On Wednesday, December 2, Zhou Xiaoxuan, better known as Xianzi, appeared in court in the Haidian District of Beijing for a hearing in her lawsuit against celebrity CCTV host Zhu Jun for sexual harassment. Xianzi has accused Zhu of sexually assaulting her while she worked as an intern for him in 2014. After police initially dismissed her allegations, she wrote a powerful essay outlining her account of the incident in 2018, which went viral and provided a rallying point for China’s nascent #metoo movement. Zhu later sued Xianzi and a friend for defamation, but she counter-sued on “personality rights” grounds, which provide individuals broad guarantees of bodily dignity, but do not specifically cover sexual harassment. The hearing on Wednesday lasted 10 hours, and Zhu Jun did not appear. After the hearing, Xianzi and her lawyers announced their demands: recusal of the current judges on the case; the appearance of Zhu Jun at the next hearing; a public hearing; and a public jury to hear the case. It has not yet been announced when or if a second hearing will take place.
After publicizing her case, Xianzi became the public face of China’s #metoo movement, and hundreds of supporters gathered outside the courthouse during her hearing, in a rare show of public protest. Online, her hearing became a hot topic, until Weibo began censoring discussions. Reporting about the case has also been censored. CDT Chinese has collected several comments from friends and supporters of Xianzi’s, including accounts of people who gathered in solidarity outside the courthouse.
Caijing, the only news outlet in Mainland China that filed a story about the case, saw their report deleted shortly afterwards. (Caixin, on the other hand, posted a photo album with no long-form story. All other Mainland news outlets are silent.) Translated from Caijing:
In the pretrial meetings, Xianzi’s police report and case file from 2014 “resurfaced” and will become important evidence during this trial. […]
The case documents reportedly include: Xianzi’s police report, records of Xianzi’s and Zhu Jun’s testimonies to the police, relevant witness accounts, notes from the alleged scene, etc.
Caijing has learned that the account from Xianzi’s police report is similar to that from her blog post and her complaint. Zhu Jun, on the other hand, has denied the “sexual assault” allegation. [Chinese]
Like many friends who care about the case, I wasn’t able to show support outside the court; however, the internet is still a convenient space for people to “surround and watch” in a chilly winter — in just a few days, several friends who have been active in civic society have started group chats for “livestreaming.”
I am surprised — honestly, I didn’t expect to see such a gentle and powerful gathering in this era. When it gets more and more chilly, one can’t help but start hoping to live to see “the fall of the Berlin Wall.” But tonight, surprisingly, a group of people gathered in the cold wind, like steles of history; demure and lively, still and moving, waiting and pushing forward, gazing and judging — this isn’t about a black-or-white “answer.”
I am not surprised — the scenes look familiar, although one normally only sees them in archives. The people from such faded but clear footage say: “Scrutiny is Power,” “Surrounding and watching changes China.” These people were once at Guangzhou, Wukan, Xiamen, and many other places; today, the same but different crowd appeared in Beijing, Haidian, and also on the internet. [Chinese]
By Liu Kuan, a documentary filmmaker who went to the courthouse to support Xianzi:
When I arrived at the Haidian District Court around 1pm today, the streets were filled with Xianzi’s supporters.
They were mostly young people, many of them men. The crowd nearly packed the streets, but it was very quiet. When Xianzi came, people didn’t make much sound either. They held up their signs uniformly. After a 1-2-3 count, the crowd yelled: “Go, Xianzi!” Some people gave her a bunch of flowers. Some random girl went up to Xianzi, whispered to her before hugging her. And most stood in silence, wiping away their tears. Xianzi told people that she worried she’d “screw up” and let them down, but she also believed that “history might repeat itself, but it will move forward in the end.”
[…] As the court went into session, some of Xianzi’s supporters went to wait in a conference room at a nearby hotel. Most people didn’t know each other, but they went together because of trust. In the conference room, people kept the door open for any latecomers. Dozens of them sat in a circle and began introducing themselves and how they knew Xianzi. Only a few were her close friends. Most were people “inspired” or “helped” by her. People made videos and wrote post-it notes for her. As no media were allowed to report, everyone was eager to make their voice heard. At the same time, those who couldn’t join us in person sent us milk tea and fried chicken to show support. The conference room was filled with food.
[…] Besides the WeChat groups formed by people at the scene, there are at least five full groups of online supporters. In every group chat, people are live-streaming for their friends afar, and ordering hot drinks, hand warmers, gloves, sugar-coated fruit sticks and oden [Japanese stew] for volunteers… The delivery people had no idea who the recipients were, because every order was made to “Ms. Xianzi’s friends,” and everyone was saying: “that’s us.”
Some people distributed food and drinks like peddlers; others reminded people to “share hand warmers and food with the police,” “insist if you must, they are tired too,” “please take care of your trash.” [Chinese]
HuishengProject, a WeChat blog that promotes women’s rights, shared a detailed timeline of the event in a now-deleted story:
At 12pm, I arrived at the People’s Court of Haidian District with a few friends. Many people were gathering in front of the main entrance. Some were holding up posters that they brought over to pose for pictures, in support of Xianzi. But moments later, the security guards came over and ordered people to stop holding up signs or taking photos. People were driven to the south entrance, the usual entrance for litigants.
The south entrance is not located on a main street and doesn’t draw too much attention. But the fact that a narrow street was packed by around 500 people made it hard for people not to take notice. Many pedestrians stopped and watched.
We distributed the signs we’d prepared to those volunteers who came alone. They took them without hesitation. People held up the signs and said out loud in front of the press: “Together, we demand answers from history!”
[…] Just before going into the court, Xianzi said to the crowd: “No matter the result today, please do not feel discouraged because of my case.” Many people cried upon hearing it.
[…] Thirty minutes after Xianzi entered the court, some people were still holding up the signs. They didn’t let go even when police in uniform came to threaten them, saying “holding up a sign qualifies as picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” I couldn’t help but start to worry. But I also felt proud of them.
[…] “This is the first time I’ve seen so many people together in years,” a volunteer nicknamed Little E exclaimed. Others said: “It feels like Spring Festival today.”
Later, we chatted with about 50 volunteers. Some of them came from Guangzhou, some from Jiangsu; some enjoyed arguing with people online, but are introverted in real life. Some looked like just your average elementary school teacher, but had quietly incorporated gender equality into their curriculum. Some were not good with words, others were eloquent. We had so much fun talking to each other the whole afternoon.
[…] 6pm, 8pm, 10pm, 12am, as time went by, the weather got chillier. In December in Beijing, people seldom go out at night. But tonight we stayed out for six hours. It’s not difficult to imagine how us volunteers must have been feeling.
After learning about the situation, friends from the internet started to “buy buy buy.” Rounds and rounds of hand warmers and milk tea were sent to us (literally), and also KFC, McDonald’s, sugar-coated fruit sticks, baked cold noodles, hand sanitizers, gloves, and even three down jackets! All orders listed “Xianzi’s friends” as recipients. [Chinese]
At The Los Angeles Times, Alice Su reported on the scene outside the courthouse on Wednesday:
It was a rare glimpse of public demonstration in China, where civil society and protest have been suppressed in recent years. The numbers were small: about 100 supporters in person, along with about 2,500 people who joined WeChat groups following Zhou’s case. The accused TV host did not attend. The hearing was closed to the public and dragged from 1:30 pm to midnight with no conclusion, only an announcement that the trial would continue later.
Even if Zhou loses, supporters said, she had clinched a victory for women’s rights by getting her case into court and drawing strangers together in a cathartic moment of solidarity.
Police officers patrolling outside the court ordered supporters to not display their signs, but otherwise allowed the crowd to stay. Most were women, standing and shivering in twos and threes, some passing around heat packs to keep warm. [Source]
Minutes before midnight, judges adjourned the trial of Zhu Jin [sic], a state television celebrity who was accused of sexual harassment by Zhou Xiaoxuan, a young intern, in a case that has invigorated a burgeoning generation of Chinese feminists and unsettled a government reflexively wary of social movements.
[…] For Zhou and her supporters who considered the lawsuit a barometer for progress in gender equality in China, the outlook was bleak, but they left a small mark in history.
Li Tingting waited in the cold Wednesday night with 100 others for hours before Zhou, also known by the nickname “Xianzi,” emerged from the courthouse. Zhou said her lawyers asked the judges to recuse themselves and adjourn. It was a stalling tactic before a probable defeat, Li said. The case could resume in a few weeks.
“The crowd was silent, but we are not feeling too pessimistic,” said Li, a well-known feminist activist. “The verdict isn’t important. What was important for our movement was the moment, the process, the involvement of people who gathered physically from across the country and the foundation we’ve laid.” [Source]
Police eventually tried to take signs away from the people gathered outside the courthouse, and dragged away two foreign correspondents, with one police officer yelling “Take the foreigners away!”
VIDEO: Foreign journalists dragged away at #MeToo court case.
Chinese police stopped foreign reporters, including one from @AFP, covering #MeToo supporters gathering outside a Beijing court as a sexual harassment case against a powerful Chinese media figure began pic.twitter.com/yJUj2qdTmu
— AFP News Agency (@AFP) December 3, 2020
Read essays by Xianzi and her friend Xu Chao (also known as Classmate Maishao) about their motivations in posting Xianzi’s accusations against Zhu Jun. See also an essay by feminist activist Lü Pin about the origins and significance of the #MeToo movement in China.
Translation by Yakexi.