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Even though domestic violence had been implicitly and then officially illegal, in reality there were no mechanisms through which abused women could seek legal reparations in the 20th century.

The first form of legal defense for victims of domestic violence appeared in the 2001 amendment to the Second Marriage Law.

Domestic violence is legally defined in Article 2 of the Domestic Violence Law of 2015 as "physical, psychological or other infractions between family members effected through the use of methods such as beatings, restraints, maiming, restrictions on physical liberty as well as recurrent verbal abuse or intimidation." Historically, Chinese families followed a hierarchical structure in which the husband had authority over most household decisions.

This patriarchal ordering has its roots in Confucianism, which establishes codes of conduct for women that typically place her below the husband.

In a 2008 meta-study of various studies on IPV, 19.7% of women were found to have experienced violence by their male partners at some point, while 16.8% of women experienced violence in the past year.

Similarly, approximately 10% of women had experienced sexual violence at some point in their life, while 5.4% of women experienced sexual violence in the past year.

Intimate partner violence (IPV) by the man is the most common type of domestic violence in China: a 2005 American Journal of Public Health report found that 1 out of 5 Chinese women had experienced physical violence from their partner in the past year.In a judicial interpretation of the law, the Supreme People's Court legally defined domestic violence as "behavior towards a family member that results in injurious consequences physically, emotionally, or in other ways by 'beating, tying up, injuring, forcibly restricting one's personal freedom, or by other means.'" The 2005 amendments to the Women's Protection Law affirmed the steps taken in the Marriage Law amendments.In particular, the amendments to the Women's Protection Law took it one step forward and explicitly stated in Article 46 that "Domestic violence against women is prohibited." While violence against women is the most common manifestation of domestic violence, it is not the only form.A study of Hong Kong minors in May 1998 found that 52.9% of Chinese families experienced instances of minor violence (throwing objects, pushing, slapping) against children, and 46.1% of Chinese families experienced instances of severe violence (kicking, punching, threatening or beating with a weapon).The Hong Kong study further found that children aged 3–6 were most likely to suffer from child abuse, and boys were more likely to suffer from severe violence by their parents than girls.

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