One court case has single-handedly thrust the subject of #MeToo back into the public eye in China, and could prove a watershed moment for survivors of sexual abuse in the country.
In 2018, Zhou Xiaoxun accused prominent television host Zhu Jun of groping and forcibly kissing her while she was a CCTV intern. After ten hours of trial today, Zhou — also known by her online moniker Xianzi — and her team requested an open hearing, all three judges to be recused, a people’s jury trial, and Zhu Jun’s presence in the next trials.
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Zhu, from the accusation until now, has only responded through letters and his lawyer.
Over one hundred people gathered outside of Haidian Court in support of Xianzi, some carrying signs mocking Zhu Jun and supporting survivors of sexual harassment.
The case is being hailed as a landmark sexual harassment case for good reason — Defendant Zhu Jun is a household name in China. Host of the country’s annual Lunar New Year television show for over 21 years, he is often portrayed as a loving husband and patriot, and to many, represents the high-power and amply-connected individuals who too often escape the grip of China’s notoriously punishing legal system.
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Xianzi accused Zhu of groping and forcibly kissing her while she interned at Art Life (艺术人生) in 2014. She immediately reported his actions to the police, who urged her to drop the case, saying that his reputation and “positive impact” on society should make her think twice.
After years of silence, she posted an essay describing her experience online and the case blew up. Thousands of women posted their experiences with harassment and abuse, in one of the formative cases in China’s #MeToo movement.
One month later Zhu filed a retaliatory lawsuit accusing Xianzi of fabricating her experience. In response, Xianzi filed her own lawsuit. Over the past two years Xianzi has emerged as an anti-harassment voice in China, but the journey hasn’t been easy. In interviews, she details her experiences fighting official censorship around sexual abuse, and the feeling that she wasn’t doing enough to live up to the public’s expectations.
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This past May, China released its first Civil Code, which included a historical article that defined and condemned sexual harassment for the first time. The new code also encouraged more developed workplace reporting mechanisms.
Despite these changes, survivors like Xianzi and their supporters continue to face censorship; the high-profile case will certainly prove a decisive moment for survivors of sexual abuse in China.
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