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Breaking News :Brutal Beating of Women in China Highlights Risk of Saying ‘No’

Graphic footage of the attack in China set off a heated debate that showed both the growing awareness of women’s rights and how divisive feminism still remains.

BEIJING — The man walked into a barbecue restaurant in northern China and approached a table of three women. He put his hand on the back of one, who shook him off. In response, he slapped her — then, with several other men, savagely beat her and the other women, hitting them with chairs, kicking them and dragging them outdoors.

The security camera footage of the brutal attack, which took place in the city of Tangshan on Friday and left two women hospitalized, spread rapidly online and has continued to dominate public conversation in recent days. Women flooded social media with their outrage and terror at the threat of sexual violence that looms over everyday life. Just three of many related hashtags on the Twitter-like platform Weibo have been viewed more than 4.8 billion times.

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The intensity of the public response made clear the growing attention to sexual harassment and gender-based violence in China, where conversations about equality are increasingly common. But almost simultaneously, other narratives that played down the gender angle emerged. Some legal scholars said the incident was about public safety writ large, not just for women. State media outlets focused on the possibility of gang violence. Weibo deleted hundreds of accounts, accusing their users of seeking to stoke enmity between genders.