An American English teacher named Kim Lee made headlines in China earlier this year when she was granted a divorce on grounds of domestic violence from her rich and famous Chinese husband, Li Yang. The court also placed a three-month restraining order against her husband, the first such ruling ever in the history of Chinese jurisprudence.
After the ruling, prominent lawyer Guo Jianmei told reporter Didi Kirsten Tatlow, “All of society was paying attention. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
Kim Lee and Li Yang are national celebrities in China as English language teachers. Their high-powered instructional technique drew mass audiences to their program of “Crazy English”. It’s wildly popular.
“He is China’s Elvis of English, perhaps the world’s only language teacher known to bring students to tears of excitement. He has built an empire out of his country’s deepening devotion to a language it once derided as the tongue of barbarians and capitalists. His philosophy, captured by one of his many slogans, is flamboyantly patriotic: Conquer English to Make China Stronger!” So wrote Evan Osnos in The New Yorker when Li Yang was at the top of his very strange game.
In September 2011, Kim Lee went public with her husband’s abuse when she uploaded photos of the beatings she had received at Li Yang’s hand. After his assault, she ran out of her house with her three kids to the police station. “I felt more like the criminal and like I was being pushed into just reconciling,” Lee said. She took Li to court. And the case became a lightning rod for a discussion of domestic abuse in China, still sanctioned in many parts of Chinese society. “It quickly became a matter of the other women and their stories,” Lee told Tatlow. “No one else was speaking out. I just felt I had to.”
She took to Chinese social media to tell her story. “Children learn what they live. If my girls see Li Yang beat me, they will grow up feeling this is normal behavior, it is ok for men to beat women. In the future if they are beaten, it would be 100% my fault. They learned this horrible lesson from me.
“Li Yang, why do you call me if you can only want to tell me my character problem caused you to beat me?”
Kim Lee has made her personal tragedy a teaching moment for a nation.