China Moves to Quash #MeToo Report of Sexual Harassment at Top University

China’s powerful propaganda authorities have ordered the deletion of an article about a string of reports of sexual assault and harassment by a lecturer at a top university in the southern province of Guangdong.

China Moves to Quash #MeToo Report of Sexual Harassment At Top University
Ten activists don historical costumes to mark a historic feminist march for International Women’s Day in Guangzhou, southern China’s Guangdong province, March 6, 2017.
Photo courtesy of an activist

“Delete the article headlined ‘She thought she had escaped her professor’s wandering hands,'” a media directive leaked to the overseas-based China Digital Times (CDT) website said.

“Do not hype up the issue of sexual harassment in higher education any further,” it said.

The article was later deleted from The Livings blogging site, WeChat and the social networking platform Douban, CDT said.

Sun Yat-sen University announced on Tuesday that it had fired ecology lecturer Zhang Peng and stripped him of his degree after a number of allegations were made that he sexually harassed women.

“We have recently become aware of information that Zhang Peng, a teacher in the School of Sociology and Anthropology has violated the code of conduct for teachers,” a statement on the university’s website said.

The university’s disciplinary committee began an investigation after an initial report was made on April 8 by a woman at the university regarding Zhang’s “misconduct,” it said.

The committee gathered information by watching surveillance video footage and “investigating conversations,” the statement said.

“After review … Zhang Peng was confirmed to have violated the discipline required of party members in their private life, and was … issued with a warning,” it said.

However, a second report of sexual misconduct by Zhang arrived on May 4, and multiple victims were named, prompting a second investigation, a further warning, and the termination of all of Zhang’s teaching responsibilities.

The statement thanked all those involved in the investigation and vowed a “no tolerance” approach to sexual harassment at the university.

However, the university statement came only after an open letter was published on Monday calling on the university to act on the allegations. It was signed by more than 100 of the university’s own graduates, as well as students from other universities.

The university’s statement also came after a lengthy expose of the case was published on the social media site The Livings, although the article was later removed from the website.

Later media reports indicated that at least six women had come forward since April with separate reports about sexual assault and harassment during field trips, thesis consultations, and work activities dating back several years.

Not all were students; one woman was a newly arrived lecturer who alleged Zhang had touched her inappropriately over a period of years, only stopping after her marriage in 2017.

‘Avoiding the issue’

Guangzhou-based women’s rights activist Zhang Leilei said the university hadn’t done enough to bring justice to the victims, however.

“At no point did they make any mention of sexual harassment; they just used language relating to the code of conduct for teachers as a substitute,” Zhang told RFA. “They are basically avoiding the issue.”

“What’s more, they should have specified a time period for Zhang Peng’s sanctions,” she said, citing the case of Xiamen University professor Wu Chunming, who was found working in the university library following his sacking for sexually harassing students.

Wu had been expelled from the ruling Chinese Communist Party and stripped of his teaching qualifications in October 2014, for “seducing” students at the college.

But in December 2015, the former professor was listed as a member of a specialist committee on the Neolithic age at the Chinese Academy of Science’s Institute of Archaeology, The Paper news website reported.

Wei Tingting, who heads the Guangzhou Gender Education Center, said the majority of China’s higher education institutions have failed to tackle the issue of sexual harassment head-on.

“There have just been a few isolated cases,” Wei said. “When they replied to our survey, they said that they had a few training courses, or a handbook on avoiding sexual harassment, or classes on campus safety or student safety, but we haven’t seen a single university set up a system to handle this.”

The overseas-based Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which collates reports from groups inside China, said in a recent report that women in China face widespread discrimination and abuse both in their public and personal lives

“Physical violence against women remains common,” it said. “Such incidents often go on uninvestigated, and suspects continue to enjoy impunity.”

Under President Xi Jinping, women’s rights defenders and feminist NGOs have also been targeted as President Xi Jinping tightens the Communist Party’s grip on civil society, the report said.

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