China's #MeToo revival: famed activists, TV host and writer named

More than a dozen men facing allegations of harassment and sexual assault as movement spills over into NGOs, media and publishing

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 July, 2018, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 September, 2018, 4:38pm

The #MeToo campaign is again gathering pace in China after it reached university campuses earlier this year, with a number of allegations of harassment and sexual assault being made this week against well-known figures in NGOs, media and publishing.

Encouraged by the movement, a number of women – some using their real names – have come forward on social media in recent days with accusations against more than a dozen men, and the number is growing.

Among those facing allegations is environmentalist Feng Yongfeng, who is accused of harassing and assaulting a number of charity workers in recent years, and anti-discrimination activist Lei Chuang, who is accused of raping a former volunteer at his charity three years ago.

Allegations have also been made against a well-known state television anchor, a famous writer, several media industry veterans and a worker from an international environmental group, to name a few.

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The #MeToo movement – which started in the United States last autumn – was ignited in China after Luo Xixi, who studied at Beihang University in Beijing and is now a software engineer in the US, spoke out in January about having been assaulted by her thesis adviser Chen Xiaowu. Chen was later dismissed by the university.

As the campaign gained traction in the country, more cases relating to academics emerged, but the movement has until now been confined to university campuses.

The fresh wave of allegations began with an open letter posted on WeChat on Monday by a woman, who did not give her name, claiming that Lei had raped her in a hotel in Beijing at the end of a 19-day charity hiking trip in July 2015. Lei has long campaigned against discrimination towards people with hepatitis B.

In a statement later on Monday, Lei apologised and appeared to admit to the allegation, stepping down from his position as head of the YiYou Charity Centre, which he founded in 2013. He also said he would accept any legal consequences for his actions, and that he was considering whether to voluntarily go to the police.

But he went on to tell Beijing Youth Daily in a WeChat message that the sex between him and the woman had been consensual from his perspective.

The letter prompted more women to come forward with accusations against other men – mostly at the top of their professions. Environmental activist Feng also responded to the allegations, but the others have either denied them or remained silent.

Those facing accusations either did not respond to the South China Morning Post’s repeated requests for comment or could not be reached.

Feng, who has set up more than 10 environmental NGOs in China, was accused on Tuesday of harassing, threatening, and physically and sexually assaulting a female colleague.

One of his colleagues, who declined to be named, told the media that the woman had confronted Feng after a monthly meeting in Chengdu in May. “There were 40 or 50 of us who were about to eat [at a restaurant] after the meeting when the woman approached Feng and shouted his name, saying, ‘Get down on your knees and apologise to me’,” the colleague said.

“Nobody said anything or moved” until he persuaded her to leave, the man said. Outside, “she told me that Feng had sexually assaulted her”, he said, adding that the woman later told him Feng had also beaten and threatened to kill her.

He said another female colleague had made a separate allegation against Feng but did not give further details.

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Feng responded in a statement on WeChat later on Tuesday, admitting he had “hurt some women” because of his “desires under the influence of alcohol”, and vowing to stop drinking.

The Narada Foundation, which provides assistance to disaster relief and education programmes, also revealed on Tuesday it had launched an investigation into a previous allegation made against Feng about an incident in Xian in October, and that it had stopped providing financial support to Feng.

Feng said he had stepped down from the management and operation of NGOs under Nature University, a project he started in 2006, since the start of the month.

Another woman from the environmental charity sector told the Post she had also been assaulted by Feng, but she decided not to make her allegation public because he was already facing the consequences of his actions.

“I just want all the women who have been hurt to see some justice,” she said.

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In another case, writer Chun Sue on Wednesday said she had been sexually assaulted by another writer and a senior media figure some years ago.

“I hope the #MeToo campaign in China keeps on burning. I read about the stories of sexual assaults in the NGO sector in the past days and I felt the victims’ sorrow – I was very upset,” she wrote on her Douban account.

Guo Yuetong, a social worker in Beijing who works with sexual assault victims and has herself been assaulted, said although there had been an outpouring of support from the public for the women who spoke out this week, she was dismayed that some people were still too ready to blame the victims.

She said one of her own family members had sent her a message in response to articles about the cases, saying all of the women involved were “naive, and they all happened because of drinking and ignorance, and during dinner parties”.