On June 20 in Qingyang, Gansu Province, a 19-year-old female student surnamed Li 李 jumped to her death after being allegedly sexually assaulted by her teacher. (Chinese media reports about crimes and accidents usually refer to both victims and perpetrators by their surnames only, often in the form 李某 Lǐ mǒu or “somebody Li.”
On the day of her suicide, Li ate lunch with her family, and then went to the eighth floor of a nearby apartment building. She sat beside a window for almost four hours and then leapt to her death.
The harrasment case
According to Li’s father, her suicide was triggered by the local court’s decision to dismiss a sexual harassment case she had against her teacher, a man surnamed Wu 吴. In a complaint (in Chinese) to Gansu Qingyang People’s Court, Li said the incident occured in 2016 when she was 16. She had a stomach ache and visited the school nurse. She was told to rest in a teachers’ apartment building. At around 8 p.m., Wu came to her room and sat next to her, asking about her health. A few minutes later, Wu allegedly started touching Li’s face, kissing her mouth, and trying to take off her clothes. It was not until another teacher entered the room that Wu stopped his unwanted advances.
The following day, Li reported the case to school officials. They ordered Wu to apologize. But Li was not satisfied, and persisted in trying to bring Wu to justice through legal means. However, the local court was unsympathetic. On May 18 this year, the court rejected her case, saying that Wu’s attack did not constitute a crime, and that there was no evidence.
The court did not inform Li herself of the decision, only her father. He worried about the state of her mental health, and did not tell her. But in mid-June, Li discovered the court documents that her father had hid from her and became furious. In the afternoon of June 20, Li ate lunch with her family, left home, and then posted a note to WeChat, saying, “Everything is over.” A few hours later, she was dead.
In a press conference on June 25, the local police said that in the aftermath of Wu’s predatory behavior, Li had suffered severe depression and had attempted suicide a number of times. Li’s father said that before her death, his daughter had frequently lost her temper, and harmed herself through various means. She had previously tried to jump off a school building, but was rescued.
On June 25, the local bureau of education also gave a public account of the matter. It said that it had given Wu administrative punishment after the case was reported. However, Li’s father responded that he had never heard about the administrative punishment, and that in fact, the school had offered him 350,000 yuan ($53,194) in exchange for him dropping the case. “Under no circumstances will I sign such a humiliating agreement,” the father told the Beijing Youth Daily (in Chinese), adding that he demanded nothing but a public apology from the school officials and for Wu to be held accountable.
Wu’s actual punishment was a mere 10 days of detention. According to Li’s father, what upset his daughter the most was the light penalty for the offender. “When my daughter returned to school, Wu was still teaching,” the father told media (in Chinese)
The police and a brutal crowd
It’s not only the school’s handling of the case that has drawn attention: The way the police dealt with her suicide is also being scrutinized.
A police officer named Cheng Wei 程伟 attempted to dissuade Li from jumping (in Chinese). While he managed to grab Li’s arm when she jumped, she managed to wrench herself from his grip and fell to her death. Cheng said that they had not placed an air cushion on the ground because it might make Li more resistant to persuasion, which may be a questionable decision.
It’s also clear from videos posted online that the police intervention had some crowd management issues. According to Sixth Tone, the scene of Li’s suicide attracted about 100 people, who can be seen actively enticing Li to leap to her death by applauding, cheering, and clapping. At one point, a guy said, “See, guys, she’s been trying to jump from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. She’s such a coward, a donkey can do better than that.”
The local government announced (in Chinese) on June 25 that two of the bystanders had been detained and six others were under investigation. Meanwhile, Li’s father said (in Chinese) that he wouldn’t pursue any redress from the onlookers because he didn’t want to bring any more negativity to his family.
Wu has now been fired (in Chinese) from his post, and will no longer be able to teach in China’s education system.