In China, #MeToo escalates as public figures are accused of sexual assault

FILE PHOTO: A woman is reflected in a window of an office in Shanghai. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Pei Li and Ryan Woo

BEIJING (Reuters) – Accusations of sexual assault spread across China’s social media this week as the #MeToo movement took aim at prominent activists, intellectuals, and a television personality.

In a country where issues like sexual assault have traditionally been brushed under the carpet, China’s fledgling #MeToo movement speaks to a changing mindset among the younger generation.

China’s millions of social media users have also ensured that any news, scandals, and grievances spread quickly. The spread of accusations about prominent Chinese figures presents a challenge for the government, which has censored some but not all of the social media posts.

The accusations have stoked heated online debate about sexual misconduct and what constitutes consensual sex or rape. On Friday, “sexual assault evidence collection” was the 2nd-ranked topic on popular social media platform Sina Weibo.

So far this week, more than 20 women have come forward with allegations of sexual misconduct, sparked by an accusation on Monday that has rocked a non-government organization.

Lei Chuang, founder of Yi You, a prominent non-government charity, confessed in an online statement to an accusation of sexual assault. Lei has quit the organization after his confession. Three other activists were embroiled in separate accusations of sexual misconduct by the end of the week.

The most prominent sexual assault allegation this week came from a young legal worker who goes by the pseudonym Little Spirit. The 27-year-old said Zhang Wen – a veteran journalist and online political commentator in China – had raped her after a banquet in May, an allegation that prompted six other women to accuse him of sexual harassment and groping.

Zhang, in a statement Wednesday, denied the rape allegation, saying his affair with the accuser was consensual.

Jiang Fangzhou, a prominent fellow writer and deputy editor-in-chief of the Guangdong-based magazine New Weekly, said on her WeChat account that Zhang had groped her at a meal on one occasion.

Among others, the journalist Yi Xiaohe, and Wang Yanyun, a TV personality, said on social media that Zhang had made unwanted sexual advances toward them.

In his statement, Zhang said it was normal for men and women in intellectual and media circles to “take pictures together, hug and kiss each other after consuming liquor”.

On Thursday, an academic at Communication University of China in Beijing was accused by a student of a sexual assault in 2016. The university in a statement vowed to launch an investigation and deal with the matter with zero tolerance if confirmed.

A former professor at the same university, known to be a training camp for China’s future TV personalities, was also accused Thursday of uninvited sexual advances in 2008 by an ex-student.


Accusations that a prominent personality on the state broadcaster CCTV, molested an intern emerged on Thursday but the posts on Weibo were quickly removed.

The personality could not be immediately reached, while CCTV did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

On Friday, the personality’s name was the top censored topic on Weibo, according to Free Weibo, an independent platform that lists and ranks all search phrases blocked on Sina Weibo. “Metoo” and “Me too” ranked 8th and 9th, respectively.

A Beijing-based magazine, Portrait, on Thursday, told its readers in an online article to share their own stories of being sexually assaulted. It said in a subsequent post that it had received more than 1,700 stories in less than 24 hours.

Portrait’s article on Tencent’s WeChat platform has since been removed.

By contrast, the confession of Lei, the charity head, was widely covered by state media, including China Daily.

Men in sports have also been implicated in the #MeToo accusations this week. On Friday, a 17-year old high school student in the eastern city of Ningbo said online that she had been sexually assaulted by two badminton coaches.

The global #MeToo movement was triggered by accusations by dozens of women against U.S. film producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual misconduct, including rape, triggering a wider scandal that has roiled Hollywood and beyond. Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone.

The catalyst for a Chinese #MeToo-style movement came in December last year when a U.S.-based Chinese software engineer published a blog post accusing a professor at a Beijing University of sexual harassment.

In China, the hashtag #MeToo has so far appeared more than 77 million times on Weibo, although the majority of the posts with that hashtag are not viewable.

On Thursday, the state-controlled People’s Daily posted a Ted Talks video about sexual assault on its Weibo account.

“Hope this post won’t be scrubbed,” one Weibo user commented about the video clip.

(Reporting by Pei Li and Ryan Woo; Editing by Philip McClellan)

Parkland survivors keep memory of shooting alive

An empty chair is seen in front of flowers and mementoes placed on a fence to commemorate the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 20, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

By Carlos Garcia Rawlins

PARKLAND, Fla. (Reuters) – Hundreds of seniors in red caps and gowns at their Parkland, Florida high school graduation ceremony on June 3 listened intently to speakers who told them what they could achieve. “Don’t let anything stop you,” one said.

But when student Joaquin Oliver’s name was read out by the principal, it was his parents Manuel Oliver and Patricia Padauy who walked onto the stage to receive his diploma.

Joaquin, 17, was one of the 17 students and staff members killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018. The massacre by a former student who stormed classrooms on Valentine’s Day with an assault rifle has spurred unprecedented activism by victims’ families to prevent future gun violence.

“This Should Be My Son,” read the words on the bright yellow t-shirt Patricia wore for the ceremony at an indoor arena in the nearby city of Sunrise.

Since the mass shooting, Manuel Oliver, a 50-year-old artistic director, has traveled across the country, building murals in honor of his son. He calls the murals “Walls of Demand.”

In Los Angeles, he painted a mural with rifle targets set atop a silhouette of an image of Joaquin as he walked to school that day with a bouquet of sunflowers in his hand to give to his girlfriend. Once completed, he drove a hammer into the mural 17 times, one for each victim, and hung a sunflower in each hole.

He says he enters a trance while painting as he connects with memories of his son: the motor-bike they built together in the family garage, for instance, and endless games of basketball.

As he works, he listens with his son’s headphones to the music they used to enjoy together, often the Ramones or Guns N’ Roses.

Manuel says the murals are more than a way to drain his anger and sorrow.

“What the hell does it matter how I feel? This isn’t about me, this is about my kid,” he said in an interview in Florida, a few days after he painted the Los Angeles mural.

“Joaquin’s picture is a protest. Joaquin is a martyr, killed by a murderer who was endorsed by system that allows these things to happen.”


Manuel and Patricia now dedicate their time to an organization that seeks to empower youth leaders called Change The Ref (CTR), a name inspired by a conversation with Joaquin about the referee of one of his basketball games.

The group aims to use art and “nonviolent creative confrontation” to keep people talking about the victims and pressuring lawmakers to pass stricter gun regulations.

“You took something horrific, and instead of letting it stop you, you started a movement,” the comedian Jimmy Fallon told students and victims’ families in the commencement address at the June 3 graduation ceremony.

Carlos Rodriguez, a 17-year-old Stoneman Douglas student who witnessed the shooting, launched a social media project called Stories Untold to collate footage of the incident. It has evolved into a broader effort to encourage victims of gun violence around the country to share their stories.

He says the reaction to Parkland was notably different from previous mass shootings, in part because it affected a group of teenagers well-versed in using social media.

The Parkland attack “affected high-school kids, millennials, Generation Z-ers – we practically have a road map of what we need to do.”

He was infuriated by the May 18 shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston, Texas that killed 10.

“It was like we were reliving what happened at our school. I wanted to be there with those students.”

Parkland, a once quiet Florida suburb, is now filled with memorials and posters alongside its streets, parks and shops, demanding stricter gun control. Almost 70 percent of American adults support strong or moderate restrictions for firearms, a Reuters/Ipsos poll in May found.

President Donald Trump has vowed not to tighten firearms laws despite multiple mass shootings this year and instead called for arming teachers and increasing school security.

Daniela Menescal, 17, was hit by shrapnel during the Parkland attack and saw several classmates killed.

Now recovered from her injuries, she puts her energy into spending time with family and focuses on studying piano and playing tennis to avoid thinking about that day.

“We’ve become a more united community after everything that happened,” said Menescal. “With the leadership of my classmates, we can raise our voices so that people understand that these changes need to happen.”


(Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Caracas; Writing by Angus Berwick; editing by Diane Craft)