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#我也是 (Wo Ye Shi) | © Yufan Lu
#我也是 (Wo Ye Shi) | © Yufan Lu

#我也是: The #MeToo Movement in China

Picture of Yufan Lu
Updated: 17 January 2018

In October last year, droves of Twitter users responded to the Harvey Weinstein scandal by exposing the scale of sexual harassment with the #MeToo movement. Nearly three months on, China’s own #MeToo movement is just beginning.

The birth of #我也是

On New Year’s Day, Luo Xixi published an article under the hashtag #MeToo on her Weibo (the equivalent of Twitter in China) account, @cicixiaojushi.

The article was straight to the point: “I, Luo Xixi, graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Beihang University in 2004. I was admitted as a PhD student right after and graduated again in 2011. I live in the U.S. now. I am writing to accuse Chen Xiaowu, my vice-tutor during my PhD studies and a Chang Jiang Scholar, of sexual harassment, under my real name.”

In the article, Luo gave an elaborate account of how her vice-tutor, Chen, attempted but failed to rape her 12 years ago. Chen had forced her to go to his house to “take care of his sister’s plants while she was abroad”. Although Luo managed to escape physical danger, Chen’s bullies haunted her for years after the incident.

According to Luo, Chen kept “making things hard” for her research project and used a “variety of tricks to encroach on his students’ payment”. Combined with his ineptitude in academics, he had all but extinguished her interest in academic research. Luo even suffered from depression and hallucinations. She was finally set free from the “nightmare” when she was offered the opportunity to study abroad.

“The only benefit I got from working under him is that I now tend to expect less from others in my life,” wrote Luo.

It didn’t occur to Luo to report the man until she saw the news about #MeToo. She soon discovered similar accusations against Chen from other female students on Zhihu, a Chinese Q&A website similar to Quora. Luo decided that she shouldn’t remain silent any longer. She rallied other victims, collected sufficient evidence, and reported Chen to Beihang University.

As of January 12, the article has already received 4.9 million views, and over 17,000 reposts. In Luo’s Weibo account description, there were the words, ‘#我也是’ (Wo Ye Shi, meaning “MeToo”).

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#我也是 (Wo Ye Shi) | © Yufan Lu

Who came forward?

Luo and her fellow victims from Beihang were not the only group who stood up against sexual harassment. In November, female reporter Huang Xueqin spoke about her experience of being harassed by a senior male reporter while she was working as a young intern at a state media agency.

Having met other women in media who suffered from sexual harassment over the years, Huang started a poll on China’s popular messaging app, WeChat. The poll aimed to investigate sexual harassment against female journalists. The results showed that more than 80% of the 255 participants had experienced sexual harassment.

Contrary to the now deleted China Daily report, which claimed that sexual harassment was culturally incompatible with Chinese values, a number of surveys and netizens are suggesting the very opposite. A 2016 NGOCN survey of 6,600 Chinese students and recent graduates found that nearly 70% were victims of sexual harassment, but only less than 4% had reported the cases.

While Luo Xixi’s article introduced the #MeToo hashtag to China, Chinese women have finally been given the platform to spark a movement. A number of students have written open letters to their universities, appealing for them to make a stand against sexual harassment. As of January 9, over 30 Chinese universities had received such letters. Some replied with sensitivity and sincerity, while others chose to have the letters removed by making the platforms on which they were published, delete them.

Why are they coming forward?

Luo wrote in her letter that she had witnessed how seriously the U.S. education system takes sexual harassment, noting: “Anyone that has the history of sexual harassment are blacklisted from the positions that involve even the slightest contact with students”. In comparison, it’s rare to see punishment against harassers in China. It’s a challenge just to convict harassers of their crime.

However, after researching China’s progress against sexual harassment since the 1990s, Luo realized the country is pushing forward a system against sexual harassment step by step, although very slowly.

“Do I have any reason to not believe China can achieve it one day?”, so believed Luo, and the many others who keep fighting for women’s rights in China.

Responses from the authorities

On January 11, Beihang University issued a notice on its official Weibo account, confirming Chen’s misbehaviors. The university noted that he would be removed from his posts in Beihang and that his teacher’s certificate would be withdrawn.

What do netizens think of the responses?

Beihang’s straightforward attitude and quick response towards the scandal won praise from Chinese netizens. Some saw it as great progress, especially compared with the allegations of sexual harassment from a Beijing Movie Academy graduate against her professor’s father just a few months ago. It caused a stir on social media in May, but despite the fact that the school promised to look into the matter, the investigation results never came out, and the case was eventually forgotten.

“Compared with the sexual harassment cases of other universities, especially the explosive Beijing Movie Academy one, that just faded without any conclusions, I’m so proud of Beihang! Bravo to my alumni!” commented @Danhuanghungenqingchenwufaxiangren.

She added: “The good people’s tolerance are the evil people’s paradise. Hope we can all have the courage to speak out.”