The landmark sexual harassment case brought by former intern Zhou Xiaoxuan against the popular TV host Zhu Jun has stalled after the defendant failed to show up in court, the Financial Times reported.
The case, inspired by the #MeToo campaign, is now mired in uncertainty amid an on-going crackdown on the feminist movement in China.
Zhou, who is known by the nickname Xianzi, went viral on Chinese social media in 2018 after she wrote a long account of her alleged sexual harassment by Zhu in a dressing room during her internship at state-run CCTV in 2014.
When she posted her account to social media platform Sina Weibo in 2018, Xianzi cited the #MeToo campaign as her “guiding light.”
She reported the incident to the police, who began looking at security footage, but later dropped the case amid concerns that it would “harm the positive image” of the TV personality and CCTV in the eyes of the public.
The case finally came to court in Beijing’s Haidian district on Wednesday, with crowds of supporters, many of them young women, showing up to support Xianzi.
Xianzi accused Zhu, who presented the CCTV New Year TV gala for two decades until the allegations surfaced, of groping her and forcibly kissing her during a conversation about a potential career at the state broadcaster. She said the assault only ended because a guest came into the room.
Zhu has denied the allegations, and has filed a defamation lawsuit against Xianzi over the allegations.
However, the Financial Times reported that the hearing dragged on for 10 hours before adjourning with no verdict after Zhu failed to show up.
Xianzi told reporters after the hearing that she was “very tired,” but had earlier said the fact that the case came to court at all was meaningful for women’s rights in China.
“We have to believe that even if history repeats itself, things will definitely progress,” she said before going into the court building.
However, it was unclear after Wednesday’s hearing how the case would now progress, the Financial Times reported.
Zhang Jing, New York-based founder of Women’s Rights in China, said she wasn’t optimistic about the outcome of the case.
“It’s particularly hard, given the current situation in mainland China, to have a feminist movement,” Zhang told RFA. “I’m not optimistic about the outcome of the court case.”
“It’s pretty impossible to prosecute powerful people, whether it be for financial reasons, or because of sexual harassment and domestic violence,” she said.
Xia Ming, a professor of political science at New York’s City University, appeared to agree.
“The Chinese government is basically a patriarchal power structure, and the entire political system is highly repressive of women and feminism,” Xia said.
“It is not surprising that this power structure and the entire establishment’s reaction to the #MeToo movement is to suppress it,” he said.
He said changes to China’s Civil Code that take effect next year expanding the definition of sexual harassment still aren’t enough to protect women.
But he said Zhao’s lawsuit had started a global conversation.
“Public pressure is probably the most important factor that can promote progress in China,” Xia said. (Source: RFA)