Accusations of sexual assault spread across China’s social media this week, as the #MeToo movement took aim at prominent activists, academics and a television personality.
In a nation where issues like sexual assault have traditionally been brushed under the carpet, China’s fledgling #MeToo movement speaks to a changing mind-set among the younger generation.
China’s millions of netizens have also ensured that any news, scandals and grievances spread quickly. The spread of accusations about prominent Chinese figures presents a challenge for the government, which has censored some, but not all of the social media posts.
The accusations have stoked heated online debate about sexual misconduct and what constitutes consensual sex or rape.
The second-ranked topic on Sina Weibo yesterday was “sexual assault evidence collection.”
So far this week, more than 20 women have made allegations of sexual misconduct, sparked by an accusation on Monday that has rocked a non-governmental organization.
Lei Chuang (雷闖), founder of Yi You Charity, in an online statement confessed to an accusation of sexual assault and quit the organization.
Three other activists were embroiled in separate accusations of sexual misconduct by the end of the week.
The most prominent of the sexual assault allegation came from a young legal worker who goes by the pseudonym Little Spirit.
The 27-year-old said that Zhang Wen (章文) — a veteran journalist and online political commentator in China — had raped her after a banquet in May, an allegation that prompted six other women to accuse him of sexual harassment and groping.
Zhang in a statement on Wednesday denied the rape allegation, saying that his affair with the accuser was consensual.
Jiang Fangzhou (蔣方舟), a prominent fellow writer and deputy editor-in-chief of the Guangdong-based magazine New Weekly, said on WeChat that Zhang had groped her at a meal on one occasion.
Among others, the journalist Yi Xiaohe (易小荷), and Wang Yanyun (王嫣芸), a TV personality, said on social media that Zhang had made unwanted sexual advances toward them.
In his statement, Zhang said it was normal for men and women in intellectual and media circles to “take pictures together, hug and kiss each other after consuming liquor.”
On Thursday, an academic at Communication University of China in Beijing was accused by a student of a sexual assault in 2016. The university in a statement vowed to launch an investigation and deal with the matter with zero tolerance if confirmed.
A former professor at the same university, known to be a training camp for China’s future TV personalities, was also accused on Thursday of uninvited sexual advances in 2008 by a former student.
Accusations that a prominent personality on China Central Television (CCTV) molested an intern also emerged on Thursday, but the posts on Sina Weibo were quickly removed.
The personality could not be immediately reached, while CCTV did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
Yesterday, the personality’s name was the top censored topic on Sina Weibo, according to Free Weibo, an independent platform that lists and ranks all search phrases blocked on the microblogging platform.
“Metoo” and “Me too” ranked eighth and ninth respectively.
Beijing-based magazine Portrait on Thursday told its readers in an online article to share their own stories of being sexually assaulted. It said in a subsequent post that it had received more than 1,700 stories in less than 24 hours.
Portrait’s article on WeChat has since been removed.
By contrast, Lei’s confession was widely covered by state media, including the China Daily.
Men in sports have also been implicated in the #MeToo accusations this week.
Yesterday, a 17-year old high-school student in Ningbo said online that she had been sexually assaulted by two badminton coaches.
In China, the hashtag #MeToo has so far appeared more than 77 million times on Sina Weibo, although the majority of the posts are not viewable.
On Thursday, the People’s Daily on Sina Weibo posted a Ted Talk video about sexual assault.
“Hope this post won’t be scrubbed,” one user commented.
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