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Li Tianyi, the teenage son of a well-known People’s Liberation Army (PLA) singer, has denied his involvement in a gang rape on the first day of a trial that has caused widespread public outrage in China.
Mr Li, 17, is one of five men accused of gang raping a 23-year-old woman, surnamed Yang, in a hotel in Haidian in the west of Beijing in February after a night of drinking, according to Chinese media.
He told the court he was drunk and could not remember anything of the evening, but denied beating the woman or having sex with her. The court is being held behind closed doors, as three of the four accused are minors.
His father is Li Shuangjiang, a PLA general and dean of the PLA Academy of Arts, and a singer known for performing patriotic songs on television shows and at official events. His mother Meng Ge is also a famous PLA singer.
The Chinese army includes many entertainers who are civilians with military rank, and they perform in military uniform at major events such as the Chinese New Year Spring Festival gala, and other shows.
The most famous civilian military performer is President Xi Jinping’s wife, Peng Liyuan, who was a wildly popular PLA soprano and the youngest ever civilian major general of the PLA’s General Political Department’s dance troupe, before she took a back seat after her husband became president in November.
Chen Shu, Li’s lawyer, insists his client is innocent and claimed that the woman was a prostitute, and the matter should be tried as a prostitution case, rather than rape.
The case has transfixed China for weeks, as many believe that the “princelings,” or children of major Communist Party figures, see themselves as above the law, arrogant and corrupt.
It comes just days after lurid details of party excess were revealed during the corruption trial of former Communist Party chief Bo Xilai.
The teenager was previously sentenced to detention for a year in 2011 over a road rage incident, which triggered a similar public outcry.
While driving a BMW with no number plates, he assaulted a middle-aged couple in another car that got in his way, and warned bystanders not to “dare to call the police.” His father subsequently apologized to the couple over the incident.
The public is becoming increasingly impatient with the behavior of the “taizidang” or princelings.
In 2010 the 22-year-old son of a senior police official ran over and killed a student and shouted: “Sue me! My father is Li Gang!” The phrase has entered the language as a way of describing appalling behavior and nepotism by the children of the elite.
Last week, Tian Canjun, the woman’s lawyer, said his client was under great psychological stress and has been hospitalized in the capital, and said she would not participate in the trial.
The gang rape case is taking place as President Xi is cracking down on the music and entertainment units of the PLA, slamming them for “fooling the masses” after reports about them abusing their military status for commercial gain.
Recent transgressions by PLA musicians include repeat traffic violations by the Tibetan-Chinese singer Han Hong, deputy head of the dance troupe of the PLA Air Force, while driving a black Ferrari and a Land Rover, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.
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