As #MeToo movement gains traction in China, professor is sacked 20 years after alleged rape
Two universities sever ties with scholar Shen Yang after it emerges he was given a demerit for ethical misconduct in 1998 following death of 21-year-old Gao Yan
A Chinese scholar accused of raping a female student more than 20 years ago has been sacked by two universities, making him the second eminent academic this year to lose his job amid allegations of historical sexual abuse.
Shen Yang, 62, had been employed on a part-time basis by Shanghai Normal University, but the institution issued a statement on Saturday saying it had terminated his contract.
The university made no reference to the rape allegation, but said it had been made aware of the fact that Shen had been given a demerit for “ethical misconduct” two decades ago after an investigation by his then employer, Peking University, into sexual harassment charges.
The statement came after Peking University, where Shen worked until 2012, announced on Friday that the professor had been given a major demerit in 1998 after being accused of having sexual relations with student Gao Yan.
Gao, who was a star pupil at the prestigious seat of learning, committed suicide in 1998 at the age of 21.
Her friends have long claimed she was raped by Shen on multiple occasions over a two-year period before taking her life. On Thursday, which marked the annual Ching Ming, or tomb-sweeping, festival, Gao’s supporters demanded Shen apologise for his alleged actions.
In an interview with The Beijing News on Friday, Shen described the accusations as “malicious defamation”.
His other employer, Nanjing University’s liberal arts school, said on Saturday it had asked Shen to resign after finding out about the demerit.
The school’s administrative department said in a statement it was unaware he had received such a punishment when he was hired in 2012.
“Online public opinion [about the incident] has already severely affected [the school’s] normal teaching order and academic reputation,” the statement said. “Shen Yang is no longer suitable to work [here].”
The comments made by Gao’s friends on Thursday dominated social media discussions, with internet users expressing not only anger at the alleged events of the late 1990s, but also at Peking University for its perceived failure to properly deal with the matter.
Gao’s parents complained to the university about the alleged sexual assault in 1998, and it responded by conducting an investigation. However, while it concluded that Shen had engaged in a sexual relationship with Gao and issued him with a demerit, it did not terminate his employment contract.
Shen is the second leading Chinese scholar to be toppled this year amid a sex scandal. In January, Chen Xiaowu was sacked by Beihang University after allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him by multiple women.
Many of them spoke out via an online platform set up by Huang Xueqin, a journalist and victim of sexual harassment whose work helped to promote the #MeToo movement in China.
Although it initially struggled to gain traction in the country, the hashtag campaign, known as #Woyeshi in Mandarin, has enjoyed huge success in enabling people around the world to speak out against sexual and domestic violence, and gender discrimination in the workplace and on university campuses.
Both Chen and Shen had previously been selected by China’s education ministry for the Cheung Kong Scholars Programme, which is one of the nation’s highest academic honours.
Shen did not reply to a request for comment.