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What #MeToo Looks Like in China
By Francesca Bradley ’21
(Image Credits: Bangkok Post - Zhou Xiaoxuan; AFP/via BBC - Protestors outside of Xiaoxuan’s hearing in Beijing.)
In an authoritarian country like China, the #MeToo movement has faced significant challenges because many allegations have been censored to protect the reputation of household names and others. Yet, China’s efforts to silence these stories have not stopped the most determined and resilient women.
It started in the summer of 2018 after Zhou Xiaoxuan found out about the Harvey Weinstein scandals and wrote a 3,000-word essay about her experience with sexual harassment while interning at China Central Television. Xiaoxuan said she was invited to enter the fitting room of Zhu Jun, one of the country’s most well-known hosts, who forcibly kissed and groped 25-year-old Xiaoxuan. The local police told her to drop the accusation as Zhu had a “positive impact” on society, which she would not want to ruin. Xiaoxuan’s essay was quickly shared and spread across the country. The Chinese government was soon intervening in the media coverage, blocking people and banning comments; however, Xiaoxuan had already emerged as a hero and a leader of the #MeToo movement in China. She encouraged women to speak up and fight the patriarchal society. A few weeks later, Zhu sued Xiaoxuan for “damaging his reputation and mental well-being.” He denied the accusations, saying they were “blatantly fabricated and viciously spread.”
There are laws in China banning sexual misconduct, but there is a lack of clarity on what constitutes sexual harassment. Even if a case makes it to court, the alleged perpetrator has the upper hand as many men and women do not believe the victims. Xiaoxuan was accused of having a delusional disorder and had to prove she was a “normal person.” Many sexual harassment cases are dismissed because they “lack evidence.”
While progress has been made and some definitions have been clarified, there is little outlining of the consequences if the law is broken. According to a 2018 survey of more than 100 respondents, “81% of their companies did not have anti-sexual harassment policies on the books, while another 12% did, but did not enforce them. Only 7% of respondents, according to this poll, said their companies operated such a policy.” While there are still far too many women suffering from sexual abuse in China, strong leaders like Xiaoxuan are making room for women to speak up and share their stories.
Ni, Vincent. “China #MeToo: Court to hear landmark case of intern versus TV star.” BBC,
December 2, 2020. Accessed January 26, 2021.
Hernadez, C. Javier. “She’s on a #MeToo Mission in China, Battling Censors and Lawsuits.” New York Times, January 4, 2019. Accessed January 26 2021.
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