The “Qing Law” has the following provision: only when a woman consistently resisted sexual violence from attackers, or if the woman is killed or parts of her body are seriously injured, will the judge consider that rape has occurred.
This piece is an extract from: “Behind history, history truths you don’t know about”, by Liu Zhaoxing, Jilin Publishing Group.
With China’s 2000 years as a feudal society, it stands to reason that there should be many less historical records of rape than theft, robbery and other crimes. But what is the reason for this?
First, the feudal value of chastity put women in bondage: with chastity replacing justice, victims rarely went to plead their cause. From the Qin dynasty onwards, rulers paid particular attention to ‘keeping chastity’ 守节, and to commend “virtuous women” and “chaste women”, books called “Lives of exemplary women” appeared one after another, recording examples of women performing exceptional acts in the name of chastity. As the Imperial Annals of the Western Jin Dynasty record: in the time of the three kingdoms, the daughter of Xiao Houjin was married to Cao Wenshu, but Cao Wenshu died soon after, before they had a son. Her father asked her to remarry, and she cut off both her ears as a sign of refusal. Later, her parents, seeing her with no support, asked her again to remarry, and she cut off her nose to signify that she wanted to keep chastity and not remarry. Another example is that of the virtuous woman Zhang Zhi: she became a widow in her young age, and together with two sisters-in-law, was caught by a rebel army. In order to preserve chastity, she first killed her sisters-in-law, and then committed suicide. Fortunately, the rebel army was quickly defeated, and they were saved in the end. In feudal society, for women, “starving to death is a small thing, but losing chastity is a great thing”. A widow who remarried was considered an ‘adulteress’, and many women found guilty of the ‘obscenity’ of remarriage were brutally tortured to death. So after their husband died, many women feared that they would be pressured by tradition either to a martyr’s death or to a lifetime of chastity. And many women, following the example of voluntary chastity offered in “The Lives of Exemplary Women” committed suicide, disfigured or mutilated themselves in order to keep that oath. In such a society, the women victims, because of their own sense of chasity, either suffered in silence, or committed suicide. When the victims won’t speak, who knows how many crimes were committed?
Second, the stipulations of the laws about rape in feudal society were not conducive to women reporting the crime to officials. The details of rape laws in various dynasties are very similar. If we look at “Qing Law” for example, the law said: only if the woman continuously resisted the perpetrators, or the woman was dead, or suffered serious injuries to her body, would the judge identify this as rape. This means that, if a woman was raped, and resisted at the beginning, but later was unable to resist or, intimidated by a weapon or verbally, the woman was forced to stop resisting and accept the rapist’s sexual assault, this would be regarded as a case of debauchery or adultery. And once recognised as involved in debauchery, there would be three consequences for the victim. The first is that they would enjoy humiliation, and might commit suicide to escape the condemnation of public opinion. The second is that for woman who previously exhibited “disloyal behaviour”, even if they were raped, the criminals should be punished more leniently. The third is when a woman was seen as committing ‘adultery’ with a man. Unmarried women would be hit 80 times, married women would be hit 90 times. The Qing dynasty law also stipulates that, for both man and woman, their lower body would be exposed to the crowd, and they would be beaten into disrepute. And for that reason, women who got raped would rather suffer nine deaths than report the fact to officials. With such a legal system, it’s only natural that there should be few cases of rape.
Of course, this argument may not be comprehensive, and there may be other reasons why there were fewer cases of rape than other crimes during that period. Maybe, this requires further research and study.