New #MeToo Cases Showcase Enduring Tenacity of Chinese Feminist Movement

At least 12 women have accused famed screenwriter Shi Hang of sexual harassment. The accusations are the latest major #MeToo case to roil the Chinese intelligentsia. At Sixth Tone, Yang Caini reported on the accusations against Shi Hang:

The scandal began with an anonymous Douban post on April 28, now deleted, which accused 52-year-old Shi Hang of verbal and physical sexual harassment. At the time of publication, at least 11 other women have come out with similar accusations against the celebrated screenwriter.

According to The Paper, Sixth Tone’s sister publication, which managed to contact five of the women, they first met Shi at film festivals and work events, after which Shi would verbally harass them and initiate inappropriate physical contact without their consent, including the kissing and licking of their ears. The accusations span more than a decade, with the most recent happening just a few weeks ago, The Paper reported. 

[…] Shi has denied the accusations of sexual harassment in two public statements, although he has apologized for “making women I know feel this way.” In his latest public denial, he wrote that he had had “varying degrees of interaction” with his accusers, including “stable relationships.” 

[…] “Maybe it’s time we disenchant ourselves from this industry,” the Douban account at the center of the scandals posted on Friday. “Intellectuals are just ordinary people as well.” [Source]

In response to Shi’s denials, a woman professing to be one of his victims shared a long essay to Weibo detailing the circumstances of her assault that concluded: “But. Time. Is. On. Our. Side. Real rage—hatred, even—cannot be long concealed by clever words and tactics. Surrender today and begin your life anew. If you’re waiting for tomorrow, ha! You think tomorrow belongs to you?” Prominent #MeToo activist Xianzi, whose case against powerful CCTV host Zhu Jun was rejected by a Beijing court last August, encouraged Shi’s other alleged victims to speak out. Her text, which circulated on WeChat, read: “I beseech all of those who’ve worked with or are otherwise related to Shi Hang to stand up and speak out. Silence is problematic. Women can bear silence no longer.” 

The accusations against Shi follow an April accusation of sexual assault against prominent publisher Fan Xin, who founded a Beijing-based publishing house noted for its publications of translated international feminist texts

A post that surfaced on leading review platform Douban on Monday alleged that Fan Xin, founder of Beijing-based independent publisher Folio, attempted to sexually assault a female employee on a business trip together at an unspecified time. 

[…] “I won’t make any defense for the ugly things I’ve done … No one can pretend nothing has happened,” [a Douban user purporting to be Fan Xin said.]

[…] Despite being a relatively new publishing house, Folio has quickly gained a dedicated following, particularly among China’s feminism circles. In recent years, it has published Chinese translations of noted works by female authors, including Irish writer Sinéad Gleeson’s “Constellations: Reflections from Life” and Japanese writer Suzuki Suzumi’s “A Bouquet for Love and the Womb.” 

[…] “Publishers (of feminist books) have a responsibility to take a stand against sexual assault by staff members,” Justice4Her Project, a gender equality group, wrote on Weibo. [Source]

Notably, the accusations against Shi and Fan have not been widely censored on WeChat and Weibo even though official charges have not been filed as of publication. With one notable exception—Canadian-Chinese singer Kris Wu’s 13 year prison sentence for rape—Chinese authorities have generally suppressed the movement. Huang Xueqin, a journalist and #MeToo activist, has been detained without trial since late 2021 and is apparently suffering serious health complications caused by “mental pressure and physical torture” inflicted upon her in detention. Zhu Jun, the CCTV anchor Xianzi accused of harassment, resumed work at the state broadcaster in December 2022. A Chinese student’s rape accusation against the billionaire founder of e-commerce site was settled outside of court two days before the commencement of a civil trial in the United States. 

In contrast with countries such as the U.S., where former president Donald Trump was on Tuesday found liable for sexual abuse and defamation, the #MeToo movement in China has been strictly restricted to the entertainment and business spheres. In 2021, tennis star Peng Shuai accused former Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. Her Weibo post was almost immediately censored and Peng herself was briefly incommunicado. Upon resurfacing, Peng denied ever making an allegation of sexual impropriety against Zhang. The Women’s Tennis Association, of which Peng had been a member, declared it would no longer host its annual championship in China until Association leaders were able to have private one-on-one discussion with Peng and a “full and transparent” investigation into her accusations. In April, the WTA announced it would return to China despite none of its conditions having been met. WTA head Steve Simon said he had “received assurances from people who are close to her, that we’ve been in contact with, that she is safe and living with her family in Beijing.” Peng, once among China’s most popular tennis stars, has not been seen in public since tightly choreographed appearances during the Beijing Winter Olympics. Her name remains censored on Weibo to this day. Zhang Gaoli, on the other hand, sat in the front row of the 20th Party Congress

Under Xi Jinping’s leadership, China has dropped 33 places in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report to No. 102, behind Azerbaijan, Greece, and South Korea (where gender is a hot-button election issue). The Politburo, a committee of the 24 most powerful Party members, is all male for the first time in 25 years

Despite entrenched political suppression of women, the feminist movement continues to grow. 20th century novelist Eileen Chang has seen a resurgence in popularity among women who relate to her probing style and anti-patriarchal attitudes (and lifestyle). Irish writer Sally Rooney has also become wildly popular for her stories of feminist life under exploitative capitalism. At The Guardian, Helen Davidson wrote about the sudden popularity of Japanese writer Chizuko Ueno, whose feminist appeals have resonated across Asia:

Ueno, a professor of sociology at the University of Tokyo, was little known in China outside academia until she delivered a 2019 matriculation speech at the university in which she railed against its sexist admissions policies, sexual “abuse” by male students against their female peers, and the pressure women felt to downplay their academic achievements.

[…] “In China we need some sort of feminist role model to lead us and enable us to see how far women can go,” [Shiye Fu, the host of popular feminist podcast Stochastic Volatility says.] “She taught us that as a woman, you have to fight every day, and to fight is to survive.”

When asked by the Guardian about her popularity in China, Ueno says her message resonates with this generation of Chinese women because, while they have grown up with adequate resources and been taught to believe they will have more opportunities, “patriarchy and sexism put the burden to be feminine on them as a wife and mother”.

[…] Na Zhong, a novelist who translated Sally Rooney’s novels into simplified Chinese, feels that Chinese feminism is, at least when it comes to literature, gaining momentum. The biggest sign of this, both despite and because of censorship, is “the sheer number of women writers that are being translated into Chinese” – among whom Ueno is the “biggest star”.

“Young women are discovering their voices, and I’m really happy for my generation,” she says. “We’re just getting started.” [Source]


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