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Pictures that tell of a woman’s true bravery

There is something haunting about the photos that Zhou Yan posts online of herself showing her terrible disfigurements after being set alight by a spurned classmate.

Despite the permanent and extensive scars on her face and the rest of her body, Zhou, now 21, from Hefei, Anhui province, is still a beautiful young lady.

Even the 30 per cent burns on her body and the loss of an ear she suffered five years ago cannot suppress her youthful beauty.

In a perverse way, you can almost understand how Tao Rukun, then a 17-year-old kid, became erotically obsessed with Zhou. Inexperienced and spoiled, he was the only son of two government officials. He doused her with fuel and set her on fire after she rejected his advances. He was subsequently sentenced to 12 years in jail.

Zhou’s action is at once a protest and an affirmation. It’s only human to try to hide your scars and disfigurements.

In posting those photos, she is forcing us not only to see past her scars, but to confront this universal crime – sexual violence against women.

Woman disfigured in fire attack by spurned classmate five years ago posts photos of her suffering

As well, she is freeing herself from having to hide from a crime in which she was the victim, and would have remained victimised if she had continued to hide.

For her bravery, she has been justly praised across the mainland. What she perhaps doesn’t realise is that she is the opposite of ugly, even now.

We men have a tendency to romanticise sexual obsession as if it’s the height of romance, especially when it’s dark, destructive and murderous.

“Yes, I have killed her, my adored Carmen!” So ends Bizet’s classic opera. To that, Nietzsche waxes lyrical: “Such a conception of love (the only one worthy of a philosopher) is rare… The love whose means is war, whose very essence is the mortal hatred between the sexes!”

Or, as Jeanne Moreau famously sings, the words of Oscar Wilde: “Each man kills the thing he loves.”

Funny how all this high art, poetry, literature and philosophy are inevitably told from a man’s point of view.

How might Carmen feel in her final moments when she was held down and about to have a knife plunged into her? Nietzsche, Wilde and Bizet never told us.