China's #MeToo Movement Has Ignited Over a Rape That Happened 20 Years Ago


In late January, it was reported that an incipient #MeToo movement in China was being targeted by government censors, with social media posts mentioning things like “anti-sexual harassment” being blocked or deleted. But the resurfacing one woman’s sexual assault story has been hard to suppress surrounding the anniversary of her death.

The New York Times reports that a woman named Gao Yan died by suicide 20 years ago, after being allegedly raped by Shen Yang, her college professor at Peking University. At the time, Gao told family and friends that Shen had spread a rumor that she had a mental illness after forcing her to have sex with him. Shen has denied all the accusations.

Shen left the university in 2011. Following this recent uproar, the school stated over the weekend that they have a “zero tolerance” policy for sexual harassment and admitted that they gave a “warning to Mr. Shen over suspicion of inappropriate behavior after the police investigated the case in 1998.” Gao’s story may have broken through censorship attempts because it centers around her university, and campuses have been more open to discussions of sexual harassment:

Ms. Gao’s classmates have been pressing for justice since she died. As Chinese families gathered last week to celebrate Qingming, a festival for remembering the dead, one, Li Youyou, posted a widely shared essay in which she criticized Mr. Shen for not apologizing.
“Twenty years have passed,” Ms. Li wrote. “Your constant lies and crimes should be put to an end.”
The essay spread quickly across the internet and was covered widely in the Chinese news media. On Monday, Caixin, a prominent Chinese news site, reported that another former student, Xu Hongyun, had accused Mr. Shen of sexual harassment. The article was quickly deleted.

Millions of people have reportedly shared Gao’s story online, though censors are attempting to delete it where they can. Despite that, Shen has been openly condemned by several universities. He currently works at Nanjing University, in eastern China. One activist, Zheng Xi, told the NYT that the comments from schools and Peking are not enough, stressing that the university’s response is missing “introspection about the unequal power dynamics between students and teachers.”

You can read the full report here.

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