China #MeToo Figure Vows to Appeal After Losing Landmark Case

A former television intern who became a prominent voice in China’s #MeToo movement against sexual assault and harassment has vowed to fight on after a court in Beijing ruled that she had not produced sufficient evidence in her harassment case against a star presenter.

The former intern, Zhou Xiaoxuan, told supporters and journalists outside the Haidian District court in Beijing that she would appeal after judges ruled against her claim late Tuesday night.

Ms. Zhou asserted in 2018 that Zhu Jun had assaulted her in a dressing room four years earlier. Mr. Zhu denied that accusation and sued Ms. Zhou, and she countersued him. Their legal battles became a focal case in China’s expanding movement against the sexual coercion of women.

The court in Beijing rejected Ms. Zhou’s case in a terse online statement that did not go into the substance of her claims. She had “tendered insufficient evidence to prove her assertion that a certain Zhu had engaged in sexual harassment,” the court stated.

Standing on the street in front of the courthouse shortly after the decision, Ms. Zhou — who is widely known in China by her nickname, Xianzi — said the judges had given her little opportunity to detail her allegations. She said they had rejected her lawyer’s efforts to introduce what she said was supporting evidence, such as video footage from outside the dressing room, as well as police interview notes with her parents from shortly after the episode.

“Ultimately, the court didn’t give us any space for making a statement,” she said in a 10-minute statement around midnight that wavered between resignation and defiance.

“I think I’ve done everything I can,” she added. “I can’t make any more effort. They didn’t ask if I would appeal. I will, but I think I’ve already given this my all.”

A small crowd applauded Ms. Zhou, some shouting, “Keep going.”

Li Tingting, a gender equality activist in Beijing, said by phone that Ms. Zhou had been an “encouragement to many participants in MeToo.” She added, “The impact of this case is bigger than its outcome.”

But Ms. Zhou faces many hurdles in winning official attention for her complaint against Mr. Zhu, especially in China’s increasingly chilly political climate, where officials are wary of any complaints outside channels they can strictly control.

Her accusations against Mr. Zhu burst onto the internet at a time when the Chinese government appeared surprised by the wave of complaints from women about sexual coercion by men. Many women who spoke out were students or young professionals who said that professors or workplace superiors had pressed them for sex. Initially, Chinese news outlets were able to air women’s pent-up grievances about misbehavior that had been ignored by the authorities.

“People are not allowed to show their pain and wounds,” Ms. Zhou told The Times in an interview at the time. “Many women worry they will be seen as whining.”

She has said that while working as an intern at C.C.T.V. in 2014, she was asked to take fruit to the dressing room of Mr. Zhu, one of the network’s most famous anchors. Inside the room, Mr. Zhu forcibly kissed and groped her, she said.

She stayed largely silent about the experience until 2018, when rising global ferment against sexual harassment also took hold in China, and she wrote a long account that spread on the internet after a friend of hers shared it.

“It’s important for every girl to speak up and say what she has suffered,” she wrote in the essay. “We need to make sure society knows that these massacres exist.”

Mr. Zhu asserted that she had fabricated her account to slander him. She then claimed he had damaged her dignity. “Let’s get ready to fight,” she wrote online.

Since then, the Chinese Communist Party has moved to rein in public protest and contention over women’s rights, and fewer such cases have burst onto the internet.

An exception was in July, when the police detained Kris Wu, a popular Canadian Chinese singer, after an 18-year-old university student in Beijing accused him of offering young women like her help with their careers, and then pressing them to have sex. He has denied the accusations.

Mr. Wu was formally arrested last month on suspicion of rape. His case became one in a number of scandals that have prompted the Chinese government to crack down on youth celebrity culture and warn actors and performers to stick to official rules for propriety.

Ms. Zhou has been barred from Weibo, the popular Chinese social media service where her claims against Mr. Zhu first spread. (His lawsuit against her has still not gone to trial.)

Traditional state-run media outlets were ordered not to cover Ms. Zhou’s claims and lawsuit, according to three journalists who received the instructions and asked for anonymity because of the risk of repercussions. But word of Ms. Zhou’s loss in court rippled across Chinese social media on Wednesday. Many reactions that remained on Weibo were critical of her, some accusing her of making up her claims and acting as a pawn for forces hostile to China. Her supporters said that, despite the setback, she had set a lasting example.

“I was very disappointed, but it didn’t surprise me,” said Zheng Xi, 34, a feminist in Hangzhou, in eastern China. “Her persistence in the last three years has educated and enlightened many people.”


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