China society
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Zhou Xiaoxuan, centre, weeps as she speaks to her supporters upon arrival at a courthouse in Beijing for the first hearing in her sexual harassment case. Photo: AP

China’s biggest #MeToo case between Zhou Xiaoxuan and CCTV host Zhu Jun delayed amid claims of online harassment

  • Zhou Xiaoxuan, also known as Xianzi, 28, is suing CCTV anchor Zhu Jun for forcibly kissing her in 2014
  • It is rare in China for such cases to reach trial and many women are still reluctant to come forward

The second hearing in a landmark sexual harassment case between a #MeToo survivor against a prominent TV host was abruptly cancelled on Friday.

The cancellation has illustrated the difficulties faced by sexual harassment victims in China who seek legal justice.

Zhou Xiaoxuan, also known as Xianzi, 28, is suing CCTV anchor Zhu Jun for forcibly kissing her in 2014. She is demanding a public apology from Zhu and 50,000 yuan (US$7,600) in damages.

The first hearing was held on December 2 at the Haidian District Court in Beijing, with no immediate verdict given.
Supporters of Zhou Xiaoxuan display posters outside the Haidian District People’s Court in Beijing on December 2, 2020. Photo: AFP

On Friday morning, Zhou and her two lawyers received a notice from the court that the hearing was postponed without any explanation given and no date set for a new hearing.

“We were so shocked. We were already near the courthouse when we received the notice,” Zhou told the South China Morning Post. “The lawyers, the expert witnesses and I had spent a lot of time and effort preparing for this hearing.”

Zhou said she feels anxious about uncertainty around the proceedings and said she is continuously attacked by online trolls, but will continue to prepare for the case.

It is rare in China for such cases to reach trial. China’s first civil code, passed last year, expanded the definition of sexual harassment, but many women are still reluctant to come forward.

Zhou Xiaoxuan gestures to supporters as she arrives at a court for a sexual harassment case in Beijing. Photo: Reuters

Zhou and her lawyers have also met with “illegal and illogical difficulties” during the first court hearing, she wrote in a lengthy WeChat post on Thursday night.

Her case was originally filed under the “personality rights” law, covering rights relating to an individual’s health and body, but her lawyers have asked for it to be considered under a clause concerning sexual harassment, which became effective in 2019. It was not until the hearing when they found out the request was turned down by the court.

Furthermore, the court turned down their requests to do another DNA test on the skirt Zhou wore when sexually harassed, as well as playing security footage from the CCTV building in court.

Requests for Zhu to appear in court and for the hearings to be made public were also repeatedly denied, she wrote.

Veteran feminism activist and co-founder of Beijing-based NGO Equality Feng Yuan said she was disappointed the court disrespected rules for legal proceedings, but said: “after Xianzi’s article last night revealing her last trial experience, the court had to respond to her claims instead of just ignoring and denying them, so they need to prepare.”

Zhou’s case has become symbolic since first becoming public almost three years ago, as the #MeToo movement gained momentum and in turn, has been met with censorship in China. During the last hearing, hundreds of people showed up outside the court to support her, but some were caught in scuffles as police tried to clear the crowd.

Public opinion had also become a fierce battleground, with trolls smearing Zhou and her supporters, calling her a “liar” and that she made up her allegations for publicity.

Despite the setbacks, Zhou’s supporters said they will continue to rally around her.

Gloria Zhao, a 24-year-old in Beijing who was planning on going to the court to show support, said she felt sad because it’s showed how difficult it is to defend women’s rights as a plaintiff in a sexual harassment case in China.

“It was important for me to meet [Zhou] in person because I always wanted to speak about my own sexual harassment. I wanted to meet her to find a role model to inspire myself what to do next,” she said.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Hearing in landmark sex harassment case cancelled