My Chinese husband comes from a family torn apart by domestic violence. I have never even seen a photo of the monster in their nightmares. I have no desire to put a face to someone so cruel they don’t deserve to be associated with any living creature or organism. He is like a thoughtless tornado that disappears back into the looming clouds without a glimpse down at the devastation left in its path. It is there he waits in the now calm sky. His victims are left to pick up the pieces. They glance over their shoulder at the slightest movement. Should they turn left? Should they turn right? Go straight on? Turn back or stand still? There is no right direction when the tornado reappears.
Long-Awaited Domestic Violence Law
In December 2015, China’s parliament passed their first law that protects against domestic violence. This law aims to bring domestic violence victims out from the shadows. It fights against any kind of domestic violence, not only physical but also psychological. Under this law, victims can seek to obtain restraining orders. In China this is traditionally seen as a family matter with little help from the police. It is estimated that around 40% of Chinese women who are in a relationship or married have fallen into the path of a domestic abuser. Even with robust laws in the UK, the commonly reported statistic is 25%. I welcome China’s new law and hope it can protect victims, male or female, adult or child.
Marrying into a family of domestic violence victims has its challenges.
Through time I have done what I can to over power the impact it has had on their lives. I don’t want my mother-in-law to live regretting her arranged marriage. I want her to live with the knowledge that she is stronger because of it. Her children are stronger because of it. It was a grave challenge and she succeeded.
To give you an insight into my husband’s childhood, here is a short piece I wrote about his sister.
A quiet rumble in the distance. The tingling of goosebumps pricking your skin. What direction should you turn? The rumble grows louder, like a freight train pulling its load along the rusty track. There is no time to hide. The tornado has arrived.
“No, please don’t, I beg you, please, Baba! No…”
It was the first time my husband’s four year old sister, Jing, had called her father “Baba”, Chinese for “Daddy”.
Their courtyard house, built of earth and straw, had one “kang”, which doubled as the family’s bed, sofa and dining table. It could even have a fire lit underneath it during the cold winter months. Jing had a fever, coupled with a persistent cough that was interrupting her father’s attempts to sleep.
“Shut your mouth,” he grunted and, fearful of the consequences of disobedience, Jing struggled to control the tickle at the back of her throat. Within a few seconds she was running out of breath and was forced to surrender, letting out a muted splutter.
“SHUT IT, RIGHT NOW!”
Her father sat up in bed, glaring down at her threateningly. Her mother clasped her hand around Jing’s mouth, whispering fearfully into her tiny ear, “Hold it in, Darling. Please try.”
Jing felt faint from the lack of oxygen but the tickle had no mercy. Her father seemed to sense the approach of the next cough like a hunting dog catching a scent of its prey on the wind, and raised his work-roughened hand in readiness to strike. The cough escaped, followed by a few moments of silent anticipation. Jing and her mother both stared at the raised hand, then Jing closed her eyes as if conceding defeat. Nothing happened.
More coughs erupted uncontrollably from her chest and her father swung his cumbersome body out of the kang, snatched Jing from her mother’s arms and hurled her onto the cold earthen floor. Jing crawled into a corner, cowering as her father picked up a wooden stick from the floor, poked it into a can of oil and set it alight from the flames of the fire.
“Open your mouth” he bellowed.
“No, please don’t, I beg you, please, Baba, no…!”
Being called “Daddy” for the first time should be a beautiful and cherished moment in a father’s life, but Jing’s father showed no sign of a smile. Jing squeezed her tiny pink lips together as tightly as she could, frantically shaking her head as tears streaked her feverish cheeks. Snapping her head back he pinched her button nose shut with his free hand. Their eyes met for a few moments before she was forced to part her lips and he pushed the smoldering stick between them, blistering her lips and scorching her tongue as it went. His task completed, he threw down the stick and climbed back into bed to resume his attempt to sleep. Knowing that Jing must now suppress her screams of pain as well as the coughing, her mother lay down beside her and put her finger in the child’s mouth.
“Bite hard,” she whispered and by the morning my mother-in-law’s finger had swollen so much it didn’t subside for a week.