A Beijing university has fired a prominent professor and revoked his teaching credentials after an investigation found he sexually harassed female students, BBC China reports. Chen Xiaowu, 45, is the first person in China to be disciplined as a result of the worldwide #MeToo movement.
Accusations against Chen, who also served as vice president of Beihang University's graduate school, became public following a January 1, 2018, Weibo post by Luo Xixi, who now lives in the U.S.
In her open letter, Luo wrote that in 2004 while she was a PhD candidate, Chen drove her to his sister’s home so Luo could “tend to the plants.” Once there, he indicated that he was not sexually satisfied with his wife and attempted to seduce her before “throwing himself” at his student. When she burst into tears she was allowed to leave, with a warning to tell no one and a claim that it was all a “test” to see if she was “well-mannered.”
Sixth Tone reports that Luo was inspired by both the #MeToo movement and an October post “in which several anonymous users accused Chen of sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and stealing credit for students’ work.”
Though Chen had told Beijing Youth Daily that he had “never done anything in violation of laws and regulations,” the university’s investigation found that Chen had “seriously violated” the school’s code of conduct.
“The school will draw lessons from this... and improve,” Beihang University wrote in the Weibo post announcing Chen’s dismissal.
China’s Ministry of Education issued a statement indicating “zero tolerance” for sexual misconduct among teachers and immediately revoked the funding and Changjiang Scholar contract with Chen. The ministry says it is now working with other agencies to prevent such behavior in the future.
Preventing further harassment is the goal of other women who are now sharing their own #MeToo missives. Xiao Meili, a feminist based in Guangzhou, posted an open letter signed by 17 graduates of the Communication University of China, asking for reforms as basic as a channel where sexual harassment can be reported and the appointment of a point person to handle allegations.
“Sexual harassment is in fact rampant on Chinese college campuses, and victims, under coercion from their instructors, usually have nowhere to file their allegations,” they state in the letter. “Even if they are brave enough to speak up, justice is not served in many cases.”
Alumni from more than 20 universities have penned similar letters in the wake of Luo’s viral message. All posts, including Xiao’s, have been deleted.
Though Xiao points to an April 2017 survey from the Guangzhou Gender Education Center showing more than 75 percent of female college students in China are victims of sexual harassment, it is rare to their professors disciplined. Though nearly 100 powerful American men have lost their jobs because of crass and abusive behavior revealed in #MeToo posts, Chen is the only one in China. So far.
Luo has called the firing an “initial victory” but, like Xiao, she wants to see more women come forward and more measures in place to stop such abuse. It will take much more work before the vigilance to prevent harassment matches the vigilance to prevent #MeToo conversations but, as Xiao reminds us in her letter: “A thousand-mile journey begins with the first step.”
Meanwhile, the #MeToo movement seems to be gaining traction in China, with state-run media outlet People's Daily indicating its support in a recent post on its Weibo account.
“Break the silence,” the comment reads. “When more and more victims come forward and say ‘Me Too,’ we’ll see more abusive teachers be exposed and fewer cases of sexual harassment on Chinese college campuses.”