China celebrity’s son pleads not guilty to rape

BEIJING (AP) — The teenage son of a well-known Chinese military singer has pleaded not guilty to an alleged gang rape, in a case that has focused attention on what the public often sees as spoiled behavior among the children of the country’s elite.

The state-run Beijing News reported Thursday that Li Tianyi, 17, told a court in Beijing that he was drunk and passed out during the February attack, that he never beat or had sex with the victim and that he could remember little of the night in question. The trial is closed because Li is a minor, and the newspaper did not say how it obtained details of the proceedings.

Li is the photogenic, baby-faced son of Li Shuangjiang, a celebrity military singer famed for crooning anthems for the People’s Liberation Army and starring in television galas. Chinese media have in the past referred to the elder Li as a “general” as a sign of respect, although he is a civilian member of the PLA.

The younger Li’s trial, along with four co-defendants, opened Wednesday to a flurry of local media coverage.

Uncharacteristically for China, lawyers for both Li Tianyi and the victim had released public statements about the case during the weeks running up to the trial, apparently seeking to form public opinion, which could potentially have an indirect effect on proceedings by influencing the Communist Party officials who control the courts.

Li’s lawyers sought to lay blame for the incident on a Beijing bar for letting underage teens drink heavily. The victim’s lawyers released a statement saying she had been threatened not to come forward about the attack.

Online discussion of the case has questioned the reputation of the victim, while also laying bare the resentment over what many ordinary Chinese see as the sense of entitlement and impunity among the country’s rich and politically connected, as well as their offspring.

“From this case we can see the social differentiation becoming more obvious. We see the rich and powerful on one side, and we see the poor and humble on the opposite side. It’s a split society,” said Liu Shanying, a politics researcher at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “They are full of anger at each other. And they constantly attack and belittle each other.”

The rape case isn’t the younger Li’s first brush with the law. He was sentenced to a year in detention in 2011 as a 15-year-old for attacking a couple over a minor traffic dispute and threatening onlookers in a case that also attracted widespread attention.

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