As China’s #MeToo movement rings the alarm, Chinese censors begin to get too busy
Beijing, Jan 25: Former doctoral student Luo Qianqian was “amazed” that her sexual assault story went viral in China, in a highly censored communist country, also inspiring other women to denounce rampant harassment on campuses and unleashing a #MeToo movement in the country despite the challenges.
Before she accused her professor of assaulting her, under the pretence of asking for help watering his plants, #MeToo had been slow to catch on in China.
Activists say efforts to unmask sexual abuse have faced government apathy or even resistance. This time however, Luo’s New Year’s Day post on the Twitter-like Weibo platform received three million views within hours.
Ten days later, Beijing’s Beihang University stripped computer scientist Chen Xiaowu of his position as vice-director of the graduate school after an investigation established he had sexually harassed multiple students.
The hashtags “Me too” and “Me too in China” quickly became trending topics on Weibo, with many more people speaking about their assaults.
But while Communist authorities have allowed the movement to emerge, they have done so within limits – as they often do with hot social issues – censoring some content as the topic spread on social media.
Collective action is risky in China, where courts have sentenced signatories of petitions calling for legal reform to years in jail for crimes like “subversion”.
But in a rare show of solidarity among intellectuals, more than 50 professors from over 30 colleges have signed an anti-sexual harassment manifesto.
Amid the uproar, the education ministry said it had a “zero tolerance” policy and will establish a new mechanism to prevent sexual harassment.
It was also a far cry from the harsh response in 2015, when Beijing police detained five feminist campaigners planning to distribute leaflets against domestic violence, releasing them a month later.
Sexual harassment is a sensitive topic in China, where political leadership is a man’s world with only one woman in the Communist Party’s elite 25-member Politburo.
In the past week, censors deleted hundreds of social media posts with the tag “Me too in China” and closed related topic forums.
While #MeToo has shaken artistic, media and political circles globally, in China the discussion has focused on universities. Activists are pushing to extend the dialogue to the workplace, with training on how companies can deal with harassment.