China is having its own moment of reckoning with sexual harassment and assault.
Like the recent #MeToo movement that ignited in the United States and propelled many women to speak out against their harassers, a Chinese woman who openly accused her former university teaching assistant of sexual assault has inspired more to come out with their stories. The news has revealed the widespread extent of sexual harassment within China’s higher education sector and society at large.
On Jan. 1, Luo Qianqian posted a written account on her Weibo account, the Chinese version of Twitter, describing how 12 years ago she was sexually assaulted by her former TA, Chen Xiaowu, while pursuing a doctorate at Beihang University in Beijing. After the initial incident when she was attacked, Luo said she suffered continued harassment from Chen, causing her to become clinically depressed.
She later immigrated to the United States to finally “escape his evil clutches,” she wrote. When she heard from other female former schoolmates of similar harassment while studying under Chen, Luo said she felt compelled to make her accusations public. “I’ve regretted that I didn’t bravely stand up back then because of my degree. Otherwise, there wouldn’t have been so many other victims thereafter,” she wrote.
Luo also published audio recordings of conversations that she said would prove Chen’s guilt.
Shortly after Luo published her post, local media interviewed her, prompting local authorities to investigate Chen. Meanwhile, more than 1,000 Beihang alumni signed an online letter in support of Luo.
On Jan. 11, the university announced via its Weibo account that the school found evidence of Chen sexually harassing students, and therefore would relieve him of his position as deputy head of the university’s graduate school and revoke his teaching qualifications.
Several days prior, on Jan. 4, the Hebei Institute of Communication College relieved a staff instructor in the film and television arts department after he was accused by several female students of sexual harassment.
Then, on Jan. 12, state-run newspaper China Youth Daily reported that a netizen posted on Zhihu.com, a question and answer site similar to Quora.com, about her experience being assaulted by an associate professor at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics statistics department. While studying there, the woman, who did not disclose her name, said the professor forced her to have a sexual relationship so she could get the opportunity to study abroad.
The woman said she got the courage to speak out after hearing about the case with Luo Qianqian.
Sexual Abuse Abounds
In July 2017, the Guangzhou Gender Education Center and several Chinese NGOs jointly conducted a survey on sexual harassment among current and graduating university students. Of those surveyed, 69.3 percent said they experienced some form of harassment, with women making up 75 percent of respondents. While most—60 percent—said the perpetrator was a stranger, close to 10 percent said their perpetrator was a school staff member.
According to Girls’ Protecting, a Chinese NGO, Chinese media reported 125 cases of child sexual assault in 2013, compared to 433 in 2016.
Former Chinese professor of historiography Liu Yinquan said that the immorality of teachers and the society at large stems from the poor examples that Communist Party officials lead. Citizens frequently see and hear reports and gossip about their sex scandals and taking of mistresses. “To the Party bureaucracy, to the education field, to all citizens, it has had a very bad influence,” Liu said.
Furthermore, China affairs commentator Li Shanjian noted that ancient Chinese traditions emphasized mutual respect for teacher and student. Under the past few decades of Communist rule, however, many of China’s traditional beliefs have been destroyed and suppressed by the regime. “The culture of the Party has covered and sealed up the traditional culture,” Li said.
Xiao Lusheng and Lin Shiyuan contributed to this report.