Zhuang arriving to face the court. Photo: Justin McManus
The woman convicted of murdering her daughter-in-law with a hammer had endured extreme hardship to make a better life for the son she wasn't supposed to have.
Defence barrister Shane Gardner told the Supreme Court during a pre-sentence hearing on Thursday that Huajiao Zhuang had to go into hiding while pregnant with her son, Peter, because of China's one-child policy, and she gave birth in a pig pen.
Mrs Zhuang’s family had been so poor when she was growing up, they had to survive on sweet potato and soup and could not afford rice.
Illiterate after no formal education, she entered an arranged marriage at the age of 18. She gave birth to five children but was forced to give away her two middle daughters because the family could not afford to raise them.
Mr Gardner said Zhuang’s background was significant in the lead-up to the day she murdered her daughter-in-law, Dan ''Selina'' Lin, 21, by hitting her at least 33 times in the head with a hammer.
He said Zhuang and her husband had worked hard in China to be able to send Peter and their two daughters to Australia for a better life, so when Zhuang found out Peter’s wife was pregnant, she travelled to Melbourne to help with the birth and to look after the child.
Zhuang expected to live with Peter and his family, according to Chinese tradition. She also expected Ms Lin to call her ''mother'' or ''mum'', and to be heavily involved in her grandson’s life.
The relationship between the two women was rosy at first, but it soon soured.
Zhuang considered it a great insult when Peter, Selina and their young son, Alfred, suddenly moved away and she could not contact them for several months, Mr Gardner said. And when they did make contact again, Ms Lin would not allow her mother-in-law to pick Alfred up, he said.
Zhuang, 50, was found guilty by a jury last week of murdering Ms Lin on May 3, 2012, at Bundoora.
The jury was told Zhuang complained that Ms Lin did not show her or her family enough respect. She would complain about her daughter-in-law's attitude, thought her son and his wife lived too far away from her, and felt she didn't get to spend enough time with Alfred. She believed Peter should never have married Ms Lin.
In turn, Ms Lin thought her mother-in-law was uneducated and rude, and she disliked her playing with or touching Alfred. The women’s relationship had deteriorated markedly by the time Zhuang attacked her daughter-in-law with a hammer in the bathroom of her home after an argument.
Ms Lin died from repeated blunt force trauma to the head.
Zhuang, who was not injured during the confrontation, later told police she had acted in self-defence and grabbed the hammer from her daughter-in-law believing she was in a kill-or-be-killed situation.
After killing Ms Lin, Zhuang dragged her body out of the bath, where she had fallen, and put it in a large travel bag before placing it inside a green wheelie bin, which she left in the backyard.
Zhuang later retrieved the wheelie bin and rolled it about 700 metres to Darebin Creek, where she tipped the body into the water.
The pre-sentence hearing before Justice Stephen Kaye was adjourned until August 1.