Public outcry after China campus #MeToo activist pressured into silence

The groundswell of activism reflects pent-up anger over sexual harassment at Chinese universities and the lopsided power dynamics between teacher and student that helps it fester.

world Updated: Apr 24, 2018 15:42 IST
Reuters
Reuters
Reuters, Beijing
China campus,#MeToo,Peking University
The student’s friends came forward this month, saying the victim was driven to suicide as a result, prompting a wave of other reports of campus sexual harassment at other universities.(AP File / Representative purpose)

It was a heartfelt letter calling for China’s prestigious Peking University to make public its investigation into a decades-old alleged rape and suicide that galvanised China’s fledgling #MeToo movement.

But for Yue Xin, one of the letter’s co-authors and an undergraduate student at the university’s School of Foreign Languages, her advocacy has only been met with intimidation from university officials including, she says, veiled threats over whether she would be allowed to graduate.

The groundswell of activism that has gathered momentum both on campus and online since the start of the year reflects pent-up anger over sexual harassment at Chinese universities and the lopsided power dynamics between teacher and student that helps it fester.

But those who have publicly campaigned for change, even through relatively benign means such as open letters or petitions, say they have been summoned into meetings by university officials and pressured to stop their advocacy.

In an online blog which swiftly went viral, Yue said she was abruptly woken up in her dormitory in the early hours of Monday by a university counsellor, who had also called in her mother. The faculty member demanded she delete online posts and notes related to the case, and provide a written guarantee that she would not pursue the matter further.

The university had “twisted the truth” when summoning her mother late on Sunday night, Yue said, “frightening” her mother and causing her to have an “emotional meltdown”.

“When I saw my mother crying, slapping her face, falling on her knees, and threatening to end her life, my heart was bleeding,” Yue said in the post, which was later blocked by internet censors. “The university’s actions have crossed a bottom line, I feel scared and enraged.”

Late on Monday, three posters in support of Yue were put up anonymously at Peking University before being swiftly taken down by campus security, according to photos circulated on social media.

Peking University’s School of Foreign Languages said in a statement on its website on Monday that the counsellor called Yue’s mother “out of concern” the previous night because she was unable to reach the student all evening.

The university declined to provide further comment when reached by Reuters. Yue did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

Yue’s original petition called for Peking University to publicly air its investigation into a former professor accused of raping and sexual harassing a student in 1998.

The student’s friends came forward this month, saying the victim was driven to suicide as a result, prompting a wave of other reports of campus sexual harassment at other universities.

The #MeToo movement was triggered by accusations by dozens of women against US film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, including rape, triggering a wider scandal that has roiled Hollywood and beyond. Weinstein has denied non-consensual sex with anyone.

First Published: Apr 24, 2018 15:36 IST