Fu Lian's nightmare of constant beatings by his daughter-in-law has ended. She is facing criminal charges for violating a protection order granted by a local court.
Personal protection orders are a powerful legal weapon for victims of family violence and were a major feature of the country's law against domestic violence, which took effect on March 1, 2016.
The law challenges the deep-rooted belief in Chinese culture that domestic violence is a private matter which should be kept within the family to avoid the shame of exposure to police or courts.
Fu lives in a remote village in Huachi County in northwest China's Gansu Province. The wife of Fu's younger son would often beat him due to land disputes and domestic squabbles. For a long time, he hid his suffering from all but close relatives.
However, the old man changed his mind and sought a protection order after being hospitalized following an assault by his son's wife last April, when the county's women's federation was publicizing the new law.
"In the first few days after the protection order was issued, the woman behaved. But then she thought it was just a sheet of paper. She beat Fu again and left him with a bone fracture," said Dong Fengling, head of the women's federation of Huachi, which handed down seven orders over the past year.
As a consequence of violating the order, the daughter-in-law was detained in accordance with the law. A court hearing is pending.
The anti-domestic violence law allows victims of family violence or those who face immediate danger to file for a personal protection order from local courts. The courts are obliged to grant or deny within 72 hours, or within 24 hours in urgent cases.
With the protection order, abusers must stop committing violence. They may also be ordered by the courts to stop contacting victims and their close relatives, or to move out of their home.
If abusers violate the order, they face a fine of up to 1,000 yuan (145 U.S. dollars), as well as a 15-day detention, while perpetrators of serious offences could face criminal charges, according to the protection order rule.
Domestic violence victims are a huge but silent group in China. According to the All-China Women's Federation, nearly 25 percent of Chinese women have suffered domestic violence to different extents in their marriages, though only some 40,000 complaints are lodged with the federation each year.
Before the law against domestic violence came out, some victims reported abuse to the police or filed lawsuits, but often did not get effective help because of the long processing period and unclear items concerning domestic abuse in other laws, according to Sun Wenjie with the Lingyun Law Firm in southwest China's Yunnan Province.
"The protection order fills a gap in legislation and enables victims to shield themselves from violence in a timely, effective way," Sun said.
"The order focuses on protection of the victims, rather than solely punishing the abusers, and it has deterred abusers," said Fang Zhihong, a chief judge with the court in Liwan District of Guangzhou City in south China's Guangdong Province.
The protection order rule still faces multiple challenges, including its conflicts with traditional beliefs and insufficient measures to guarantee its implementation.
Wang Cailing, from Jingyuan County of Gansu, attempted to kill herself by drinking rat poison because of unbearable abuse by her husband, but was saved by doctors. She refused to apply for a protection order as suggested by the county's women's federation.
"She said she was afraid of retaliation from her husband and worried that her family would blame her for disclosing an embarrassing family scandal," said Wu Jingjing from the federation.
Such concerns demonstrate the need to raise awareness about the law to promote the idea that domestic violence is illegal and eliminate the sense of shame victims feel, according to Sun Wenjie.
Another factor that has hindered implementation of the protection order rule is that many applicants face difficulty in presenting evidence.
"Some do not even keep basic evidence, such as clinical records. Their neighbors are not willing to testify in court because they do not want to 'meddle with' the family matters of others," said judge Chen Junwei with the Liwan court.
The court issued only two orders during the past year, while 20 victims failed to apply for it due to a lack of evidence.
Chen suggested the victims report to the police before applying for a protection order from the court, as transcripts of police inquiries can be used as evidence.
In addition, the anti-domestic violence law stipulates that the police and community committees should assist the court in implementing the protection order, but does not specify how, according to Chen, suggesting these details be elaborated.
Ouyang Yanwen, director of the research institute of domestic violence under the Hunan Police Academy, said the power of protection orders could be strengthened if violations were punishable under the country's criminal law, which stipulates that those who refuse to carry out the court decision may face jail terms of up to seven years.
"Compared with other countries and regions that also grant protection orders, our penalty for those who violate the orders is light," Ouyang said.