Asia

China’s #MeToo movement gets moment in court as harassment case begins

A sexual harassment case against a powerful Chinese media figure has begun in Beijing, with his accuser calling it a major moment in the country’s nascent #MeToo movement.

Zhou Xiaoxuan prompted a social media storm in 2018 when she accused the prominent television host Zhu Jun of groping and forcibly kissing her when she was an intern at the state broadcaster CCTV.

China’s first civil code, passed in May, expanded the definition of sexual harassment, but many women are still reluctant to come forward and it is rare for cases like this to make it to court.

“I’m very nervous,” Zhou told AFP before Wednesday’s hearing. “But whether we win or lose the case, it has meaning. If we lose, it allows the questions we raised at least to remain in history. Someone will have to give us an answer.”

Crowds gathered outside the Haidian people’s court in a rare show of political activism. Attendees held signs calling for answers, and offering support to Zhou. According to local media, police requested they stop showing their placards and appeared to forcibly remove at least one reporter.

Yang Ruiqi, a third-year university student, had been waiting since midday outside the court to show support for Zhou. “I saw people holding slogans to support Xianzi, I felt excited and moved to see people here to support each other,” Yang told the Guardian.

“The whole #MeToo movement is an inspiration to me, making me realise that things which made me feel uncomfortable before were wrong, it wasn’t because I was being too sensitive.”

Zhou, now 27, alleges she found herself alone in a dressing room with Zhu in 2014, and that he groped her after asking if she wanted to continue to work for the channel after her internship.

Zhu is a former host of the country’s annual spring festival gala – one of the world’s most-watched television programmes – and other major broadcast events. He has denied the allegations and has launched his own court case accusing her of damaging his reputation.

Zhou’s case against Zhu was originally filed under the “personality rights” law, covering rights relating to an individual’s health and body, but her lawyers have asked for it to be considered under the new legislation.

Zhou was among a wave of people who came forward in 2018 when an emerging #MeToo movement rocked China. When she initially reported the case to police, she says she was told that speaking out would affect the image of the state broadcaster where Zhu worked and hurt the feelings of those who admired him.

“These [experiences] make you feel like your existence is very insignificant,” she told AFP.

Many women are reluctant to speak out in China’s conservative society where victims can also face blame. But Zhou has no regrets about launching the case and says that even if it is unsuccessful, she hopes it will encourage more women to speak up.

“Even if I had to experience this all over again, I don’t regret it,” she said. “I think all of this is still meaningful.”

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