Translation: “I Want People to View my Case as a Drill” – An Interview with Xianzi

More than two years since she accused Zhu Jun, one of China’s most prominent TV hosts, of sexual harassment, Zhou Xiaoxuan, a 27-year-old screenwriter better known as Xianzi, finally went to court on Wednesday. In 2018, inspired by China’s burgeoning #MeToo movement, Xianzi posted a 3,000 word Weibo essay detailing a sexual assault perpetrated by Zhu, a prominent CCTV anchor, during her time as an intern for his show in 2014.

Immediately after the incident in 2014, Xianzi went to the police with her allegations against Zhu Jun. Instead of investigating Xianzi’s allegations, police threatened her parents’ jobs and urged her to drop her complaints. After her essay was published in 2018, Zhu Jun sued Xianzi and Xu Chao, a friend who amplified her message, for defamation. He demanded Xianzi and Xu publicly apologize both online and in a national newspaper while also paying over 600,000 yuan in damages. This inspired Xianzi to counter sue. “I decided that you have to use the law to prove what you said happened,” she said. She brought her case on “personality rights” grounds. “Personality rights” provide individuals broad guarantees of bodily dignity, but do not specifically cover sexual harassment. Two years, four months, and five days after her essay surged through the Chinese internet, her case opened in court.

Just outside Beijing’s Haidian District Court on Wednesday, Xianzi raised a banner reading “Must Win” and told the BBC, “If I win, this will encourage many women to come forward and tell their stories; if I lose, I’ll keep appealing until justice is served.” Hundreds of her supporters gathered in vigil outside the courtroom, some holding signs that spelled out “Together, we ask history for an answer,” “#MeToo,” and “Go Xianzi!” One woman held a copy of China’s new Civil Code, which, when adopted this past May, codified sexual harassment as an offense for the first time. Supporters unable to attend sent hot bubble tea and warming pads to those gathered in the frigid Beijing evening. A Meituan driver tasked with delivering the goods asked, “Who is ‘Xianzi and her friends’?” The crowd responded, “We all are.” After 10 hours of hearings, the court adjourned. Xianzi and her lawyers asked for a change of judges, Zhu Jun’s attendance at the next hearing, and a public jury to hear the case. The Guardian reported on the scene outside the courthouse:

Crowds gathered outside the Haidian people’s court in a rare show of political activism. Attendees held signs calling for answers, and offering support to Zhou. According to local media, police requested they stop showing their placards and appeared to forcibly remove at least one reporter.

Yang Ruiqi, a third-year university student, had been waiting since midday outside the court to show support for Zhou. “I saw people holding slogans to support Xianzi, I felt excited and moved to see people here to support each other,” Yang told the Guardian.

“The whole #MeToo movement is an inspiration to me, making me realise that things which made me feel uncomfortable before were wrong, it wasn’t because I was being too sensitive.” [Source]

In a recent interview with Aussenseiter2015, a blog on WeChat, Xianzi shared her experiences in pushing the boundaries of the #metoo movement in China’s judicial system, and how she hoped to help and encourage more women who may have had similar experiences:

Q: How did you prepare for the court session tomorrow (Wednesday)?

Xianzi: We did a lot of preparation, including informing all witnesses and helping them come to Beijing. We have eight witnesses, including my university teacher who accompanied me to the police [in 2014], a lawyer friend of my teacher’s, as well as friends and classmates who interned with me together. […]

Q: Why do you hope Zhu Jun will show up in court?

Xianzi: Ever since we filed the lawsuit, he never showed. Before this court session, we had two pre-trial hearings, on October 25, 2018, and January 18, 2019, respectively. He was never there on either occasion. Only his lawyer was. Zhu Jun never showed up either as a plaintiff or defendant.

Q: How would you feel if he doesn’t show up.

Xianzi: It may feel ridiculous to me. Sexual harassment happened in a closed space. And two people were involved. If one of them doesn’t show up to answer questions, that is a very ridiculous situation. […]

Q: Why did you ask for a public proceeding?

Xianzi: To me, a public proceeding will ensure the process is more just and publicly accessible. More women can see what happens in court. I want people to view my case as a drill. If you were to encounter something similar, you’d feel more prepared to go to court if you had seen my case.

Q: But the court denied a public proceeding?

Xianzi: Before the first pre-trial hearing in 2018, the court informed us that there would be no public proceeding. After the second hearing, we again insisted but the court never gave permission. No reason was given either.

Q: It’s been two years since you brought the case. Did you expect to wait for so long?

Xianzi: That was beyond my expectation. Usually a civil proceeding would close within six months. Even when a continuance is granted under special circumstances, the case would close within a year. It’s very rare to wait for two years for a court session. […]

Q:Do you have any expectations for tomorrow?

Xianzi: I can only say that we’d tried our best. My lawyer told me that I should not care about the outcome, and that the biggest impact of our case might be the process itself – the fact that we worked on this together and we had this shared experience. But because this is such a meaningful case, we all want to strive for the best outcome. I try not to think about the outcome before court, because you never know.

Q: Do you think the outcome is important to you?

Xianzi: It is. It is important. Of course I still want to win. […]

Q: If you lose, what would you say to yourself?

Xianzi: If we lose, I think the process itself is still meaningful. In late 2018, “dispute over the liability for sexual harassment” became a cause for [civil] lawsuit for the first time. There weren’t many cases of such nature in the past. In fact, the judicial system doesn’t afford enough attention to sexual harassment cases, and victims don’t get enough due process.

I think what we are doing here—whether to demand that Zhu Jun shows up in court, or to demand a public proceeding—is trying to offer some help to other women who might have had similar experiences. We are asking ourselves what we can do for them, what discussions we should have. We demanded that Zhu Jun show up in court. Our most direct impact might not be actually seeing Zhu Jun tomorrow. But at least we can tell people what should be afforded under due process. This is meaningful in its own way. [Chinese]

While accusations against Harvey Weinstein and other celebrities inspired an explosive #metoo movement in the U.S. and elsewhere, censorship and other cultural and social factors tamped down China’s burgeoning movement in the early months, despite several women who came forward with personal accounts of abuse. In 2018, following a string of more prominent cases, including Xianzi’s, the movement gained momentum in China. In an essay for ChinaFile, veteran feminist activist and journalist Lü Pin wrote about the decentralized and creative young leadership behind China’s #MeToo Movement, which was especially active on university campuses:  “It has been clear to the core initiators of this movement that their campaign must be center-less, flexible, creative, and swift…This networked guerrilla movement was much more effective than a centrally planned and executed campaign would have been at addressing censorship concerns and at allowing members to exercise individual initiative.”

Since publishing her allegations in July 2018, Xianzi has become the face of the movement. She has accompanied women to police stations as they filed reports of sexual harassment and published deeply introspective essays on the meaning of activism, such as “Gentleness Can Change The World.” After her initial accusations were published, WeChat usage of “sexual harassment” increased thirty-fold, from one million posts to 30 million. Censors immediately took action. “Delete all information related to Zhu Jun, leave no area neglected,” read one propaganda directive from July 2018. “Do not hype any content related to ‘MeToo’,” read another. Xianzi’s decision to pursue legal action brought the previously online #MeToo movement into the courts. In an interview with Vincent Ni of the BBC this week, Darius Longarino explained the legal significance of Xianzi’s case to sexual harassment survivors across China:

Chinese law bans workplace sexual misconduct. But until recently, there has been no legal definition of what constitutes sexual harassment, said Darius Longarino, who studies China’s changing legal framework in dealing with such cases at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Centre.

[…] Critics argue that this is still not sufficient in effectively protecting victims of sexual harassment. “[The Civil Code] went as far as saying that companies have to adopt measures to tackle workplace sexual harassment, but stopped short of saying what liability would companies face for failing to do so,” said Mr Longarino.

[…] But despite the shortcomings, Mr Longarino said that the fact that Xianzi’s case has gone this far is an encouraging sign that things are changing. “Now is another pivotal moment where we will see if courts can give a fair and rigorous hearing.

“Only then will the law provide meaningful protection to sexual harassment survivors.” [Source]

Xianzi and the #MeToo movement continues to be censored. Although Xianzi’s case, and photographs of her supporters outside the courtroom, briefly earned a flurry of attention on Weibo and other social media sites, by the end of Wednesday evening many hashtags and messages had been blocked. From Manya Koetse at What’s On Weibo:

People are also complaining about the apparent online censorship of hashtags and comments relating to thecase: “When I checked at 3 pm this afternoon, I saw plenty of Weibo posts relating to this hashtag. Now they’re all gone.”

“All content relating to the Zhu Jun sexual harassment case is gone from Douban,” one commenter said, referring to another popular Chinese social media platform: “I’m puzzled.”

Some commenters also claimed that images, such as the one pictured above, were being taken offline. At the time of writing, one of the few hashtag pages that was still open and being used to discuss this topic (#弦子诉朱军性骚扰案今天开庭#) also seems to have been deleted.

Even a hashtag that was previously used by state-run news site The Observer (#弦子诉朱军性骚扰案将于12月2日开庭#) has by now been taken offline. [Source]

Participants in the courthouse vigil and reporters covering the case posted photos on Twitter. At least two foreign reporters were dragged away by police:

Translation by Yakexi. This post was co-authored with Joseph Brouwer.


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