BEIJING— Just days after the end of the Bo Xilai trial, one of China's most public political cases in decades, another trial in Beijing is highlighting the legal troubles of China's elite.
On Wednesday, the teenage son of two famous People's Liberation Army singers appeared at his first hearing on charges that he participated in the gang rape of a woman in a hotel in the capital last February.
Li Tianyi and four other defendants are accused of having forced a drunk woman from a bar to a hotel for sex. After the woman refused to take off her clothes, the five men allegedly beat and raped her.
During the trial Li pleaded not guilty, saying he was drunk at the time of the alleged rape.
The case has sparked an outcry in China since the news media published Li's name.
Public opinion has been sharply critical of the 17-year-old, who many perceive as an out-of-control guanerdai, or “second generation official.”
Beijing Institute of Technology law professor Xu Xin says such public resentment is understandable, as many in China link the politically connected class to the economic inequality that weighs on the country.
“There are many grievances about today's society which are often directed to the corrupt and rich,” Xu said.
Because he is a minor and because of the sexual nature of the crime, Li's trial is not open.
Yet on Wednesday, many online news portals in China published real-time updates from outside the courtroom, underscoring the deep interest with which Chinese people are following the case.
Li's mother, Meng Ge, a famous PLA singer, arrived at the court shortly before the trial began but did not speak to journalists.
Li Shuangjiang, the defendant's father, is a PLA singer as well as an army general. In 2011, after his son was accused of assaulting a couple during a traffic dispute, Li Shuangjiang visited the injured couple in the hospital and apologized to them, saying he had not raised his son properly.
Courts in China are often pressured to rule in favor of the powerful. But some some China analysts say Li Tianyi's case might be too public for his family to intervene.
Zhang Ming, a political scientist at Beijing's Renmin University, says the parents' high profile might have made it easier for them to influence the court had the trial been held in a more remote location.
“But this trial is in Beijing, and their names have been disclosed early on,” he said. “Hot discussion among the public about the case has become a liability for Li Tianyi.”
In the weeks leading up to Wednesday's hearing, Li's lawyers and his mother have tried to counter mounting criticism by building up a strong public defense in the media.
They have said the assaulted woman was a prostitute, and they accused the bar owner of pimping and extortion.
As part of their effort to show that Li is innocent, they called for an open trial despite his age.
Before entering the courtroom Wednesday morning, the victim's lawyer, Tian Canjun, told journalists that regardless of the defense strategy, the facts and the law will establish Li's guilt or innocence.
Li's trial comes just days after a court in Jinan concluded the prosecution of disgraced politician Bo Xilai, accused of corruption bribes and abuse of power.
Unexpectedly, the court published most of the Bo trial transcripts on a microblog account, which the public and the media in China were able to check in real time.
Law professor Xu Xin says that if Li Tianyi's trial has similar elements of transparency, it would increase the public's trust in the courts.
Of the five accused of rape, only Li Tianyi's name was published.
“People are now thinking that the other four defendants might have even more prominent family backgrounds,” said Xu Xin.
Li's trial is set to end on Thursday.
The victim did not take part in today's proceeding and is not likely to participate Thursday. Last week she was hospitalized, and her lawyer said it was due to the stress caused by the trial.