Students at China’s top art school demand sacking of professor accused of sexual misconduct

Society & Culture

A group of students at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), China’s top art school, are calling on school authorities to fire a professor who has been disciplined for sexual misconduct. The students also want a public announcement of his punishment, which so far has not been made public by the school.

The demand first made headlines on January 10, when one alleged victim posted an audio recording (in Chinese) to social media. The clip features a conversation between her and a member of the school’s discipline committee in which she asks why classes taught by Yáo Shùnxī 姚舜熙, who was found violating policies against sexual misconduct, were on the course schedule again.

Judging from the clip, this is not the first time this student has confronted school officials about Yao’s punishment. At one point, the student plays a previous conversation she had with someone on the committee, in which the person promised that Yao would be permanently removed from teaching due to his inappropriate behavior. When asked why CAFA betrayed its commitment to holding Yao accountable, the school official said there was a lack of communication between different departments.

The scandal first broke in June 2019, when dozens of students filed a collective complaint against Yao, accusing him of sexual harassment, selling students’ work without their permission, receiving bribes, and fabricating allegations against other instructors at school.

According to one of the victims, beginning in February 2016, Yao forcibly grabbed her private areas on multiple occasions. “He acts like an upright man in front of students. I had a hard time coming to terms with the fact that he sexually assaulted me. I’ve been living in a state of depression and despair since then,” she told the China News Weekly (in Chinese). She said that she finally made the decision to share her experience after another woman came to her complaining about Yao’s sexual harassment.

In October, four months after the complaint was submitted, CAFA informed the students who signed the complaint that Yao had been prohibited from teaching or advising graduate students. But the victims said they wanted the university to fire Yao and made a public announcement. “We want the school to inform the public that this professor is an offender so other colleges won’t hire him in the future. We also want to send a message to fellow students that they should stand up for themselves when facing teachers like Yao,” a victim told the Southern Metropolis Daily (in Chinese).

Part of the victims’ concerns about Yao making a comeback stem from the school’s mishandling of previous claims against Yao. A graduate student told the China News Daily that Yao had a history of harassing and having inappropriate relationships with female students. When he was at CAFA, the professor was suspended for a year and prohibited from teaching during that time after a university investigation found he dated a student. Calling it “a well-known scandal,” the student said he was utterly baffled when Yao returned to his position, got promoted to full professor, and became the director of his department.

In light of these new developments, a number of people on Weibo have expressed their disappointment over the way this case was handled, urging the school to take tougher action against Yao. “Apparently, CAFA never tried to get to the root of this problem. How could it be this hard to fire a professor?” a Weibo user wrote (in Chinese).