China politics: #ChinaToo
- Content Type
- Country Data and Maps
- Economist Intelligence Unit
- No abstract is available.
- Politics, News Analysis
- Political Geography
Sexual harassment: #ChinaToo
The #MeToo movement has arrived in China. The Communist Party is worried
WHEN Luo Xixi was studying for a PhD at Beihang University in Beijing, her supervisor, Chen Xiaowu, asked her to go with him to his sister's house to look after her plants. Women, she recalled him saying at the time, are innately better at domestic chores. Once in the house, she says, he demanded sex, letting her go only when she pleaded she was a virgin. As she left, he warned her not to tell anyone, claiming he had merely been testing her to see whether she was "a well-mannered student".
Thirteen years later, in October 2017, Ms Luo was working in Silicon Valley as news spread of a social-media campaign by victims of sexual harassment using the hashtag #MeToo. With a handful of fellow Beihang graduates, she formed a group on WeChat, a messaging app, to discuss the abuse they had suffered. Ms Luo decided to take her case to the university. For three months, the college remained silent while Mr Chen began his own campaign, warning possible accusers not to let themselves become "agents of evil foreign forces".
On January 1st Ms Luo went public on Weibo, a microblogging site. When Mr Chen denied the claims, Ms Luo published transcripts of him saying things like "Can't I touch you?" and "Then can you touch me a little?" On January 11th the university ruled that her accusations were true and suspended Mr Chen. Three days later the Ministry of Education stripped him of a prestigious scholarship and demanded he repay the stipend. Thus #MeToo finally arrived in China, claiming its first scalp and establishing a new hashtag with the Chinese characters for "me too": #WoYeShi.
China's movement against sexual harassment is very different from those in the West. So far, accusations have all come from universities, not the film business or politics. No celebrities have tweeted #WoYeShi. Almost all the accusations have been made anonymously. Ms Luo's story stuck out because she used her own name. That was partly, she said, because she lived in America, where she had some protection from the retaliation she might have suffered were she in China.
The movement there faces greater challenges than elsewhere. Tian Dong, a lawyer who specialises in gender-related cases, says there is no legal definition of sexual harassment in China. Chinese companies often ignore harassment in their terms of employment and training. Social attitudes have changed profoundly in the past 30 years, but traditional sexual roles remain entrenched. Women are expected to shut up and look demure. A study by the Guangzhou Gender Centre, an NGO, found that almost 70% of students said they had been harassed. Fewer than 4% said they had, or ever would, report assaults to the police.
Above all, #WoYeShi faces the Communist Party--the most powerful organ of which, the Standing Committee of the Politburo, has never had a female member. Given the party's ingrained sexism and hostility to any form of activism, the surprising thing is not that #WoYeShi has had less impact than #MeToo. It is how far it has come in a short time. Universities face a wave of accusations. There have been petitions in 68 of them demanding systems for reporting and investigating harassment charges, says Feng Yuan of the Women's Study Centre at Shantou University.
In 2015 five activists were arrested for trying to campaign against sexual harassment on public transport. Recently, internet censors have been busy deleting #WoYeShi petitions. But the party appears to have changed its tune. In an online commentary, its flagship People's Daily praised Ms Luo, saying "being brave is the best stance." By sounding sympathetic, the party may hope that it can forestall demands that could evolve into a broader popular movement.
Data provided by: