Zhou Xiaoxuan Loses Appeal in Landmark #MeToo Case

A Beijing court has rejected an appeal in a landmark #MeToo case, upholding a 2021 judgment that found Zhou Xiaoxuan, better known as Xianzi, had insufficient evidence to prove that Zhu Jun, a powerful CCTV host, sexually harassed her while she was an intern at the state broadcaster. Zhou told Reuters she is likely to apply for yet another retrial but acknowledged it is unlikely to succeed: “There may be basically no chance of re-starting it. But we also want to tell the justice system that we are making one last-ditch effort.” During the first hearing in December 2020, hundreds of supporters gathered around the Beijing courtroom to “surround and watch” in an extremely rare public protest. This time, there were no such scenes: uniformed and plainclothes police surrounded the courtroom and only a limited number of Xianzi’s supporters gathered outside the court, while others met discreetly in a separate neighborhood. At The Wall Street Journal, Brian Spegele captured the scene around the Beijing court as judges refused to grant China’s highest profile #MeToo case a new trial:

Dozens of uniformed and plain-clothed police patrolled in front of the Beijing courthouse ahead of the hearing on Wednesday afternoon, sealing off the sidewalk with police tape and tailing some of the journalists present, as Ms. Zhou gathered with roughly a dozen supporters at a KFC restaurant inside a nearby shopping mall.

[…] Before heading into court, Ms. Zhou stopped outside the mall to pose for pictures with supporters. One of them unfurled a cardboard sign with “WE THE PEOPLE” scrawled across the front.

[…] As court proceedings got under way in Beijing on Wednesday, some of Ms. Zhou’s supporters said they knew her case was sensitive. Given the police presence, they avoided congregating.

Instead, they strolled around the nearby neighborhood. Some revealed small, silent signs of protest, including a young woman who wore a “1984” pin fastened to her shirt. [Source]

After the hearing, Xianzi read an impact statement to the crowd gathered outside the courtroom. RiceBunnyinChina provided a full translation of the statement Xianzi read to her supporters:

I would like to address that the judicial system does not have innate authority, nor is the court’s judgment inherently the truth. When we ask for relief from the legal system as citizens, we as victims are also entrusting the strangers in court with the power to adjudicate our bodies and our memories. This trust does not come from thin air. Those who hold this power should earn this trust with their actions. People in power should help the powerless; otherwise, there is no justice. 

It would be hurtful to lose this case, yet I know I should not be the only one that was examined and interrogated. The law is not constructed by clauses, texts, and judges. Instead, it is constituted with procedural justice and our pursuit for truth. The essence of law depends on whether everyone involved believes in equality, equity, and morality, and whether the marginalized and the underprivileged remain dignified when they seek help in the system. Law dwells in the most intricate and vulnerable part of our hearts. The real crisis here is not the absence of facts or evidence, but our shared doubts about humanity at this moment.

[…] I believe that the sufferings of women who experience similar situations need to be seen. Only if we value individuals’ pain can we arrive at collective happiness. ​​Perhaps due to the unspeakable power behind this case, I cannot receive the justice that I deserve. However, I still believe that through my narratives, when everyone in the courtroom becomes aware of the challenges that women face, and at least acknowledge that when sexual harassment occurs, the authorities should conduct investigation to seek the truth. I hope that the next litigant who comes to this courtroom will gain more understanding from others. I believe that narrating my story at this moment is meaningful. [Source]

The Chinese state has muzzled the country’s nascent #MeToo movement through censorship. After tennis star Peng Shuai posted an essay to Weibo accusing Zhang Gaoli, a former Politburo Standing Committee member, of sexual assault, it was erased from the platform in less than an hour. Digital platforms censor feminists voices by accusing them of “inciting gender opposition.” At CNN, Nectar Gan reported on how platforms and censors stifled honest discussion about Xianzi’s case by allowing nationalistic voices to attack her, while silencing feminist voices that rose to her defense

Online trolls have accused Zhou of lying and “colluding with foreign forces” – a stock Communist Party phrase often used by nationalists to denounce anyone from dissidents and academics to health experts opposing the country’s zero-Covid policy.

[…] On Weibo, some posts about Zhou’s hearing were blocked, and Liang Xiaomen, a vocal Chinese feminist and public interest lawyer in New York, said her WeChat account was permanently banned Tuesday after she shared information about the case and voiced support for Zhou.

“Many voices supporting Xianzi have been banned online, while her critics and trolls are active as ever,” Liang said. “Many of her supporters are very anxious – (our online community) was broken up and we don’t have a place to come together and form a united voice.” [Source]

Although the outcome of the case was not a surprise, it is nonetheless a major blow to China’s feminists. In an essay written in France and published on the website Matters, Chinese feminist Chao Xu wrote: “As I said four years ago: if the judiciary cannot provide a fair trial, then we must look to history for answers. These answers not only included whether a woman who was sexually harassed in a closed space has any choice beyond “grin and bear it,” but also how a society can march lockstep toward insanity.”


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