Xu Gang 徐钢, a former tenured associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (UIUC) and a prominent curator behind contemporary art exhibitions in China, lost his post as the curator of the upcoming 2018 Shenzhen Biennale on March 15 after allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior emerged this month.
According to an announcement by the Luohu Museum of Art in Shenzhen, where the exhibition is scheduled to take place in May, Xu was fired due to his involvement in a recent scandal. “Given that the center’s attitude and mission is to spread positive energy of art, we, after deliberate consideration, decided to terminate our cooperation with Xu Gang for the 2018 Shenzhen Biennale,” the museum said.
Allegations about Xu were first mentioned in a since-deleted article published on Douban on March 10 by Wang Ao 王敖, a Chinese professor at Wesleyan University, who said that a professor he knew had been a long-term sexual predator targeting students for more than 20 years. Wang recalled that a few years ago, one of his friends, who at that time was applying for American schools, was invited to the professor’s place when he was in Beijing interviewing applicants. “Not long after my friend entered his room, the professor started to forcibly cuddle her,” Wang wrote, adding that the professor has a track record of making unwanted sexual advances on his students. His reputation in the circle of Chinese artists is so bad that when a Shanghai author saw Xu at a Chinese college in 2011 in the company of several female students, he commented, “This is a wolf leading a group of sheep.”
After the article triggered speculation as to the professor’s identity, Wang later disclosed (in Chinese) Xu’s identity as a former associate professor at UIUC focusing on East Asian cultures and media and cinema studies. “As far as I know, Xu has had inappropriate sexual relationships with a few students and he even preyed on his female colleagues. I genuinely think that he should be excluded from academia,” Wang wrote. “I want to tell Xu directly that I welcome your retaliation after you see the post. If you want to accuse me of defamation and take legal action, I will be there with you.”
Wang’s revelation prompted some victims of Xu’s sexual misconduct to come forward and speak about their experiences. “I am a victim of Xu but not a perfect one. I was not strong enough to report the case or seek assistance from professionals,” a Zhihu user wrote. “I was sexually harassed by Xu Gang when I was not capable of defending myself. And in the aftermath, the massive confusion and profound feeling of shame caused by the matter made me too embarrassed to keep my head up.”
Meanwhile, an old post that circulated on Weibo in 2015 resurfaced after the news. In the article, a former student at UIUC said that she had been in an abusive relationship with a professor for two years, in which the instructor physically attacked her and admonished her to not report his violent behavior. Though the author did not name the professor, there are enough clues in the post to suggest that Xu was the perpetrator.
Xu also seems to have a record of violence against women. Mu Qiao 牧峤, a female assistant curator who worked with Xu in 2013, revealed that she was once brutally beaten by Xu. “Though the incident happened more than four years ago and bringing it up again might make me look merciless, I want to grasp this opportunity to stand out and say no to any form of harm caused to women, no matter physically or emotionally.”
On March 12, a team of legal volunteers in North America released a notice, calling for more victims to come forward and bring Xu to justice. “We want to express our utmost appreciation to Prof. Ao Wang and all of the informants and survivors who have spoken out or are coming forward with their stories. Your courage will stop the abuse and make a difference,” the notice reads.