China Hails Woman Paralyzed in Leap to Escape Boss


A cocktail waitress who was paralyzed from the waist down after jumping from a building to flee her boss’ advances is being portrayed here as a national heroine in an unprecedented campaign against sexual harassment and exploitation of poor migrant women.

The case of 23-year-old Tang Shengli, who left the countryside for the city of Chengdu to seek work, has attracted national attention, appearing on recent state television newscasts as well as on the front pages of newspapers--including an extensive report Thursday in the official Communist Party People’s Daily.

Tang’s defiance of her boss’ sexual demands has been cast as a moral triumph in an age of failing values. She “showed us the Chinese woman’s virtue of self-esteem, independence and personal strength,” said All China Women’s Federation Vice Chairwoman Lei Hairong, who visited Tang in a Beijing hospital where she is undergoing treatment.


Factories, restaurants and shops in major cities are full of young peasants like Tang--human flotsam in China’s huge migrant “floating population” estimated at 80 million to 100 million people. Many of them have been sexually exploited and forced into prostitution.

In Chengdu, capital of China’s populous Sichuan province, Tang found employment as a waitress in a nightclub named Borders of Heaven. But the job soon turned into a living hell.

News reports said nightclub owner Hui Shuiyuan tried to force Tang to watch pornographic films, dance and have sex with him and customers. Hui placed guards at the nightclub doors to prevent Tang and other female employees from leaving, the reports said.

But Tang decided that she would “rather be shattered jade than intact mud tile,” said the Legal Daily newspaper, drawing on an ancient Chinese expression. With her boss in pursuit, Tang leaped from the nightclub’s second-story balcony. “I’ll die before I become an escort girl [prostitute],” she reportedly shouted before jumping.

The fall in November snapped Tang’s spine, leaving her paralyzed. But her act caught the attention of senior government officials, who called for harsh punishment of those who exploit women.

In Tang’s case, the nightclub owner received a relatively light sentence of one year in a labor camp, the officials noted. The nightclub’s business license was reportedly also revoked.


When the Communists swept into power in 1949, they vowed to end the ancient practices of foot-binding, concubinage and prostitution.

“Women hold up half the sky,” said revolutionary leader Mao Tse-tung.

For decades, prostitution was virtually eliminated from Chinese society. However, after economic liberalization was introduced two decades ago and most restrictions on travel were removed, prostitution made a comeback. Most cities now have nightclubs and karaoke bars that are essentially brothels. In some resort locations, such as Hainan Island, prostitutes openly work the streets. Many prostitutes are former peasant girls, like Tang, who are part of the huge internal migration that has marked modern Chinese society.

In China, as in many societies, mythological heroes include young women who have chosen death or disability over sexual humiliation. Feng Menglong, an expert on the Ming Dynasty, collected several of these cases in his book of moral fables, “Sanyan Liangpai.”

In one of the stories, a young woman named Hai refused the advances of a gang of hooligans who offered her rice in exchange for sex. After the hooligans forced her onto a boat, she hanged herself rather than submit to their demands.

Tang’s case is a contemporary version of that tale.

“Lying quietly on her hospital bed, faced with lifelong paralysis, she has no regrets about the leap she took,” wrote Legal Daily reporter Sun Haining.