‘Instead, I am the criminal’: Chinese figure in MeToo speaks out after case failed | #MeToo movement


SEntering a Beijing courthouse late at night last month, Zhou Xiaoxuan and his lawyers quickly made a decision. Their multi-year efforts to seek justice for his alleged sexual harassment by one of the country’s most popular celebrities were clearly not in their favor. In a brief statement, the court ruled that she had presented insufficient evidence.

On Weibo, she wrote to her supporters with a list of criticisms of the judgment and the process. “Failure is not a shame, and I am honored to have been with you together for the past three years… Thank you very much, everyone, I will definitely appeal.”

The next day, his social media accounts were closed.

“It’s as if the only people who can speak are on the other side,” she told The Guardian, through a translator. “It’s the same feeling as in 2014 [the year of the alleged assault]: people tell you that you are not important and that you should shut up. Like I’m not someone who lost their case in a sexual harassment case, but instead I’m the criminal.

It’s a few weeks after that long day in court, and the fury around this young woman who never planned to be famous begins to ebb. Cut off from all communication with her supporters and planning her next move, Zhou – widely known by her nickname Xianzi – speaks with determination.

In the seven years since the alleged incident and three years since she made her claims public, Xianzi, now 28, pushes back the descriptor given to her – the face of the #MeToo movement of China. But years later, she now feels “responsible” to continue. “I can’t even imagine how we all insisted for so long,” she says.

“For others the fact that we lost the case is very frustrating, but for me it is the result of each person doing all they can and doing their best. It’s a miracle.”

From shame to protest

Xianzi hadn’t expected his accusations to go viral. In mid-2018, as many women in China started sharing their own #MeToo stories online, she saw that a close friend had posted her own story on WeChat.

“Back then, we still had these strong feelings of shame,” she says. “I told her I thought she was very brave and hoped to write an article too, to stay with her, support her and share the shame. Just to let her know that what she wrote was not in vain.

But Xianzi’s 3,000-character essay on Zhu Jun, a famous state television host and member of China’s political advisory body, never went unnoticed, even as the censors set to work on the flood. ‘stories online. His post and the next one spread like wildfire on Chinese social media.

Xianzi supporters gather in court during a hearing into his sexual harassment case in Beijing. Photograph: Roman Pilipey / EPA

In it, she alleged that in 2014, Zhu Jun sexually harassed her, forcibly groping and kissing her for nearly an hour when she went to her dressing room to try to interview her. She was a 21 year old intern on her show and she says she was terrified and unable to respond.

The next day, she went to the police to report him but, she says, they told her he was a famous person of good reputation and “of positive energy”. for the country, then she should leave him alone. They also contacted her parents – party members in government positions – and warned them that she should not speak out.

“What they did was deny my existence,” she said.

“It was like telling me: what you feel and what hurt you do is less important than the other person. That your social impact is less important than the other person. In 2014, I was a university student, I didn’t know anything and gave up easily.

After Xianzi’s essay appeared, Zhu – who vigorously denies the allegations – sued her for libel and damages of 650,000 RMB ($ 100,000). She sued for “violation of personality rights,” using the only law available at the time, as China had yet to introduce legislation on sexual harassment. Attempts by the Guardian to contact Zhu, who has not spoken publicly about the case since 2018, have failed. The defamation case is still active.

The civil case saw two delayed and ultimately unsuccessful trials. The legal experience was frustrating for Xianzi, and she claims that she was denied sufficient opportunity to speak, and the supporting evidence was rejected. Observers and the press were prohibited, and Zhu’s presence was not compulsory. The court also rejected his request to amend his case to use the law promulgated since against sexual harassment.

During the lengthy process, Xianzi’s case has become one of the most closely watched in China, despite closed-door hearings and online censorship, garnering international attention and illuminating the Chinese feminist movement online. Supporters braved the heavy police presence in court to come up with signs of support.

“They don’t even need a reason to ban you”

Outside of a previous hearing, Yang Ruiqi, a third-year college student, told The Guardian that the #MeToo movement has been an inspiration. It made her “realize that the things that made me uncomfortable before were wrong, it wasn’t because I was too sensitive.”

But Xianzi also drew anger. She has been abused and trolled online, harassed, called a liar and shameful slut, and even accused of working for a foreign power. As she arrived on her last day in court, she was pushed around by hostile passers-by who tried to stop her from speaking, while a man questioned whether it was appropriate for her to speak alone.

“Public opinion, the attacks have indeed disturbed me,” she said. “[But] it’s not a threat, those people attacking me online probably wouldn’t dare to hurt me offline.

“They attacked me personally, but for me the more hurt I am, the more I want to insist on things … It is more meaningful to work hard in this bad situation.”

A day after Xianzi’s case was dismissed, the Weibo account with which she had amassed audiences and communicated with supporters and victims, was suspended.

A supporter holds a #MeToo sign outside the Beijing courthouse.
A supporter holds a #MeToo sign outside the Beijing courthouse. Photograph: Florence Lo / Reuters

“When you talk about feminism on the internet it’s very easy to get banned and it’s always been that way, they don’t even need a reason to ban you,” she says.

Amid an ongoing purge of groups and online subculture expression, the targeting and censorship of feminists and feminist organizations has continued for years, with cyberattacks and stacks linked to nationalism. growing on Chinese social media. In April, in response to waves of online attacks on women, social media platforms shut down the accounts of victims and their supporters.

With high rates of violence against women and gender discrimination, sexual harassment in the workplace, and general complaints of lack of enforcement or accountability, Xianzi’s case was being followed closely. by women across the country who thought the system was not supporting them. There had been a few wins at the height of the #MeToo speech, but there was still a long way to go.

In reality, very few cases end up in court. Legal analysts have pointed to a high burden of proof and general requirements for physical evidence. A week before the court dismissed the Xianzi case, prosecutors closed the case against an Alibaba official accused of sexually assaulting an employee, claiming he had committed “enforced indecency” but that it did not. was not a crime.

Xianzi says she does not regret coming forward with her allegations or taking legal action.

She says working on the appeal regarding her sexual harassment case is consuming her days, but the conversation that the movement – and her case – has started has been helpful, even if she fails to do so.

“People are ready to talk publicly about what happened to them and share their experiences,” she says. “The fact that we can discuss publicly is already very valuable. This can not only comfort other women, but also make the general public understand sexual harassment and assault. This is the most important thing – young girls no longer feel guilty and ashamed. “

Chi Hui Lin additional reports

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