psychological problems. What he really cares about is his career and his image.”

“I don’t support some psychologists’ claims that Li Yang is beyond his own control when he is abusing his wife,” Feng Yuan, co-founder of China’s anti-domestic violence network, told NewsChina. “Actually, in China, it is clear to abusive people who they can get away with abusing.”

“In the US, Li Yang would have been arrested. In China, he has not received any punishment,” she said.

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