A Weibo post by idol rapper Yamy has sparked a widespread discussion about workplace harassment in post-#MeToo China. Yamy, who rose to fame on competition shows Rap of China and Produce 101, debuted as part of the idol group Rocket Girls in 2018.
But just two days before their disbandment on July 23, she posted a message and audio recording on her Weibo page detailing the harassment and abuse she endured at the hands of Xu Mingchao, her boss and the CEO of JC Universe Entertainment agency.
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In the three-minute recording of a company meeting led by Xu, he can be heard saying, “Ask me if Yamy is pretty. Ask me! She is ugly. Extremely ugly. Is there anyone who can’t agree with this fact?” Xu then continues to criticize Yamy’s appearance, clothing, and singing ability, asking members of the staff to agree with him.
A screenshot from Weibo of dialogue from Yamy’s boss
In her statement, Yamy wrote: “Those two years of endless cycles of beatdowns and criticism made me extremely depressed […] I really used to think that if there were a problem, it must have been my fault, that I didn’t do well enough.”
She also wrote that she sent her boss a letter of complaint in the past, only to receive the threat of “Understand the situation, don’t court disaster (作死).” She continued, “But you are also the father of a young girl. How can you use ‘death’ to threaten someone else’s daughter so lightly?”
After Yamy’s post, the hashtag #workplacePUA reached over 590 million hits on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging platform, with people denouncing Xu’s actions and sharing their own experiences with abusive employers.
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The term “PUA,” which stands for “pickup artist”, was originally used to describe men who put a lot of (read: too much) effort into picking up women. However, Chinese netizens repurposed the term to refer to any sort of emotional abuse or manipulation of social dynamics at work, in relationships, or elsewhere. According to a June study by Zhaolian Recruitment, 60% of white-collar workers encounter workplace PUA.
Yamy’s Rocket Girls bandmates commented their support for Yamy. So did several other singers, including UNINE member Chen Youwei and former EXO member Huang Zitao.
Bandmate Peng Chuyue wrote, “Too ridiculous, really too ridiculous […] can you just respect women please?”
Huang Zitao dedicated an impassioned Weibo post to Yamy’s situation: “To the people who bullied her and were recorded behind the scenes, can you see how disgusted you make people?”
Xu has since released two statements on his Weibo, calling himself the “middle-aged male boss that committed workplace PUA” and apologizing to those he had offended in the past.
But he pointedly refused to apologize to Yamy, claiming she just released the recording to “get out of her contract and get more money.” Under both statements, netizens have flooded the comments calling out the non-apology and saying Yamy was being threatened by Xu.
Since the beginning of China’s #MeToo movement in 2018, Weibo movements like this have been key places for public discussions about sexual assault, harassment, and abuse. This discussion about workplace PUA comes after China’s first sexual harassment case was won in court earlier this month.
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