The Un­stop­pable Mo­men­tum of #Metoo

Af­ter pe­ter­ing out at the start of the year, China’s #Metoo move­ment has again gath­ered steam with a wave of ac­cu­sa­tions against prom­i­nent fig­ures. But how much long-term im­pact it will have on China’s pa­tri­ar­chal cul­ture and le­gal frame­work re­mains un­cle

NewsChina - - CONTENTS - By Yu Xiaodong

Tide of Al­le­ga­tions

For a time in early Jan­uary 2018, it looked like the #Metoo move­ment would take hold in China, just as it had in many other coun­tries. A num­ber of sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions made by former and cur­rent univer­sity stu­dents against their pro­fes­sors kick­started what many re­ferred to as China's #Metoo mo­ment.

The most prom­i­nent was an al­le­ga­tion by Luo Xixi, an alum­nus of the Bei­jing-based Bei­hang Univer­sity and cur­rently a soft­ware en­gi­neer in the US, who spoke out in Jan­uary about hav­ing been as­saulted by her the­sis ad­viser Chen Xiaowu.

But as Chen and other im­pli­cated aca­demics were dis­missed by their schools, the nascent move­ment ap­peared to have lost steam in the fol­low­ing months amid some me­dia ar­ti­cles which ap­peared to claim that China did not need such a move­ment, as sex­ual harassment was not preva­lent. Nev­er­the­less, July saw a new wave of sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions on China's so­cial me­dia, and the move­ment has spread out­side univer­sity cam­puses, as dozens of pub­lic fig­ures in a num­ber of sec­tors rang­ing from char­ity, me­dia and re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions, to busi­nesses, have fallen into dis­grace.

One of the first sex­ual mis­con­duct al­le­ga­tions was made against Lei Chuang, founder of Yiyou Char­ity Cen­ter, a prom­i­nent anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion non-gov­ern­ment al char­ity for hep­ati­tis B suf­fer­ers. On July 23, a former vol­un­teer at the char­ity ac­cused Lei of rap­ing her three years ago. Since then, more than 20 women have come for­ward with al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct against him. Lei ad­mit­ted the al­le­ga­tions and stepped down from his post, but later claimed the re­la­tion­ship with his ac­cuser was con­sen­sual.

On the same day, Feng Yongfeng, an en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist who had set up more than 10 en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions, was also ac­cused of ha­rass­ing and as­sault­ing a num­ber of char­ity work­ers.

The case was then fol­lowed by ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual as­sault against sev­eral other ac­tivists, in­clud­ing a se­nior em­ployee of the Chi­nese branch of the World Wide Fund for Na­ture (WWF).

The move­ment soon spread to the me­dia and pub­lish­ing sec­tor. A few days later, a 27-year-old le­gal worker posted an ar­ti­cle ac­cus­ing Zhang Wen, a vet­eran jour­nal­ist, of rap­ing her af­ter a ban­quet in May, which prompted six other women, in­clud­ing well-known writer Jiang Fangzhou, to ac­cuse Zhang of sex­ual harassment.

In a sep­a­rate case, Chun Shu, a young fe­male writer, ac­cused an­other writer, Zhang Chi, and Sun Mian, founder of New Weekly, a news mag­a­zine, of rap­ing her when she was 23. On the same day, Xiong Peiyun, a well-known writer, and as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at Tian­jin's Nankai Univer­sity was ac­cused by Zhao Sile, a me­dia pro­fes­sional, of sex­u­ally ha­rass­ing her.

In the fol­low­ing week on Au­gust 1, two su­per­vi­sory chan­cel­lors of Bei­jing's Longquan Tem­ple, one of China's most fa­mous Bud­dhist monas­ter­ies, in a 95-page open let­ter de­tailed how Shi Xuecheng, 51, the tem­ple's ab­bot, had al­legedly been send­ing sex­u­ally sug­ges­tive mes­sages to six nuns. One nun has ac­cused him of rape. On Au­gust 15, Shi re­signed from his po­si­tion as pres­i­dent of the Bud­dhist As­so­ci­a­tion of China. The tem­ple de­nied the al­le­ga­tions against Shi.

Tip of the Ice­berg

Other fig­ures ac­cused of sex­ual as­sault in­clude a se­nior man­ager of bike shar­ing plat­form Ofo, a fa­mous State tele­vi­sion an­chor, two badminton coaches, an ed­u­ca­tional cor­po­ra­tion chair­man, a univer­sity teacher and other staff, and the list is grow­ing longer with each pass­ing day.

As the move­ment gained trac­tion, it has led to un­prece­dented heated dis­cus­sion and de­bates on an is­sue that has been long avoided in China's still male-dom­i­nated so­ci­ety. But for many ac­tivists, the re­cent al­le­ga­tions are just the tip of the ice­berg.

An ar­ti­cle pub­lished by on­line me­dia plat­form Peo­ple on July 26, said that when it started to so­licit per­sonal sto­ries of sex­ual as­sault from its read­ers through Wechat, China's lead­ing so­cial me­dia plat­form, more than 1,700 sto­ries were sub­mit­ted within 24 hours.

Ac­cord­ing to a 2014 sur­vey con­ducted by the All-china Women's Fed­er­a­tion in 15 uni­ver­si­ties in China's ma­jor cities, 57 per­cent of fe­male stu­dents sur­veyed said they had ex­pe­ri­enced some sort of sex­ual harassment. A more re­cent sur­vey con­ducted by the Guangzhou Gen­der and Sex­u­al­ity Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter (GGSEC), a women's rights NGO, in 2017 among more 6,500 univer­sity stu­dents and new grad­u­ates showed that 70 per­cent of them had en­coun­tered some sort of sex­ual harassment.

An­other sur­vey jointly con­ducted ear­lier this year by GGSEC and NGO ATSH (Anti-sex­ual Harassment) on work­place sex­ual harassment and as­sault among 416 young fe­male jour­nal­ists showed that more than 80 per­cent had ex­pe­ri­enced sex­ual harassment, and many said they had been sex­u­ally as­saulted and raped, of­ten by their su­pe­ri­ors. Among those sur­veyed, 22 had to quit their jobs, 29 went through a sus­tained pe­riod of de­pres­sion, and 10 be­came sui­ci­dal.

While the sam­ple is rel­a­tively small, the preva­lence and sever­ity of sex­ual harassment and as­sault en­coun­tered by fe­male jour­nal­ists, a group who are deemed to have more ac­cess to so­cial re­sources and le­gal aid than other fe­male groups, is a wor­ry­ing sign for the wider pop­u­la­tion.

The rea­sons be­hind are thought to be cul­tural, po­lit­i­cal and le­gal. De­spite progress in gen­der equal­ity over the decades, China re­mains a mostly pa­tri­ar­chal so­ci­ety with few women as­cend­ing to the high­est po­lit­i­cal of­fices or cor­po­rate po­si­tions.

Le­gal In­ad­e­qua­cies

Un­der China's le­gal sys­tem, ref­er­ences to sex­ual harassment lack speci­ficity. Only two pieces of leg­is­la­tion men­tion the con­cept – the Law on the Pro­tec­tion of the Rights and In­ter­ests of Women and the Spe­cial Rules on the La­bor Pro­tec­tion of Fe­male Em­ploy­ees. They both fail to de­fine what con­sti­tutes the ac­tual of­fence or give clear guid­ance on how per­pe­tra­tors should be pun­ished.

The re­sult is that law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties tend to treat work­place harassment not as a crim­i­nal of­fense but as a la­bor dis­pute, so it is very dif­fi­cult for vic­tims to take sex­ual harassment or even sex­ual as­sault cases to court.

Ac­cord­ing to re­search on court rul­ings on cases re­lated to work­place sex­ual harassment, re­leased on June 13 by Bei­jing Yuanzhong Gen­der De­vel­op­ment Cen­ter, a gen­der equal­ity NGO, only 34 cases of sex­ual harassment reached the courts through­out China dur­ing the pe­riod be­tween 2010 and 2017.

Among the 34 cases, none were crim­i­nal cases, with more than half filed by the al­leged per­pe­tra­tors chal­leng­ing dis­ci­plinary ac­tions taken by their em­ploy­ers. Only five cases were filed by al­leged vic­tims.

It is not just law en­force­ment au­thor­i­ties that tend to adopt a hands-off ap­proach. When it in­volves prom­i­nent pub­lic fig­ures, es­pe­cially those as­so­ci­ated with the au­thor­i­ties, po­lice and prose­cu­tors also tend dis­cour­age vic­tims from press­ing charges.

In an ar­ti­cle writ­ten by an in­tern, who has not re­vealed her name, with State broad­caster China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion (CCTV), which ac­cused well-known CCTV an­chor Zhu Jun of at­tempt­ing to grope her in a dress­ing room, the woman said she had re­ported the in­ci­dent to the po­lice, but was pres­sured to with­draw the case con­sid­er­ing the “pos­i­tive in­flu­ence” of the host and the TV sta­tion.

Zhu Jun, who has hosted China's most-watched pro­gram, the an­nual Spring Fes­ti­val Gala and in­flu­en­tial arts pro­gram Artis­tic Life, in a state­ment through his lawyer on Au­gust 15, de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual as­sault and said a law­suit had been filed in a Bei­jing court against the in­tern for spread­ing ru­mors, and they would con­tinue to take ac­tions against other so­cial me­dia users who spread her post.

Even in cases re­lated to rape, crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion pro­ce­dures are not vic­tim-friendly and of­ten serve to de­ter ac­cusers. In ex­plain­ing why she did not call the po­lice af­ter the al­leged rape by jour­nal­ist Zhang Wen, the young le­gal worker, who called her­self “lit­tle spirit,” said that she had sought ad­vice from her friends, lawyers and po­lice of­fi­cers in­cluded, and all ad­vised her not to go to the po­lice.

“They told me that [if I called the po­lice] I would be sub­ject to sev­eral rounds of de­tailed ques­tions, which would be tor­ture for any vic­tim of rape.” She said that her friend at the po­lice even held a sim­u­lated in­ter­view. “I al­most col­lapsed,” she said.

Where to Now?

With all the pub­lic­ity sur­round­ing the #Metoo move­ment, the ques­tion for many ex­perts and ac­tivists is whether it can bring sus­tain­able re­sults to ad­dress the is­sues. Ear­lier this year, it was re­ported that lawyers and women's rights groups sub­mit­ted at least three pro­pos­als on the sub­ject of sex­ual harassment and as­sault at this year's leg­isla­tive ses­sion held in March. But many feel pes­simistic about any ma­jor leg­isla­tive re­form on the is­sue in the fore­see­able fu­ture.

“It took 16 years for law­mak­ers to en­act China's first anti-do­mes­tic vi­o­lence law, since le­gal cir­cles start­ing call­ing for such a law in 2000,” Li Yue, a vet­eran ac­tivist who was ac­tively in­volved in cam­paign­ing for the law, told Newschina.

“And when the law was en­acted in 2016, it didn't men­tion sex­ual vi­o­lence at all,” Li added.

This is per­haps why an ar­ti­cle writ­ten by Liu Yu, a fe­male as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal sci­ence from Bei­jing-based Ts­inghua Univer­sity, in which she ar­gued that the #Metoo move­ment has be­come a trial by me­dia that was con­trary to the prin­ci­ple of the rule of law and that vic­tims should seek to ad­dress their com­plaints through le­gal means rather than through so­cial me­dia, trig­gered a wide­spread back­lash from ac­tivists.

“It shows that main­stream in­tel­lec­tu­als like Liu have be­come so de­tached from the re­al­ity that they are ei­ther un­will­ing or un­able to grasp the essence of China's gen­der is­sues,” said Zhu Xi, an out­spo­ken so­cial worker.

Zhu told Newschina the real sig­nif­i­cance of China's #Metoo move­ment lies in that China's young gen­er­a­tion has shown that they are far less fear­ful of speak­ing out than older gen­er­a­tions.

“Brought up in a more in­de­pen­dent and pros­per­ous en­vi­ron­ment, China's post-90s gen­er­a­tion is not be­holden to any par­tic­u­lar es­tab­lish­ment both men­tally and ma­te­ri­ally,” said Zhu, “And they do not take the pa­tri­archy for granted.”

“The #Metoo move­ment sends a strong mes­sage to women and the rest of so­ci­ety that it is not OK to ac­cept the sta­tus quo and to keep silent,” added Zhu. While na­tion­wide leg­isla­tive re­form may take a long time to come, she ar­gued that what is more tan­gi­ble is to fos­ter the introduction of anti-harassment mech­a­nisms at the lo­cal, or­ga­ni­za­tional and cor­po­rate level.

Zhu said that as long as the move­ment keeps the flame alive, there will be progress, as many char­i­ties, me­dia out­lets and Chi­nese cor­po­ra­tions have started to in­tro­duce anti-harassment train­ing.

On Au­gust 6, a district-level ed­u­ca­tional bureau and lo­cal prose­cu­tors in Hangzhou, cap­i­tal of Zhe­jiang Prov­ince, jointly re­leased a guid­ance doc­u­ment on pre­vent­ing and han­dling sex­ual mis­con­duct in schools, the first of its kind to be re­leased by lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.

Ac­cord­ing to Zheng Xiao­jing, an­other Bei­jing-based ac­tivist, the #Metoo move­ment has at least prompted open dis­cus­sions and de­bates on def­i­ni­tions and key con­cepts, such as what con­sti­tutes sex­ual harassment and what is con­sen­sual sex.

“Speak­ing up is the very first im­por­tant step to ad­dress the prob­lem,” Zheng told Newschina, “With­out ac­knowl­edg­ing the preva­lence and sever­ity of the prob­lem, there is no way that it would lead to a so­lu­tion.”

A woman walks past a mu­ral of mes­sages against sex­ual harassment in Xi’an, cap­i­tal city of Shaanxi Prov­ince, Au­gust 9, 2018

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