Deng Yujiao was an ordinary girl from Hubei Province in central China, a receptionist in a massage parlor in her hometown.
However, the events of the night of May 16, 2009, made Deng Yujiao a household name in China and a political embarrassment for the local government.
No one is sure exactly what transpired that evening, but the story goes something like this: Deng was off-duty and washing her clothes near a private massage room. Three men, all drunk, passed by and stopped to ask whether she could provide some "special services," a code name for prostitution. Deng refused, but the men did not leave. They continued to harass her. She tried to get away, but they managed to push her into their private room.
Deng Yujiao is not a woman who accomplished anything intentionally. But by defending herself, she has brought awareness to women all over China.
They dangled wads of cash in front of her, taunting her: "We've got cash, and don't pretend you don't want this." As one of them pushed her onto a sofa and jumped on top of her, Deng grabbed a fruit knife and stabbed him, then stabbed a second man on her way to the door. She escaped.
• More Daily Beast Coverage on the Women in ChinaThe two wounded man were rushed to the hospital, and one of them died. Only then did the police realize that Deng had killed a government official from a neighboring town. She was arrested and sent to a local mental institution, where they kept her tied up in a bed. While the police investigation was still ongoing, the local authorities were ready to charge Deng with first-degree murder, which carries a death sentence in China.
What followed was nothing less than a battle between public opinion and local government officials in Hubei Province. Deng's case was discussed in a chat room on the Internet, which led to an outbreak of protests. Two netizens actually went to Deng's hometown and talked to her family. With their consent, they engaged a Beijing lawyer to defend Deng. As the defense lawyer prepared his case, Deng's parents were asked to meet with local officials. After the meeting, Deng's mother declared that the lawyer was acting on his own and did not represent her daughter. That same day, two reporters from Beijing and Guangzhou, respectively, were severely beaten by local thugs after asking questions about the case.
All the while, netizens in China rallied on the Internet and put pressure on the government and the family to give Deng a fair trial. Finally the family announced that they would hire a local lawyer from Hubei Province.
But the time Deng finally had her day in court, on June 16, 2009, hers was probably the most widely reported court case in China. In the month since her arrest, the charges against her had been reduced from murder to manslaughter. To avoid a riot outside the courthouse, a verdict of "excessive self-defense" was announced within 48 hours.
Deng Yujiao is not a woman who accomplished anything intentionally. But by defending herself, she has brought awareness to women all over China. She has provoked us to ask ourselves: Are we really half the sky? What rights do we really have? And are we really being treated fairly by the system? She was a wakeup call.
Huang Hung is a columnist for China Daily, the English language newspaper in China. She is also an avid blogger with more than 100 million page views on her blog on sina.com.