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Forceful lyrics on domestic violence strike chord in China

December 17, 2020 GMT
Singer Tan Weiwei, center, gives a singing lesson to students in a rural primary school in Dabo village in Lianyuan city in southern China's Hunan Province on Dec. 4, 2007. Tan's latest song "Xiao Juan," has captivated many on the Chinese internet and has set off a discussion on domestic violence. (Chinatopix via AP)
Singer Tan Weiwei, center, gives a singing lesson to students in a rural primary school in Dabo village in Lianyuan city in southern China's Hunan Province on Dec. 4, 2007. Tan's latest song "Xiao Juan," has captivated many on the Chinese internet and has set off a discussion on domestic violence. (Chinatopix via AP)

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) — Quarrel, rape, adultery. Tricky, greedy, sycophantic. Chinese singer Tan Weiwei chants each word methodically in a two-line string of vulgarities and insults.

The 16 words in her new song share something in common: The character for woman, “nu,” is part of the Chinese character for each word.

Tan’s forceful and shocking use of these words — often used to disparage women — is meant to draw attention to the issue of domestic violence and has struck a chord in China, where despite growing public awareness and anger, victims have a hard time getting justice.

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Across multiple social media platforms, many are praising Tan for speaking out and calling attention to something that many do not discuss publicly.

Her song, “Xiao Juan,” refers to some recent high-profile cases that have sparked national discussion and calls for better legal protection.

In September, a young Tibetan woman died after her ex-husband came after her with gasoline and set her on fire while she was broadcasting a livestream from her kitchen. In October, a video circulated of a man in Shanxi apparently beating his wife to death while bystanders stood by looking on.

“With fists, with kerosene, with acid... Flushed down the sewer, from the marriage house to sinking in the riverbed,” Tan sings. “Imprisoned my body and cut my tongue, silently weaving tears into the silk and brocade.”

Victims of domestic violence in the country frequently have little recourse to finding justice and reporting is low. China only passed a law specifically criminalizing domestic violence in 2015.

The state-run All-China Women’s Federation estimates that about one in three married Chinese women will experience domestic violence. Yet in 2018, the federation only logged 39,371 official reports from the nation’s estimated 270 million families.

In recent years more women have been willing to speak up. With the spread of the global #MeToo movements, dozens of young Chinese women brought public accusations of sexual harassment against high-profile men, with some even bringing the accusations to court. That boldness, however, has yet to transfer to cases of domestic violence.

On Weibo, a widely used microblogging platform, a hashtag called “Tan Weiwei’s song lyrics are really brave” has been viewed more than 340 million times, far more than the 5.2 million views for the song’s music video. Many observed that her song could be linked to real cases of deaths reported in news media.

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Tan’s latest album 3811, tells different women’s stories through 11 songs, from a Tang-dynasty female poet to a 12-year old girl named Aguo who marries a tree in a ritual ceremony to transition to a woman. But it’s, “Xiao Juan,” the last song on the album, with its tribute to victims of domestic violence that’s garnered the most attention.

Tan demands that these victims be remembered not as “Xiao Juan,” which is similar to Jane Doe, or other anonymous names that are often used in media or police reports.

“Our names are not ‘Xiao Juan,’” she sings. “Know my name. Remember my name.”

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AP researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this report.