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What’s Next for China’s #WoYeShi movement?

Investigation continues and silence-breaker Luo Qianqian interview—but will the sexual harassment debate be stalled?

Since TWOC reported on the various obstacles to the widespread #MeToo sex abuse discussion in China, Beihang University’s firing of a professor, accused of harassing students, and ongoing investigations of another at the University of International Business and Economics are have started rumblings as to whether a Chinese “WoYeShi” campaign could finally be underway.

Matters, thus far, have not been optimistic, starting with the People’s Daily’s response to the Beihang victims: “To use your voice to defend your own rights…courage is your best-looking pose.” The accusation bodes poorly for systematic change in attitudes toward women, if this Party editorial has the final word.

Luo Qianqian, the Silicon Valley worker who was the first  to publicly accuse Beihang professor Chen Xiaowu, also made gloomy observations in an interview published yesterday by the WeChat account Meiri Renwu.

US-based Luo had include a screenshot of the “MeToo” hashtag when she posted a “real-name accusation” of Chen on Weibo on January 1, but told the interviewer that, if she had still been living in China, “I would probably still report [Chen], but I may not use my real name.” In answer to a question about how this academic environment affect female graduates, she said: “Schools emphasize lifelong, loyal dependence in the student-teacher relationship, therefore supervisors have enormous power over students’ advancement, creating a space for sexual harassment.”

In fact, the case at UIBE began with a report by an anonymous student on Q&A platform Zhihu on January 11. An op-ed in Tencent’s InTouch Today magazine used a similar description as Luo’s of the supervisor-student relationship to explain why China’s universities are “sexual harassment disaster areas,” citing a “universities’ special atmosphere…where ‘everyone hangs together,’” and “Chinese society’s pervasive shaming and victim-blaming culture,” as additional obstacles to a sustained change in spite of 13 media exposés on campus harassment and sexual assault between 2014 and 2017. Tellingly, a Xiamen University professor fired in 2014 for harassing female students was quietly inducted into a National Archaeological Committee the following year.

In November 2017, a Chengdu University of Technology professor was also fired after years of harassment reports from students, and in December, Nanchang University fired both a vice-dean, accused of sexually assaulting a graduate, and his dean, who failed to respond to the student’s initial report.

While a widespread movement to root out harassment from China’s institutions may not be possible due to the social and political reasons outlined, there’s evidence that the recent spate of reports could gain traction, as part of an ongoing moral panic on the education system and qualifications of teachers and administrators.

Following the kindergartener abuse scandals that broke in November, and recent incidents including a teacher reported to have blocked the door to a high-speed train and killed a dog after blackmailing the owner (yes), tags like “Improperly Educating Children” (#教子无方#) and “Establish Teacher Morality, Raise Teacher Ethics” (#树师德,扬师风#) have circulated on Weibo, occasionally including posts mentioning the Nanchang and Beihang harassment cases; also trending is the hashtag “Campus Sexual Harassment” (#校园性骚扰#). Could the hallowed space of the campus allow the debate on sexual harassment in China to finally continue in a contained, non-threatening fashion? We shall see…


author Hatty Liu

Hatty Liu is the former managing editor of The World of Chinese, and an award-winning communications researcher. Born in China, and raised in China, Canada, and the US, she leverages her cross-cultural identity to create more empathetic knowledge across national boundaries.

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