A sexual harassment case against a powerful Chinese media figure opened in Beijing on Wednesday, six years after the alleged incident, which analysts say could define the future of the country’s #MeToo movement.
Zhou Xiaoxuan- also known online by her nickname Xianzi – a former intern at state broadcaster CCTV, is accusing a prominent CCTV anchor, Zhu Jun, of sexual harassment during her internship in 2014.
Zhu Jun denies all wrongdoing and has in turn sued her and her supporter for damaging his reputation as well as mental wellbeing.
Ahead of the hearing, which will not be public, Xianzi told the BBC that whatever happens, she will have no regrets. “If I win, this will encourage many women to come forward and tell their stories; if I lose, I’ll keep appealing until justice is served.”
About 100 people gathered outside the Haidian District Court in Beijing on Wednesday to show their support for Xianzi. Many were carrying posters with the word #Metoo on them. “We wait with you for an answer from history,” another sign read.
The gathering was largely peaceful, though there were scuffles as police tried to clear the protesters and dragged away foreign reporters, according to the AFP news agency.
The #MeToo movement started in China in January 2018 after a Beijing university fired a professor accused of sexually harassing a former student.
A few months later, a well-known charity founder stepped down from his role after being accused of raping a volunteer during a fundraising event back in 2015.
In the summer of the same year, Xianzi decided to write down her own experience in Chinese on her WeChat account – in part to show solidarity to a childhood friend, who once told her that she was a survivor of rape.
In the 3,000-word essay, the then 25-year-old recalled a 2014 experience where she alleged that while interning at China’s state broadcaster CCTV that year, one of the country’s most high-profile TV hosts Zhu Jun sexually harassed her.
Xianzi alleged that she did complain to the local police, but claims they told her to drop the accusation because Mr. Zhu was a prominent TV host and his “positive impact” on society should make her think twice.
Xianzi’s writing soon became a viral post on the Chinese internet after her friend, an NGO worker named Xu Chao, reposted it on her public Weibo account.
By then, the term “sexual harassment” had become a part of the Chinese media discourse thanks to the #MeToo movement in the United States and Europe, and a small number of successful complaints in China.
Xianzi told the BBC ahead of Wednesday’s court hearing: “It has brought me much harm. At one point, I was accused by the alleged perpetrator that I have a delusional disorder, and I had to prove that I am a normal person.
“And in the process of collecting evidence that dates back to 2014, I had to re-live my experience over and over again. And each time was a torture and humiliation.”
Xu Chao is now studying in England. She told the BBC that if the court rules in favour of Mr. Zhu that would mean that his suit against both women would continue. “But I’m getting prepared to fight the charges – even remotely.”
Mr. Zhu has consistently denied all the allegations. The BBC’s requests to interview Mr. Zhu and his lawyers ahead of the hearing went unanswered. (Source: BBC)