The #MeToo movement has entered a crucial phase in China after a number of women in the nonprofit and media industries have come forward in the past few days to share their stories of sexual assault and harassment.
On Monday, Lei Chuang 雷闯, founder of a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating discrimination against people with hepatitis B and a prominent activist against sexual violence targeting women, admitted to and apologized for forcing a woman to have sex with him during a hiking trip in 2015.
The anonymous victim revealed Lei’s crime in an open letter that went viral on Chinese social media on July 13. In the letter, the victim says (in Chinese) that in the aftermath of the incident, she placed the blame on herself and attempted to “rationalize” the damage by continuing her relationship with Lei. But after she saw a recent social media post of Lei’s, in which the offender said he was in conversation with some filmmakers who had expressed interest in bringing the story of his life to the big screen, the victim decided to speak out about her experience. “It will be too late for me to come forward if that happens,” she said (in Chinese) in an exclusive interview with Beijing News. “I don’t want the public to think everything he’s done is righteous. I don’t want the public to see him as a hero.”
In a post published on his public WeChat account, Lei responded to the woman’s accusations, saying he has stepped down from his post as head of the charity. “I want to say sorry to this woman because I’ve caused so much damage to her. I know this apology comes too late and is far from enough,” he said. “I am willing to receive legal and moral punishment.”
Shortly after the revelation of Lei’s sexual misconduct, Yuan Tianpeng 袁天鹏, a well-known figure who has helped a number of Chinese NGOs define their missions and agendas, was accused (in Chinese) of sexual assault.
On Wednesday, Sixth Tone reported that multiple allegations of rape and sexual harassment allegations against Zhang Wen 章文, a veteran journalist and author of several books, has surfaced. In an article (in Chinese) that has been making rounds on social media, one woman claims that she was raped by Zhang in May. “It happened so fast that I couldn’t recount all the details,” she recalls. “What I remember most is crying for help and begging him to let me go.” She adds that Zhang came to her place the next day to tell her, “You will never escape the fate of being my woman…I’ve slept with more than 100 girls…I know numerous people in this industry after being a journalist for a decade.”
While Zhang quickly denied (in Chinese) the claims, saying what happened was a hookup that went wrong, three other women, all media professionals, have also come forward to accuse Zhang of sexual misconduct, including making unwanted advances on them and sending vulgar messages. One of the alleged victims is Jiang Fangzhou 蒋方舟, a best-selling Chinese writer, who said (in Chinese) that Zhang should be in prison after committing these crimes.
It’s still too soon to say that the #MeToo movement in China is having a moment, but every brave woman who speaks out brings a little more attention to the prevalent yet oft-ignored sexual misconduct across multiple industries in China. If the movement keeps gathering steam despite government censorship and a deep-rooted victim-blaming culture, a national reckoning on sexual harassment and assault might yet arrive.