The power of silence #MeToo in China after 3 years

December 9, 2020

BY Dana Zhang

Image Credit: 2020年12月2日,朱軍被控性騷擾案兩年後開庭,大批民眾聚集於海淀法院門口聲援弦子。攝:Andy Wong/AP/達志影像

Beijing kicked off with the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign this December 2nd in a rather different way.  The sexual harassment case filed by Xuanzi against the nationalwide influential host Zhu Jun was finally brought to court. 

In 2018, Xuanzi  shared her experience of sexual harassment at work by Zhu Jun on Wechat, encouraged by the #MeToo movement.  The story soon went viral after her friend re-posted her words on China’s biggest social media site Sina Weibo, since Zhu is well known for hosting national television extravaganzas such as the Spring Festival Gala. Xuanzi later decided to file  the case to the court after she was sued by Zhu for defamation that same year. She is not the only person who joined  the #MeToo movement in 2018 by sharing her sexual harassment experience in China, but her case is the first one to be brought to court publicly. After almost three years of waiting, the case finally came to trial on 2nd December. 

Although the case was held in a private session, over a hundred people who claimed they were Xuan’s friends gathered outside the court in silence for the whole session in the freezing winter of Beijing. They were holding pieces of paper with slogans showing their support and concerns, such as #MeToo, “We ask for answers from history together”, and “Break the darkness, be together with you.” More than 6 chat groups were created for 3000 people who joined the “gathering” online, sharing photos of the campaigns and messages of support for Xuanzi. Food and other supplies were ordered online by supporters who couldn’t join the “gathering” physically and were continually delivered to the site. Although a plainclothes policeman tried to prevent the crowd from holding the slogans, the gathering went uninterrupted till the session finished. By getting an adjournment from the court, Xuanzi is now asking for an open hearing session. Through this,  she wishes the issue of sexual harassment gets  sincere attention by the public.  

The definition of sexual harassment was not clarified in China’s law until the authority established its first civil code this May, but it is still unclear how the definition would be integrated into the law enforcement. That is why the case of Xuanzi would be influential both in the legal system and in the public discourse. It is impressive to see how the public succeeded in holding the silent demonstration in such creative ways in current China, where civil society has been facing crackdowns since 2016 and freedom of expression is extensively limited especially after COVID-19 happened in February.