Sexual assault at Sun Yat-sen University: Professor faces accusations from multiple women [UPDATE]

Society & Culture

Zhang Peng 张鹏, an ecology professor at Sun Yat-sen University (SYSU) in Guangzhou, has been accused of sexual assault by multiple women as reported in a recent article (in Chinese) published by WeChat blog the Livings 人间.

The article details an encounter between student Chen Jing 陈静 and Zhang, who reportedly made unwanted advances toward the female student during a field trip in 2016. According to Chen, the teacher made inappropriate comments on her appearance, forced her to hug him, and put his head on her breasts while the two were taking a walk away from the group.

The article reveals that Chen is far from the only victim of Zhang’s predatory behavior. In fact, back in 2011, a female colleague of Chen’s reported to the school’s disciplinary committee that Chen had stalked her and touched her inappropriately on multiple occasions, but the board didn’t give Zhang any form of punishment as he continued to harass the female teacher via texting.

In the following years, testimony of Zhang’s awful behavior continued to spread through a whisper network of female students and alumni at the university. One tactic that he used frequently, according to his victims, was to make demeaning remarks about his victims first, in an attempt to destroy their confidence, and then make gestures to comfort them that were actually inappropriate advances.

Despite his persistent predatory behavior, Chen didn’t receive any penalty until April this year, when a freshman student was allegedly almost raped by him. The article says that the committee took some disciplinary measures against Chen as “punishment within the party,” but they didn’t constitute any substantial harm to Chen’s career.

In May, five women, including Chen, filed a formal report with the committee accusing Zhang of sexual assault, in hopes of ousting him from the teaching position. They also submitted a proposal for establishing a system to prevent on-campus sexual harassment. But to their dismay, the complaint was again dismissed by the school authorities and they were told that Zhang denied all the claims. And while some school leaders praised their proposal in private, a public discussion regarding the suggestions was denied due to “the sensitivity of the subject.”

According to Sixth Tone, more than 100 SYSU graduates and students from other universities signed an open letter published Monday calling for a thorough investigation into the case. But as of today, there has been no official response from the university regarding the matter.

This year, in the wake of the global #MeToo movement, an array of sexual misconduct cases on Chinese college campuses were brought to the public’s attention. Some of the offenders were properly punished, such as professor Chen Xiaowu 陈小武 at Beihang University, but many of them still remain unaffected in the face of sexual assault allegations. For instance, in April, the sexual harassment and suicide case regarding former Peking University professor Shen Yang 沈阳 received a lot of attention from news publications and social media. But months after, the case now seems forgotten by the public after the school enacted several measures to stifle student activist Yue Xin 岳昕 from pursuing the truth.

UPDATE, July 10, 11:48 am:

Zhang Peng has been stripped of his teaching duties and a prestigious academic honor, Sun Yat-sen University announced on July 10.

According to a statement (in Chinese) published on the school’s website, Zhang has been suspended from teaching classes and mentoring graduate students. In addition, the university terminated a contract with Zhang to fund his research projects and removed his title of “Changjiang Scholar.”

“We have zero tolerance for faculty members who violate the teachers’ code of conduct,” the announcement says. “We will firmly protect our students’ legal rights.”

Also, this picture — we have to give a tip of the hat to the clever social media user who blurred the monkey’s eyes.