Shanghai professor fired amid allegations of sexual harassment

Society & Culture

Shanghai University of Finance and Economics (SUFE), one of China’s best business schools, has fired an associate professor after allegations that he sexually harassed a student in November.

Qián Féngshèng 钱逢胜, a 55-year-old educator who graduated from SUFE and later joined the university’s Department of Accountancy as a faculty member, “seriously violated the code of professional conduct and ethics,” the school said in a statement (in Chinese) on December 9 following an internal investigation into Qian’s alleged misconduct.

The accusations started making the rounds on Chinese social media on December 6, when a female student from the university’s graduate school posted to WeChat (in Chinese) a description of how she was verbally and physically harassed by Qian while taking his class earlier this year.

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According to the alleged victim, who posted using a pseudonym, the incident happened on the night of November 16. She had approached Qian after a class with some queries, to which the professor responded by offering her a lift home, suggesting that she could ask the questions during the ride. With “a little hesitation,” the student complied. A few minutes later, Qian drove to an isolated location, where he sexually assaulted the student in the vehicle.

“I looked out the car window trying to seek help. But it was completely dark outside and there was no one in sight,” the student wrote. “I was filled with fear and despair.”

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During the attack, the student managed to record the sound of Qian’s assault on her mobile phone. The next morning, she reported the incident to the police and presented the audio evidence.

In the days that followed, Qian took his predatory behavior to WeChat, where he kept sending the student messages that clearly crossed the line. “Morning. Kiss, kiss,” one message reads.

The student also described her struggles as a sexual assault survivor. She said that after two weeks of crying and persistent depression, she decided to seek professional help and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

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After the post went viral, SUFE quickly responded to the allegations in an announcement (in Chinese) on Friday evening, vowing to launch an investigation. The probe led to the professor’s dismissal, announced today.

On the Chinese internet, the university has been widely applauded for making a clear stance on on-campus sexual misconduct by taking prompt action against Qian. “Props to SUFE for establishing an example for other schools, especially those that covered up accounts of sexual assault by their students,” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese). The People’s Daily also joined the chorus of praises in a brief commentary on Weibo. “SUFE acted decisively and showed fairness. It deserves praises for doing what it should do as a school,” the newspaper commented (in Chinese).

SUFE’s handling of the situation is particularly praiseworthy because although sexual misconduct is rampant on Chinese college campuses, it is unusual for Chinese schools to punish their employees appropriately after proven cases of sexual misconduct. In most cases, educational institutions in China ignore complaints, silence the victims, or put the accused on temporary leave before quietly allowing them to resume their positions.

In the past few years, the Chinese public has increasingly demanded that male educators be held accountable when they commit sexual assault and misconduct, in part via the #MeToo movement, which took off in China in 2018 and encouraged a flood of Chinese women to share their experiences.