American Woman Gives Domestic Abuse A Face, And Voice, In China Kim Lee posted a photo of her battered face online, and has become a national icon in China. She won a divorce, a financial settlement and a restraining order against her Chinese husband, a famous author and English teacher.
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American Woman Gives Domestic Abuse A Face, And Voice, In China

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American Woman Gives Domestic Abuse A Face, And Voice, In China

American Woman Gives Domestic Abuse A Face, And Voice, In China

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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An American woman from Florida has made legal history in Beijing. Kim Lee is a victim of domestic violence. And now, she's been given Beijing's first restraining order against the man who was her husband.

NPR's Beijing correspondent, Louisa Lim, spoke with her about her struggles with the famous man who abused her.

LI YANG: Crazy English, crazy study...

LOUISA LIM, BYLINE: Li Yang is the Crazy English guru of China. The country's most famous English teacher, he pioneered a method of teaching by shouting.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Crazy. Crazy. Crazy. Crazy.

LIM: He was even employed by the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee to teach Crazy English to volunteers. But 18 months ago, his American wife, Kim Lee, the mother of his three girls, posted pictures online. They showed her injuries after he'd beaten her: a huge bruised bump on her forehead, injuries to her ear, grazes on her knees.

KIM LEE: That day, the violence was so horrific. I went to the police station, and I went to the hospital, and my husband went on TV and did a TV show. I mean, I thought maybe he just didn't even realize how seriously he hurt me, even though he was sitting on my back, whatever, slamming my head on the floor.

I thought that will really get his attention. Maybe then he'll come to the realization: Oh, I really seriously injured my wife. I better go home. I better deal with this. But he didn't.

YANG: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: In interviews, Li Yang admitted to beating his wife. I hit her sometimes, he told the China Daily, but I never thought she'd make it public since it's not Chinese tradition.

YANG: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: In another television interview, he said he'd only married her as a cultural experiment, for research in American child-rearing techniques, he said. It became the country's most closely watched divorce case.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: When the verdict came last Sunday, it made the nightly news. A court found in Kim Lee's favor. It granted her a divorce, custody of their three children, assets of almost $2 million. And for the first time ever in Beijing, it issued a restraining order against her ex-husband. She says she's satisfied with the verdict.

LEE: The whole system here is designed to pressure women to give up and just drop it. But I didn't. I just didn't give up. I sat. And if they said, oh, he's not here. Come back on Sunday - the police - the officer that handles this is not here. I said, OK, I'll come back on Sunday. That's why when they read the decree and they issued the protection order, I just really sighed. I think earned it.

LIM: Her ex-husband, Li Yang, didn't attend court that day. He didn't respond to NPR's request for an interview. Throughout the process, Kim, who's also a teacher, has been guided by the example she's setting for their daughters.

LEE: I made a conscious decision. You know, I used a Chinese lawyer. I used Chinese courts. So, to be honest, a lot of my American friends didn't understand this. They're like, you're crazy. You're American. Go to the embassy immediately. But, you know, I didn't want to teach my daughters, no one can beat you because you're American. I wanted to teach them, no one can beat you because you're a person, you're a woman.

FENG YUAN: (Foreign language spoken)

LIM: This is a milestone case, according to women's rights campaigner Feng Yuan. It's opened up public discussion on domestic abuse and highlighted the deficiencies of Chinese law. One official survey, which she says almost certainly understates the problem, reports nearly a quarter of married Chinese women suffer domestic abuse.

Lee has received more than a thousand messages, many deeply disturbing.

LEE: I mean, they range from absolutely heart-wrenching, from a teenager, my mom killed herself to punish my dad. So please, Kim - she couldn't do anything - please don't give up.

And sometimes women will send me photos and they're horrible. And they'll say, Kim, please delete this after I send it to you. My husband will kill me if he knows I told anyone, but I can't tell anyone, and what should I do? I don't know. I mean, so many people like to say, Kim, you're so brave, you're so bold. But I don't know if people adequately understand that I was kind of like a parasite. I sucked all of the strength out of those women because I certainly wanted to give up many times.

LIM: Kim Lee now wants to use her high profile to help others. She's concerned about one woman, Li Yan, who's facing the death penalty after murdering her husband. She suffered years of abuse, during which he even hacked off one of her fingers. She went to the police, but they didn't intervene. Beyond that one case, there's much to do: China still doesn't have a specific law forbidding domestic violence.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Beijing.

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