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Li Tianyi, princeling teen son of Chinese 'singing general,' embroiled in gang rape scandal

By Tim Hume, CNN
August 30, 2013 -- Updated 0632 GMT (1432 HKT)
Famed Chinese military singer Meng Ge makes her way to the Beijing courthouse where her teen son faces rape charges.
Famed Chinese military singer Meng Ge makes her way to the Beijing courthouse where her teen son faces rape charges.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Li Tianyi, 17, is one of 5 accused of gang raping a woman in February; he denies the charges
  • As the privileged son of two famous military singers, he is known as a "princeling"
  • He caused outrage two years ago for attacking a family during a road rage incident
  • Public anger is mounting at the behavior of China's elite families, perceived as spoilt and corrupt

(CNN) -- A gang rape allegedly involving the teenage son of a famous Chinese "singing general" has caused outrage in China, unleashing a tide of public anger over the behavior of so-called "princelings," the children of elite families.

Li Tianyi, 17, stood before Haidian People's Court in a closed hearing in Beijing Wednesday and Thursday, one of five defendants accused of raping a woman in a hotel room in February after drinking with her in a bar. Li, who also goes by the name Li Guanfeng, told the court he was drunk and could remember little of the night in question, but denied beating or having sex with the woman, the state-run Beijing News reported.

While Li's four co-accused issued guilty pleas by the trial's end, Li continued to deny the allegations, state media reported.

Li is the baby-faced son of 74-year-old Li Shuangjiang, a celebrity singer for the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and dean of music at the PLA Academy of Arts, who became a household name for his renditions of patriotic anthems on television. The teen's mother, Meng Ge, is also a well-known PLA singer, and attended court to support her son.

This just demonstrates that the elite class is above the law in China
Sina Weibo user @woshixiaojuanmao_loving

Li has previously made headlines for running afoul of the law. In 2011, aged 15, he was arrested after attacking a family in a road rage accident. Li, who was driving a BMW with no license plates, angrily confronted the occupants of a vehicle blocking his way, threatening bystanders and daring them to call police.

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He had previously racked up 36 traffic violations while driving without a license, according to media reports, triggering an outcry when the incident was reported. He was subsequently sent to a juvenile detention center for a year, and his father issued a public apology.

Tian Canjun, lawyer for the alleged victim in the rape case, said his client had been hospitalized due to stress and would not be attending the trial, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. Lawyers for the accused have argued in pre-trial hearings that the woman was a prostitute, and the matter should be tried as a prostitution matter, rather than a rape case.

The trial has caused a sensation in China, focusing public attention once again on the excessive lifestyles of China's rich and powerful and their families, who are widely seen as entitled and corrupt. It comes hot on the heels of the sensational trial of former Communist Party kingpin Bo Xilai, which offered a lurid snapshot of alleged corruption among China's political aristocracy.

Chinese social media users have been scathing of Li, who has become one of the most infamous examples of a "taizidang," or "princeling."

"This just demonstrates that the elite class is above the law in China," wrote a user called @woshixiaojuanmao_loving on the popular Chinese micro-blogging service Sina Weibo.

Read more: Privileged kids anger Chinese public

"Meng Ge has totally failed in educating and nurturing her son," wrote another, using the handle @ingyunyixiuge777. "This case gives us a glimpse of the corruption in China, and the government should punish the criminal severely to sound a warning to others."

In July, hackers attacked the website of one of Li's lawyers, leaving a message stating: "We just want to return justice to the client."

Public opinion has been mounting against the princelings since an incident in 2010, when the drunk-driving 22-year-old son of a deputy provincial police chief fatally ran over a student and shouted: "Sue me if you dare! My father is Li Gang!" The phrase has since become synonymous with nepotism and corruption in China.

Recognizing the threat posed by the popular discontent over the issue, President Xi Jinping has made a priority of stamping out abuses by officials, with a high-profile anti-corruption campaign that has toppled senior figures including the former railways minister and a top economic planning official. He has recently focused his attention on the PLA's musicians, many of whom have celebrity status.

On Monday, he publicly rebuked PLA musicians following a series of embarrassing reports detailing their privileged lifestyles and exposing incidents of commercial exploitation of their positions. The dressing down was accompanied by new measures, signed off by Xi and detailed in the PLA Daily, the official organ of China's armed forces, designed to curb the excesses of military musical troupes.

Xi's wife, the noted soprano Peng Liyuan, herself served in a PLA performance troupe.

Prosecutors said the gang rape accused who are juveniles -- four of the five on trial are aged under 18 -- should receive lesser punishments due to their youth, and that the defendant who helped authorities build their case against his co-accused should have his sentence further diminished, Xinhua reported.

It said the court would issue its verdict on the case in due course.

CNN's Dayu Zhang contributed to this report.

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