Chinese #MeToo Movement Moves into the Legal Realm

The #MeToo movement in China had a slow start but has in recent months inspired several public and personal accounts of sexual harassment and assault, including several allegedly perpetrated by public figures. These accounts have rarely been pursued by law enforcement, and there is currently no law on the books in China against in any form, though a draft Civil Code does include language requiring employers to take action against sexual harassment in the workplace. The lack of support from official sources, and society more broadly, has lead many survivors to choose to keep quiet about their experiences. One recent essay in Quartz by Muyi Xiao spoke to these concerns and her own decision to speak up, which she first wrote about on her Facebook page:

But since then I’ve lamented the fact that the movement never took off back home in mainland China, where most of my horrible encounters took place. That’s like being bullied at work and complaining to my boyfriend instead of confronting my boss. It’s not coming full circle. It’s not brave enough. But back then I didn’t have any faith at all in Chinese civil society. I thought anything I said would simply end up as part of the feeding frenzy.

Only later did I realize that even though the #MeToo movement hadn’t spread like wildfire in China, powerful sparks surfaced from time to time, popping up here and there every few months. People who genuinely cared took note, so the flames raged more brightly with each new story.

[…] This is the real story. More often than not, young women aren’t violated by celebrities but by the ordinary men around them, the unbelievably cocky, self-centered, and non-empathetic men nurtured by a sick patriarchal culture.

So I’ve decided to step up once more and describe my encounters with the scum I’ve stumbled upon in my 27 years of life. [Source]

One of the more high profile #MeToo cases, against CCTV host Zhu Jun, is now facing legal scrutiny after Zhu sued his accuser and her friend for damaging his reputation. His accuser, who is known by her online moniker Xianzi, has counter-sued him. Xianzi was a 21-year-old intern for Zhu when she says he groped her backstage; when her account first became public, propaganda officials issued directives limiting reporting on it and she says police told her not to pursue it. Christian Shepherd, Joyce Zhou, and Philip Wen report for Reuters:

Zhu is demanding that the two women apologize online and in a national newspaper, pay compensation of 655,000 yuan ($95,254.72) and cover the costs of legal fees for the case, according to a copy of the filing seen by Reuters.

[…] In response, Xianzi applied to file her own civil suit against Zhu on Tuesday for “infringement of personality rights”, she told Reuters. Personality rights is a broad term used within Chinese law to refer to personal dignity rights, but does not specifically mention sexual harassment.

“I decided that you have to use the law to prove what you said happened,” Xianzi said on Wednesday.

[…] The lack of a clear definition of sexual harassment, or an agreed upon standard for addressing complaints, entrenches a “culture of silence”, according to the Beijing Yuanzhong Gender Development Center, a non-profit.

The group said that while workplace sexual harassment is widespread in China, only 34 specific cases have been logged in the official court case database since 2010. [Source]

Reuters’ Christian Shepard posted additional details from their reporting on Twitter:

With the absence of legal or official support for their claims, many survivors of sexual harassment and have turned to the internet, where the movement has gained widespread support. For Jamestown Foundation’s China Brief, Cheng Li and Diana Liang write about the social and political factors behind the online movement:

#MeToo activists have also employed the language of morality and justice in promoting their cause. By using this language, they have been able to galvanize support online, despite PRC society’s wide variety of opinions on women’s empowerment and social roles, and a limited public discourse around issues of harassment and consent. As with #iamgay, #MeToo activists have invoked the legal realm, calling for better protections, arbitration mechanisms, and recourse. Supportive university statements and state media-published op-eds, including some by People’s Daily, have also focused on issues of morality and legality (Sohu, April 5; People’s Daily, April 6).

The broad direction of the state’s online response, however, has been very different for the #MeToo movement, which has persisted in starts and stops in the face of vigorous censorship. One key factor driving authorities’ diverging reaction is perceived political risk. The #MeToo movement demands that the rich and powerful be held accountable. Acceding to such demands is, obviously, unappealing to those in power. Additionally, such acknowledgement could undermine the party’s public image and its perceived authority. Further, given that much of China’s population might readily identify with the victims, such calls for responsibility hold a much higher risk of collective action––a central factor galvanizing censorship. From the party’s perspective, the power dynamics of #MeToo pose a different and more consequential challenge than #iamgay. [Source]

For more on the history of the #MeToo movement in China, see a recent essay by feminist activist Lü Pin as well as additional coverage from CDT.

September 27, 2018, 3:58 PM
Posted By:
Categories: Human Rights, Law, Society