Son of Chinese general faces rape trial; raises anger over top families

Picture taken on August 20, 2013 shows Meng Ge (C), mother of Li Tianyi, the son of a Chinese general charged with rape, according to state media, outside Haidian court in Beijing.
STR | AFP | Getty Images
Picture taken on August 20, 2013 shows Meng Ge (C), mother of Li Tianyi, the son of a Chinese general charged with rape, according to state media, outside Haidian court in Beijing.

The teenage son of a prominent Chinese general goes on trial on Wednesday suspected of involvement in a gang rape in a case that has inflamed public anger at the offspring of the political elite who are widely seen as spoilt and reckless.

Li Tianyi, 17, is among five men accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a Beijing hotel in February, according to state media.

His father is General Li Shuangjiang of the People's Liberation Army (PLA), who is a singer known for performing patriotic songs on television shows and at official events.

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Li's mother, Meng Ge, is a famous singer in the PLA.

It is not the teenager's first brush with the law. In 2011, he drove a BMW into another car in Beijing, beat up the couple inside the vehicle and then scoffed at bystanders about calling the police.

He was sentenced to a year in a juvenile correctional facility and his father made a public apology.

The latest case has dominated headlines for weeks, focusing attention again on China's political aristocrats who are widely viewed as corrupt and above the law.

It follows the dramatic trial of ousted former senior politician Bo Xilai, whose family's lurid excesses were detailed by the court and lapped up on social media.

Li has become the most prominent target of complaints that the sons and daughters of China's top-ranked Communist Party officials can dodge the law because of family influence.

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"The general public is worried that his family, because of their relationships and power, will be able to use their connections," said Zhang Ming, a politics professor at Renmin University.

"In China, this kind of privilege is very powerful. It's omnipresent," Zhang said. "The people's fears are not groundless."

In July, hackers attacked the website of one of the law firms representing Li, saying: "We just want to return justice to the client."

"Sue me!"

President Xi Jinping has made addressing discontent over abuses by officials a main goal. Rising mistrust of the government presents a potent risk for leaders who fear social instability.

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Even the People's Daily, the party's mouthpiece, weighed in on Li's case when it broke, saying the failure of prominent families to educate their children could "lead to antagonism among the people".

The case has also stoked debate about rape and attitudes towards women.

In July, a law professor at the elite Tsinghua University apologized online after he had said that "raping a chaste woman is more harmful than raping a bar girl, a dancing girl ... or a prostitute", sparking outrage.

Li's lawyer, Chen Shu, told Reuters Li would not plead guilty but he declined to elaborate except to say the court was not expected to announce a verdict on Wednesday.

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Li's lawyers have asked the court to investigate suspected prostitution and extortion relating to the case, Li's legal adviser, Lan He, was quoted by the state-run China News Service as saying.

The lawyer for the woman victim could not be reached for comment.

Family connections do not always help unruly offspring.

In 2010, a 22-year-old man was jailed for six years after he ran over a student and shouted "Sue me if you dare. My father is Li Gang!"

Li Gang was a deputy provincial police chief. His son's warning has become a byword for nepotism and corruption.

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