In late July, as the #MeToo movement was gaining momentum in China after a slow start, a woman known by her online moniker Xianzi wrote a blog post detailing sexual harassment she had been subjected to while working as an intern for prominent CCTV host Zhu Jun. A report from Hollywood Reporter at the time said:
In the blog post, the writer says she was an intern on CCTV’s Artistic Life and was one day instructed to bring fruit to Zhu’s dressing room. She alleges that after a fellow intern left the room, the door of which was not completely closed, Zhu began talking about his influence and position, including making remarks such as “letting [the blogger] stay at the network.” As he got more animated, he started “attempting to molest [me] through [my] clothes, taking no notice of [my] resistance,” the blogger writes.
She says that she was saved from further attack by the arrival of the show’s guest, contemporary Chinese opera singer Yan Weiwen, in Zhu’s dressing room. [Source]
Xianzi says she went to the police but was told not to pursue the case, and directives from propaganda officials banned reporting on the topic. Xianzi’s post spread quickly online, thanks largely to another anonymous blogger, known as Classmate Maishao (Maishao Tongxue, 麦烧同学), who helped repost and draw attention to her account, along with others from women in China who have experienced sexual harassment or assault. Last month, Zhu Jun filed a lawsuit against both Xianzi and Classmate Maishao “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 report from Reuters. Xianzi has counter-sued Zhu in an effort to prove her account. While no law currently exists in China explicitly outlawing sexual harassment, a proposed Civil Code includes language requiring employers to take action if harassment occurs in the workplace and says perpetrators can be held civilly responsible.
Xianzi and Classmate Maishao have both written essays about their motivations for posting Xianzi’s account and their hopes for what her legal case against Zhu will accomplish for women in China.
Words from Xianzi
Perhaps I am someone who cares about current affairs. I used to be keen on reposting all kinds of social issues on Weibo and WeChat Moments. But when I was about to hit “repost,” I often had self doubt: The thing I am about to do, is it meaningful? Would someone see my thoughts and hear my voice?
I always thought that people’s “existence” is dependent on their own feelings, and these feelings come from our connections to the things happening around us. But as I get older, I start to have this deep feeling that these types of connections are being cut off. We increasingly have no choice but to confine ourselves to small circles. I often think that young people in the 1980s and 1990s must have had very different feelings from ours. Why do I have to cut off those connections? I don’t want to exist in a state of segregation.
The biggest change brought to me by that long essay I published on July 26 is that, all of a sudden, my voice is being heard; and that, all of a sudden, I am tightly connected with this society. As of now, I am still getting used to this change.
As an involved person who is just dabbling, I got to observe from a short distance the working environment of media professionals, and the significance of rights lawyers’ work; I once again experienced the ways that government authorities conduct themselves; I also experienced first-hand the complex feelings of the “vulnerable” when put under the spotlight.
While there have been some frustrations, it’s mostly been full of touching and thankful moments. I have even established some kind of confidence thanks to the unexpected kindness I experienced during the process. As I am typing these words, I sincerely believe that the world is going to be a better place, regardless of whether I may personally get justice.
—–Because I have each and every one of you.
I have said to Classmate Maishao: “Ever since I saw the peach blossom, I have never had any doubt.” From July 26 until now, I persisted. Many people say this is because of my bravery, but I say it’s due to my good luck.
However, what makes me ashamed is that even after accepting so much kindness, I still am the weakest one among all the people who are fighting for this. I still am troubled—ever since I opened my Weibo account, I have learned of so many girls who have had similar experiences. But it seems that I cannot provide enough help to others as other people have provided for me. And I still cannot completely get rid of the tendency to self censor. These are all parts of me that I have trouble accepting.
I don’t know if I can improve on these, but I know I cannot evade responsibility by claiming that “I have yet to establish connections to the society.” I don’t know what changes this incident will bring me, but I am staying tuned, I will accept them, and I am guarding against self pity.
Although I cannot lay out the entire process because my gratitude may cause trouble for some people for various reasons, I still want to say to those who have had similar experiences: please hold on. As you persist, you will for sure encounter some soft and kind beings. Remember them. And use their power to fight darkness. Because the only way for the world to carry on is to “dispel darkness with warmth.” Each and every one of us has to use our strength to shine.
Since the beginning of this year, I have had my share of bad news. One night, I sat in the living room by myself, watching Beijing’s midnight unfold outside of my window as the flower bouquets sat on my dining table. I wrote down: “Everything I see is gentle, but thunder is rumbling from afar. Hiding in your space doesn’t change anything. This world is hard as iron. It can’t be softened by your gentleness.”
Now I think back, I was quite mawkish. I was using flowery sentences to justify my inactions. As Lin Yihan said, “flashy words are not to be trusted.”
Now I’ve come to understand that gentleness does change the world, as long as it’s sharp and persistent. And this is what I want to share with you.
Here is a poem I love: “I see the green mountains down south and I know I’m getting close; my small boat is sailing through the lake surrounded by spring colors.”
Whether or not we can win this case, I know both the case and the public attention around it are going to end someday. I look forward to returning to life with a fresh state of mind, together with each and every one of you. And I believe that the green mountains are not far away. [Chinese]
Words from Classmate Maishao
When I think about what happened two months ago, it seems it’s already been a long time. Fortunately, I use Weibo as my diary, and now I can look at my Weibo posts to recall my journey.
In July, China saw all kinds of hot news. Sun Yat-sen University issued a statement about multiple allegations of sexual harassment against Professor Zhang Peng from his students. Q Daily was ordered to shut down and rectify. A chemical factory in Yibin, Sichuan Province, exploded. The vaccine scandal. And, public interest people I knew were accused by women of sexual harassment and even sexual assault. Even people at the World Wide Fund for Nature, a place where I worked, were accused of sexual harassment. Then there were allegations after allegations from the media circle. At the time, my nerves were constantly stretched tight. I checked my phone as soon as I woke up, wanting to see if any news had burst out.
Meanwhile, as a woman who has been sexually harassed at different stages of her life, I began to pay attention to every sexual harassment case since last year, and would make my judgements as to how far each case could go. I think the cases where no evidence is preserved often depend on multiple victims coming forward and making accusations against the same person. And for the cases where there is no evidence or testimony from a third party, I doubt they can go very far in the legal arena.
So, at 6am on July 26, when I saw someone posting Xianzi’s experience in WeChat Moments, I was very happy. Finally, there was someone who chose to go to the police. And, the police went to the scene to investigate and collect evidence. There was a teacher and a lawyer who accompanied Xianzi to visit the police. But surprisingly the police didn’t give any response as required by the procedures, instead they went to Xianzi’s hometown to threaten her parents. On one hand, I thought this case was the closest one in terms of getting justice for the victim through law. On the other hand, I think the more serious problem is an unjust enforcement of the law. The police did not give any explanation, they didn’t protect the interest of the victim. Instead, they protected the interest of Zhu Jun.
Therefore, I believed this case should be corrected, not allowed to continue going wrong. Then I saw there were more media professionals reposting Xianzi’s story in WeChat Moments. At 6:42 am on July 26, I posted it on Weibo and @Zhujun. Within two hours, it had 11,000 reposts. After seeing so many reposts, I thought the media might pick it up and I may get sued. So right before 9 am, I posted another Weibo: “Getting a lawyer’s letter would be a good thing. A lawsuit means the issue will be put on the table, including what happened, the police record, and what Xianzi’s teacher said. It has to be tried in an open court.”
This is why I am willing to speak up for Xianzi. After July 26, I continued to post information I got from Xianzi’s friends, including the accounts from other people familiar with the incident, and media reports. During that time, my Weibo was kind of like an official account for this issue.
From July 26 to August 15, there was ongoing discussion about the #metoo movement, like the article by Ms. Liu Yu and many people’s responses. On August 15, I was working in my office when Xianzi messaged me on Wechat and asked whether I had seen the statement from Xingquan Law Firm, and that Zhu Jun had sued. Then I received many messages from friends and colleagues, asking me whether I had received the complaint. I knew they would sue me because the lawyer’s statement mentioned the anonymous, original Weibo post, and I never used my real name on Sina Weibo. Xianzi’s lawyer said they could help (considering the effectiveness of evidence, I later changed to two other lawyers), so I sorted out my thoughts and emotions and posted a response: “I hope my efforts can gradually push society towards progressiveness and development.”
From July 26 to August 15, when I was pretty sure that I would get sued, my ex-boyfriend asked me why I chose to step forward. My answer was a sense of responsibility. I felt that if I didn’t do this, or if I retreated after being sued, then it would be incompatible to my upbringing, my work experience, and my values.
My parents learned that I could be sued on only after they read news reports on August 16. I didn’t tell them. After learning what happened, my parents read Xianzi’s interview with Portrait Magazine titled “After Reporting Sexual Harassment.” And they sent me a long message saying that Xianzi and I weren’t facing some individual pervert, rather, we were facing the pervasive sense of entitlement. Everyone should be equal in the presence of law. And law should serve as the judge of Zhu Jun’s behavior. There should be no exceptions. If you are sexually assaulted, you should face it with courage. There might be many girls behind Xianzi and I, girls who are even weaker than us. Our strength and courage will shield them from harm. These are the values I hold dear. [Chinese]