China Discovers its #MeToo Moment

#MeToo arrived in China on July 25 with an article titled “Zhang Wen, Please Stop What You Are Doing.” First published on WeChat and Weibo, it bluntly called out the 44-year-old Zhang Wen, editor of China Newsweek, for sexually assaulting its author, a pseudonymous 27-year-old lawyer.

The writer said she met Zhang through a WeChat group: she was not on guard around him because he was a friend of her tutor. On the night of the assault, they attended an event with other friends. The writer said she recalled being a little drunk by the time they finished dinner.

She was supposed to pick up a friend at the airport. Instead, she ended up at a tea house where Zhang forced himself on her.

The writer said she tried to erase the memory by traveling abroad, but eventually she decided the only road to recovery was exposure.

Zhang Wen‘s response in wechat.
Zhang Wen‘s response in wechat.

Zhang went on to defame the woman, saying she had numerous boyfriends before him and that she had sent him suggestive – and even explicit – pictures of herself.

“I see [our encounter] as either a one-night stand or a young woman obsessed with a somewhat famous media worker. Getting intimate while drunk is nothing unusual in the media world. I don’t know how it’s being pitched as sexual harassment,” Zhang said.

Zhang’s WeChat tagline reads, “I hope to see freedom spread across China.” One of his published blog collections is titled “Democracy is Not for Fun,” which seems like a joke given the current circumstances. Is his idea of freedom and democracy a license to disrespect women and bend the truth?

 Jiang Fangzhou's post.
Jiang Fangzhou’s post.

The incident triggered a one-sided public opinion hurricane. Hours after the exposure, Chinese writer Jiang Fangzhou reposted the article and said on WeChat she was also harassed by Zhang. A contestant on Let’s Talk, a hit talk show in China, also posted on Weibo, saying she taught Zhang a lesson when he lured her into a private room in a cafe in 2015. She threw a kettle of boiling water at him.

Fists and boiling water didn’t teach him a lesson, but social media might with the new hashtag #NoMeansNo# creeping up Weibo’s trending list. The #MeToo movement, which began in America in October 2017, has found its analog in China.

One in five Americans said they have seen friends and family post stories about sexual harassment on social media since the Weinstein story broke, CNN reported.

In recent days, almost all of the news-related WeChat public accounts I follow have had at least one post about past and present sexual assault and harassment cases.

Cost of Exposure

Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.
—Friedrich Nietzsche

Exposing attackers sometimes requires victims to relive in past miseries, digging deeper into things they would rather not remember.

When I was in Taiwan last summer, the top-selling book at Eslite Bookstore was Fang Si-Qi’s First Love Paradise, the only and ultimate work of Taiwanese writer Lin Yihan. The book was based on Lin’s real-life experience of being seduced and raped at the age of 15 by her cram school teacher. In the book, the teacher described his behaviour as “his way” of showing love.

Fang Si-Qi's First Love Paradise - Lin Yihan
Fang Si-Qi’s First Love Paradise – Lin Yihan

Lin killed herself two months after publication.

Words fail to capture the cruel and absurd nature of reality – the horror of a real-life struggle with a “monster.” That’s one of the reasons many female victims choose not to speak out.

In Lin’s case, exposing her attacker cost her her mental well-being – and then her life.

Taiwan amended its regulations on the employment of tutors one month after Lin’s death, stipulating that cram school faculty and staff must disclose their real names. The law also required staff at cram schools to file timely reports whenever sexual assault or harassment occurs and banned “inappropriate people” from entering the business.

Southern Weekly ran the story of one woman who said she was forced into a sexual relationship with Lei Chuang, founder of the YiYou Charity Center.

“It stings every time the word ‘victim’ is dropped on my face. I have become disillusioned with Lei Chuang and everything he stands for,” she said, “I don’t want to be remembered as a victim. I just want to do my part to fight sexual harrassment.”

Lei has been lauded as a fighter for hepatitis B carriers, and in 2009 he was named Person of Social Justice by Procuratorial Daily.

The essence of #MeToo is not exposing the weak and traumatized, but harnessing the power of social media to prevent people like Zhang and Lei from getting away with abuse. They may never see prison due to a lack of evidence and exceptional legal resources, but their reputations will be forever stained.

A single post can be erased and forgotten, but the collective voice can never be ignored.

Her Version

In Zhang Wen’s open letter, he derided his accusers for having “private life issues.” He said the author of the first article kept relationships with several married man and “Jiang Fangzhou, as far as I know, is single but used to date a lot of people.”

It’s hard to believe anyone would seriously consider such accusations a defense against sexual abuse in the 21st century. Whether a victim engages in polyamory, has multiple sex partners or a chaotic private life does not excuse abuse.

Feminism is about believing “her version of the story,” regardless of private life or status in society. It’s about how women are treated in this male-dominant society.

No slogans, no banners, just the untainted, unbiased truth, though other versions may exist.

On May 25, 2018, eight months after the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein was accused of sexual assualt, he was arrested by New York City police. It was a pivotal victory for the #MeToo movement in America.

Given the different political and cultural climate, only time will tell how similar offenders fare in China.