Murder of female jogger renews debate about gender-based violence in China

The police have arrested a suspect related to a case of a 21-year-old woman who went out running in the morning and was later found dead.

A man in central China has been arrested on suspicion of murdering a woman while she was on a morning run, in a case that has renewed debate in China over gender-based violence and sexist attitudes.

The 21-year-old woman, surnamed Zhu, was reported missing by her family on Nov 1. Police mounted a search and found her body on Nov 5, the local police in Zhushan township, Hubei province, central China, said in an official notice on Monday night.

“After investigations by the city and township police, we caught the suspect, a 41-year-old male surnamed Zhang on Nov 8, and the case is being further processed,” the notice said.

Zhu left home for a run at around 6am on Nov 1. She ran along a river, then went to the local Nanshan park to hike at 6.47am, according to previous media reports.

The woman went for an early morning run and never came home. A police search found her body several days later in a nearby park.

Zhu’s aunt, Cai, told Red Star News that Zhu contacted her father at around 7.40am, but when her father called again at 8am, she was not picking up. Her family started looking for her themselves, and reported her missing to police later that evening.

Zhu’s mother said she has always had a habit of running in the morning, sometimes as early as 5am.

The police search party found Zhu’s body in the grass at the top of the hill. She had scratches on her body and was covered with leaves. The police immediately sealed the park and launched an investigation.

Zhu’s death has renewed widespread discussion in the country about the safety risks women face in their daily lives. In previous cases of violence against women, some people blamed the victims and made sexist and misogynistic comments about dressing inappropriately or staying out late.

In 2017, a woman in Leshan, Sichuan province, southwestern China, was robbed and murdered while running at night. Last year, a Leshan court sentenced the man, Li Jian, to death.

At that time, some members of the public debated whether she should’ve worn so much jewellery while exercising, while others said it was victim-blaming and diverted the focus of discussions about public safety.

But Zhu’s murder, while she was out running during the day, has led some to push back against such narratives.

“You can’t stay out at night, can’t run in the afternoon or in the morning; you can’t wear a skirt, wear tights, or even gym uniform; you can’t wear make-up or not wear make-up. How would men understand what this feels like?” one person said on Weibo about the unfair expectations placed on women.

“We should stop finding faults with the victim and think about how to make the environment safer and what measures to take,” wrote another person online.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.