#MeToo in China is #WoYeShi: Sexual Misconduct Allegations Rock Beijing University

With the hashtag ‘Wo Ye Shi’ (#我也是, “#metoo”) a former doctoral student has come forward on Chinese social media with allegations against her former supervisor. Luo Qianqian claims that the award-winning professor Chen Xiaowu sexually assaulted her and other students during her time at the Beihang aeronautics university.

On the first day of the new year, a ‘#metoo’ scandal has hit China’s academic world. It concerns allegations made public on Weibo by former doctoral student Luo Qianqian (罗茜茜), who accuses her former supervisor Chen Xiaowu (陈小武) of sexually harassing her and several other students at Beihang University, a major public research university located in China’s capital.

Caixin Global, a Chinese media outlet, reported the news in English on January 2nd with an article titled “Global ‘Me Too’ Movement Against Sexual Assault Hits Chinese Academia,” in which journalists Li Rongde and Yuan Suwen state that “the “Me Too” movement has extended from the U.S. into China with the recent allegations.”

Luo Qianqian, a Chinese scholar now living in the US, claims that her former supervisor Chen Xiaowu tried to “force himself upon her behind a locked door” twelve years ago at Beihang, when Luo was working on her doctoral degree.

 

“A voice in me said ‘me too'”

 

Luo wrote that she “no longer wants to remain silent,” and wanted to “come out” with her story.

In the morning of January 1st, Luo published an article on her own Weibo page (@cici小居士) titled: “I Want to Report the Beihang Professor and Zhejiang Scholar Chen Xiaowu under My Real Name, for Sexually Assaulting Female Students” (“我要实名举报北航教授、长江学者陈小武性骚扰女学生”).

In this blog post, Luo writes that she was inspired to come forward when she first heard about the Harvey Weistein scandal in October of 2017 and the launch of the “#metoo” campaign on Twitter and Facebook.

“A voice in me said ‘me too,'” Luo writes, as she describes how she came in touch with other former fellow students through the Chinese Q&A platform Zhihu.com. It was on this platform that Luo first shared her story of how her supervisor lured her to come his sister’s home, who was not at home, where he attempted to force himself upon her. After she began crying and pleading with Chen, he drove her home and told her he was only testing her character and that she was not to tell anyone about what had happened.

Luo’s account on Weibo, which now has a “metoo” profile picture, with the #woyeshi hashtag below.

Luo also posted several testimonies online to support claims that Chen also sexually assaulted at least seven other students. State media outlet Global Times also reported that, according to Luo, one student became pregnant after Chen had sex with her and that the renowned professor then tried to silence her by offering her money.

By January 2nd, Luo’s account was viewed over 3,7 million times on Weibo and had received more than 16,000 shares.

 

“Only if women come forward like this, women’s rights can be protected.”

 

Netizens responded to the issue in various ways, with some saying that there are many “beasts like Chen” in China’s higher education, while others said that it was “only a matter of time” before the case would be pulled offline.

According to Caixin, Chen Xiaowu has stated that he is aware of the accusations from former students, but says that he denies the allegations and will leave the matter to investigators.

Beihang University has responded with a statement on its official website on January 1st, saying that the institute is now researching the case and has temporarily suspended Chen Xiaowu from his duties.

Although Caixin claims the current case signals a greater movement of the “Me Too” movement into China, and despite the media attention for Luo’s case, the hashtag ‘wo ye shi’ (#我也是) is not taking off on Chinese social media.

The South China Morning Post addressed the issue in an article of early December 2017, writing that even if more Chinese women try to come forward on sexual harassment cases, they face insurmountable obstacles such as police inaction and state crackdowns on activism. Among other reasons, sexual harassment in China therefore often is underreported and under-prosecuted.

Nevertheless, there are thousands of comments on Weibo in support of Luo Qianqian. “We are rooting for you. Only if women come forward like this, women’s rights can be protected,” one person comments.

“We are all standing by your side,” some say: “Please keep reporting on this issue. We will follow you.”

By Manya Koetse

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