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Justice for Lamu: Death of Tibetan Vlogger Sparks Online Movement against Domestic Violence 

The story of a Tibetan woman burnt by her ex-husband has triggered outrage on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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The popular Tibetan vlogger Lamu recently died after her husband attacked her and set her on fire inside her own home. Chinese netizens now raise their voices against domestic violence and call on authorities to do more to protect and legally empower victims of domestic abuse.

 
By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes
 

The tragic story of a young Tibetan woman named Lamu (拉姆, Lhamo in Tibetan) is going insanely viral on Chinese social media these days, triggering massive outrage over the problem of domestic violence in China.

Update: also listen to our podcast on this story here

With over 700,000 followers on the Chinese video app Douyin, Lamu was popular for doing short videos about her life in the countryside since 2018. Singing, dancing, cooking, and showing fans the nature in her mountainous hometown, she was admired for her natural beauty and energetic attitude.

The 30-year-old lived in the Guanyinqiao town of Jinchuan County, at the edge of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. Living in poverty, Lamu worked hard to make some money. Her videos showed the dirt on her clothes and her poor living conditions. Fans praised her for showing the sunny side of her simple life.

Lamu’s videos on Douyin (screenshot via whatsonweibo.com).

But Lamu’s personal circumstances were nowhere near as sunny as they appeared in her videos. For years, the mother of two experienced severe domestic abuse by her husband, Tang X. (唐某).

Lamu divorced Tang, after which they both gained custody over one child. But the abuse continued as the ex-husband threatened to kill one child if Lamu would not get back together with him.

Several news sources describe how Lamu reported the abuse to the police multiple times, but that no action was taken – local officers deemed the case a ‘family matter.’

Afraid for the safety of her child, Lamu was pressured into remarrying her ex-husband. But after recurring abuse and afraid for her own life, she again divorced him earlier this year. A local court ruled that Tang, who had more financial resources, would get custody over both children.

Things took a turn for the worse in September of this year, when Tang burst into Lamu’s home. Lamu was stabbed, doused in gasoline, and set on fire by her ex-husband on the night of September 14, while she was trying to livestream from her home.

With 90% of her body damaged by flames, she was transported to Sichuan People’s Hospital where she eventually succumbed to her injuries on September 30. Tang X. has since been detained while the case is under investigation.

The story gained widespread attention on social media platforms Douyin and Weibo, and soon went viral, although some hashtags and topics related to the news were censored later on.

One of the most-read in-depth online blogs about Lamu is that by ‘Guyu’ (谷雨) titled “Lamu, Burned by her Ex-Husband” (“被前夫烧毁的拉姆”). The article explains more about Lamu’s low-income, low-education background, her struggles to take care of her sick father, and her hard work to generate money for her family.

Lamu’s sister Zhuoma (卓玛, Dolma in Tibetan) posted a social media video on October 1st in which she tearfully shared the tragic news: “Yesterday, my younger sister has left us forever, (..), but she will always remain in our hearts.”

Lamu’s sister thanked Chinese netizens for their support.

Zhuoma also thanked social media users for their support. In an effort to help pay for Lamu’s medical costs shortly after her hospitalization, fans set up an online crowdfunding campaign for her and were able to raise over 1 million yuan ($150,000) within a time frame of just seven hours.

A memorial for Lamu after her death, posted on Weibo.

Lamu’s funeral was held at a local temple on October 5. The hashtag “Lamu is Cremated Today” (#拉姆今日火化#) received over 310 million views on Weibo.

 

“Domestic violence is not a family issue!”

 

In the wake of Lamu’s death, and despite censorship, Chinese netizens started speaking out against domestic violence, advocating for better laws and support systems for domestic abuse victims in China.

An online poster that was shared online by hundreds of netizens says:

Vlogger Lamu suffered domestic abuse for over ten years. She reached out for help many times to no avail. She was burnt by her ex-husband and died on September 30th. We can’t let this kind of tragedy happen again! Let’s confront a lack of action in the face of domestic violence, inaction should be punished. Please forward and make women’s voices against domestic violence heard!

Chinese actress Li Bingbing (李冰冰) also spoke out about the matter on Weibo, saying: “Don’t be indifferent, don’t stay silent, domestic violence is not a family matter, it is a crime!”

Many raising their voice against domestic violence mention how Lamu’s case, unfortunately, is not unique. There have been similar cases before, and there are millions suffering behind closed doors. A 2016 survey by the All-China Women’s Federation estimated that 30% of married Chinese women had experienced some form of domestic violence.

Domestic abuse was officially criminalized with China’s first national law against domestic violence in 2016, but it is still a widespread problem, partly due to a general lack of public awareness of domestic abuse and police officers regarding it as a private family matter, downplaying its severity.

Another issue is how the legal repercussions for the perpetrators of domestic violence are often mild or even non-existent.

As noted by author Hao Yang in this article, the Chinese law’s definition of domestic violence covers physical and psychological violence, yet does not explicitly include sexual violence such as marital rape. The law also does not include violence against former spouses or partners who do not live together.

There is also no clear national implementation guideline for China’s Domestic Violence Law, and no standard procedure for protecting victims.

Lamu’s death has stirred online discussions on the importance of addressing all of these aforementioned problems. These kinds of online discussions on domestic violence have risen before, but the voices have rarely been as loud as they are now.

“Domestic violence is the most frightening and harmful type of violence since it comes from within one’s own family. If the police are useless, then how can women ever protect themselves?”, one Weibo commenter writes, with another person responding: “Domestic violence is not a family issue! I hope the relevant authorities will start paying more attention to this!”

 

“We need a ‘Lamu Bill'”

 

One popular Weibo user, a screenwriter from Beijing with approximately 240,000 followers, argues that the intervention of authorities in domestic abuse cases is sometimes literally a matter of life and death.

“Women who are victims of domestic violence should not have only two destinies,”  the blogger writes: “..either being beaten to death or struggling to kill.”

This blogger, along with other social media users, also mentions other cases where the non-intervention of local authorities in domestic abuse cases led to a tragic ending.

Two of the cases often mentioned together with Lamu’s case are that of Dong Shanshan (董珊珊), Li Yan (李彦), and Ms. Liu (刘女士).

Dong Shanshan was a 26-year-old woman from Beijing who suffered abuse from her husband shortly after getting married. Dong and her family reported the abuse to the police a total of 8 times, but the police allegedly were reluctant to intervene in something that was deemed a “family dispute.” After another beating by her husband, Dong died of internal organ failure in 2009. Her husband was sentenced to six years in prison.

Dong Shanshan

Li Yan suffered abuse by her husband Tan Yong ever since they got married in 2009. Although Li reported the abuse to the local justice department, police, and the All-China Women’s Federation, local authorities did not intervene. When the abuse got worse – including Tan hitting Li’s head against the wall, hacking off one of her fingers, and stubbing out cigarettes on her face and body, – Li (accidentally) killed her drunken husband with a gun barrel after he threatened to shoot her. Li was sentenced to death in 2011. The sentence was overturned in 2015 and commuted to life in prison.

Ms. Liu‘s case made headlines after the woman from Henan jumped from a second-story window to escape domestic violence. Footage of Liu landing on the street – a fall that left her temporarily paralyzed – went viral earlier this year when it became known that Liu had filed for divorce but this was denied by a local court. The court reportedly denied Liu’s petition for divorce due to her husband’s unwillingness to separate, and because her claims of domestic violence could not be verified without a criminal complaint. In the summer of 2020, Liu was finally granted a divorce.

A law that was released in 2020 introduced a mandatory “cooling off period” of thirty days after couples file for divorce. The law is allegedly intended to make people think twice before officially separating, but it also triggered public outrage for making victims of domestic violence even more vulnerable.

Lamu

In light of Lamu’s case, many people on Weibo and Douyin now support a so-called ‘Lamu Bill’ (拉姆法案), that should legally empower victims of domestic abuse, more so than the current law on domestic abuse does.

Netizens suggest it should include the automatic dissolution of a marriage once one side wants a divorce for one’s own personal safety, and that it should criminalize marital rape.

“We need the ‘Lamu Bill’, we can’t let these kinds of cases happen again,” multiple commenters say, with others also writing “if you don’t speak up, nothing will ever change.” One post on the issue received over 630,000 likes.

On Weibo, the hashtag page for the topic has now been taken offline and many people note that the topic has been taken down from Weibo hot search lists.

At the time of writing, the hashtag “Stop Nonfeasance” (#停止不作为#), that is also used to call for change and better enforcement of China’s domestic violence laws, is still open on Weibo and Douyin. On Douyin, many netizens speak out against domestic violence via video; on Weibo, they do so via posts and images.

Multiple images and videos show that the online movement against domestic violence also takes place offline, with people creating small memorials outside and leaving the “Stop Inaction” posters outside the Sichuan hospital.

Besides the censored hashtag and the “Stop Nonfeasance” hashtag, there are also other terms and hashtags used by Weibo and Douyin users to get their message across.

Lamu’s story is passed on and has become much bigger than her tragic death alone. “I could be Lamu,” some female commenters say.

“When people stay silent, women have no way to speak up,” one person writes. And so, through online and offline memorials, posters, hashtags, and photos, the calls for action against domestic violence are everywhere. Even in the face of censorship, many social media users seem determined to make their voices heard.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Insight

“Chinese Spy Balloon” Versus “Chinese Civilian Airship” – The Chinese Words That Matter in the Balloon Incident

On Chinese social media, the Chinese balloon is seen as a weather device that ended up measuring the temperature of China-US relations.

Manya Koetse

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A day after the U.S. military shot down a Chinese balloon off the Carolina coast, the ‘balloon incident’ is a hot topic on Chinese social media, as official media are publishing about the incident and social media users are discussing it.

At 8:17 in the morning on Feb. 5, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs published its response to the shooting down of the Chinese balloon on Weibo.

They expressed “strong discontent and protest” over the American use of force to attack the “civilian unmanned airship” (民用无人飞艇) after Chinese officials recurringly informed the U.S. side that the balloon – described as a weather device, – had accidentally entered the U.S. and did not pose any threat to the U.S. whatsoever (#外交部就美方宣称击落中国无人飞艇发表声明#).

On Chinese social media, as also described in our earlier article on the incident, the balloon has come to be referred to as the “Wandering Balloon” (流浪气球) in the context of the box-office hit The Wandering Earth II.

At the same time, China celebrated the Lantern Festival (元宵节) which marks the first full moon of the Chinese New Year. It is tradition to eat glutinous rice balls and enjoy lanterns floating in the sky.

The balloon incident set the Chinese social media meme machine in motion, in which the balloon, The Wandering Earth II, and the Lantern Festival all came together in various images that circulated on Weibo and beyond.

The balloon, featured in ‘The Wandering Balloon’ movie produced by ‘US Government’, wishes everyone a happy Lanern Festival.

Another meme titled “Wandering Balloon” drawing comparisons between the ballloon and rice balls traditionally eaten during Lantern Festival.

The Weibo hashtags used to discuss the incident were mainly initiated by Chinese (state) media outlets, such as “The U.S. Side Claims to Have Shot Down Chinese Unmanned Airship” (#美方宣称击落中国无人飞艇#); “America Uses Military Force to Attack Civilian Unmanned Airship” (#美方宣称击落中国无人飞艇#); “The U.S. Side’s Insistence on Using Force Is Clearly an Overreaction” (#美方执意动用武力明显反应过度#).

“Is it a balloon or an airship? The American official and media side all claim it is a spying balloon; the Chinese side claims it is an civilian unmanned airship,” one blogger wrote, showing the different media contexts in which the incident is being discussed and emphasizing the importance of the vocabulary used.

Words matter, and at a time when there is a lot of speculation about the incident, the seemingly humorous way in which Chinese netizens have responded to the international dispute also relates to the language that is being used to describe the event.

On Chinese social media, the majority of commenters see the balloon as a weather device that went wandering and, unexpectedly, ended up measuring the temperature of Sino-American relations – which turned out to be icy cold.

Some examples of the kind of phrasing that matters in the Chinese media context:

Civilian Unmanned Airship
民用无人飞艇 Mínyòng Wúrén Fēitǐng

The balloon in question is described as a “civilian unmanned airship” in Chinese official and state media texts. The word ‘civilian’ (民用) is included in the clarification about the balloon being a civilian meteorological balloon, and thus not serving any military purposes (民用 ‘civilian’ versus 军用 ‘military’).

Attack [on] Civilian Unmanned Airship
袭击民用无人飞艇 Xíjí Mínyòng Wúrén Fēitǐng

The U.S. military shooting down the Chinese balloon is also phrased as an “attack” (袭击) in many Chinese media reports as well as in the official Foreign Ministry post.

Completely by Accident
完全是意外 Wánquán Shì Yìwài

The expressions “completely by accident” (完全是意外), “unexpected circumstances” (意外情况), and “force majeure” (不可抗力) are used in official Chinese media texts describing the balloon incident to underline that the circumstances in which the device floated into American skies was not only unrelated to military / government purposes, but that it was also unintentional.

Stay tuned for more updates.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China Insight

Hot Air: Chinese Social Media Reactions to the Chinese Balloon Incident

The Chinese balloon incident is also referred to as the “Wandering Balloon” on social media at a time when ‘Wandering Earth II’ is trending.

Manya Koetse

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The 2023 “China balloon incident” has gotten so big over the past few days that it already has its very own Wikipedia page now.

On Feb. 2, 2023, it was announced that a Chinese “surveillance balloon” was traveling over the northern United States. Later, it was reported that a second Chinese balloon floated over Latin America.

As a consequence, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called off a scheduled visit to Beijing, calling the presence of the Chinese balloon “an irresponsible act.” The balloon has also been dubbed the “Chinese spy balloon.”

On Sunday morning after 4 AM China local time, news came out that the U.S. military had shot down the Chinese balloon off the Carolina coast after the coastal area of North and South Carolina had been closed for the national security operation.

In an earlier statement on Friday, Chinese officials referred to the balloon as a civilian “airship” (“飞艇”) used for weather monitoring and meteorological research that deviated from its original route due to the wind. The incident, therefore, is also described as the “Chinese Airship Incident” (“中国飞艇事件”) by Chinese media outlets.

On Chinese social media, the issue is referred to as “the balloon incident” (“气球事件”) or the “balloon problem” (“气球问题”), and many netizens think it is all about “making a big issue over nothing” (“小题大做”).

The balloon is also nicknamed “the wandering balloon” (流浪气球) in light of the current Chinese box office hit The Wandering Earth II. One of the hashtags used to discuss the events was “The Wandering Balloon II” (#流浪气球2#).

Chinese political commentator Hu Xijin, who frequently posts on social media, suggested earlier that the U.S. side allegedly is very well aware that the Chinese balloon – which accidentally went “wandering” – actually “poses no threat” and that ongoing reports about the balloon were purposely being used to create an anti-Chinese narrative.

Hu’s reasoning is similar to that of Chinese International Relations Professor Li Haidong (李海东), who claims that the balloon story is framed as a threat in order for the U.S. to gain an advantage in bilateral negotiations (#专家称美炒作气球事件对华施压#).

Following news reports about the Chinese balloon getting shot down, some Weibo commenters jokingly lamented that the “poor baby balloon” had been ruthlessly shot down without even getting the time to float around.

“Such a pity,” some wrote, with others suggesting it’s “just a stray balloon.”

One of the hastags used for online discussions of the balloon getting shot down was “The Wandering Balloon Is Shot Down” (#流浪气球被击落#) and “The ‘Wandering Balloon’ Gets Shot Down by American Military” (#流浪气球被击落#).

There are many online jokes about the incident, such as those saying that the Chinese people thought the sci-fi blockbuster Wandering Earth II was the current film hit and that they had not expected the ‘Wandering Balloon’ to be the actual hit of the moment.

The fact that the current Chinese balloon developments trigger so many online comparisons and memes related to the sci-fi film Wandering Earth II perhaps doesn’t come as a surprise, since the movie has been among the hottest trending topics of the past week, and considering its narrative is all about catastrophic events and the future of international society.

Others comment that since this is the time of the Chinese Lantern Festival (元宵节), celebrated on the fifteenth day of the first month of the Chinese New Year, the incident is just another way of wishing everyone a happy new year.

All jokes aside, there are also bloggers who see the incident as a more serious occurrence at a time of worsening Sino-American relations, suggesting the significance of this matter “can’t be underestimated.”

For more updates on this story, see this article.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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