Xianzi, the upset symbol from the Chinese #Metoo

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Zhou Xiaoxuan, also known as Xianzi, lost her case on Wednesday against a Chinese TV presenter who accused her of sexual assault. A reminder of the fragility of the #Metoo movement in China, of which Xianzi is one of the key figures.

Justice stubbornly decides against him, but Zhou Xiaoxuan still wants to fight. A woman who over the years has become the most famous face in the Chinese #Metoo movement lost, on Wednesday, August 10, her appeal against Zhu Jun, the man she accuses of sexually assaulting her.

The court found that she did not provide sufficient evidence to support her accusations. The Court of First Instance had already used the same reason, in 2020, to rule that the charges against the star presenter on the public CCTV channel had not been proven.

3000 word WeChat message loosens tongues

“I will not give up,” confirmed the Guardian Zhou Xiaoxuan, known in China as Xianzi and used on the Internet, at the end of the session. But on the other hand, there was also a sense of weariness in the statements of the person who “sacrificed nearly eight years of her life” to fight against one of the most powerful men in the Chinese audiovisual scene, recalls researcher Dusica Ristivojevic in the Department of History at the University of Helsinki, who worked in The #Metoo movement in China. “I must admit that after this decision, I really don’t know what to do. I feel like I have exhausted all legal remedies,” Chu Xiaoxuan added.

I came out of the silence in 2018, as the #Metoo movement started to gain traction in the West after the Harvey Weinstein scandal was exposed. Then, Xianzi posts a 3,000-word long message on her WeChat account to describe how Zhu Jun four years ago, when she was a trainee, abused her for about an hour in her dressing room.

>> Read also on the France 24 Observers website: #MeToo in China: In the face of highly reactive censorship, feminists are condemned to remain anonymous

She says she tried to file a complaint the day after the accident, but the police advised her not to interfere, because Zhou Jun was an example of the country’s “positive energy.” A concept at the heart of the government’s propaganda strategy during the early years of Xi Jinping’s rule – who took power in 2012 – to signal the need to convey “cheerful rather than critical messages” in the media.

Her post on WeChat quickly went viral, not least because it was uploaded to Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter) by activists for greater gender equality in China.

Then the testimonies of other women who claimed that they had been sexually assaulted were multiplied on social networks. Thus Xianzi became a prominent figure in the Chinese #Metoo movement in Western media that began to take an interest in its history, such as the BBC.

“She paved the way, and somehow, without her, there might not have been a case for Bing Shuai. [la joueuse de tennis qui a affirmé en 2021 avoir été violée par un ancien vice-Premier ministre chinois, NDLR]’,” says Dusica Ristivojevic.

Online rabbit hunt and rice bowls

In China, traditional newspapers have been slow to deal with the accusations. They will only pursue the case when Zhu Jun starts legal hostilities in 2020 by filing a complaint against his former apprentice for moral damage and defamation. The lawsuit brought by Xianzi actually comes in response to this complaint from the TV presenter.

So it was the alleged assailant who was the source of the media and judicial outrage about Xianzi. This is evidence of “the deep patriarchal prejudices still present in China that cause female victims such as Zhou Xiaoxuan to be seen as the real culprits, who seek to earn money or make a name for themselves on the backs of their male superiors.” Valarie Tan is a specialist in social issues in China at the Mercator Institute for Chinese Studies (Merics) in Berlin.

If this situation results in a rare freedom of expression on the Internet, it will not last long. Facing this wave of condemnations and facing the international media hype generated by the emergence of the Chinese #Metoo, the censorship machine has started to run at full speed.

Xianzi was quickly launched on the Chinese web, as well as those who continue to spread her messages online. References to #Metoo have also been removed from social media. Observers go so far as to chase pictures of rice bowls and rabbits used by activists because the juxtaposition between them is obvious. [Mi] [Tu] in Chinese.

Law 2021 recognizing sexual harassment in the workplace

In a sense, Xianzi’s failure to convict Zhu Jun would be a symptom of the predicament in which the Chinese #Metoo movement finds itself, as confirmed by several Western media outlets.

A note that is far from shared by everyone. The authorities would have taken strict measures above all because the movement comes at the worst times for Beijing. “Between the questioning of Chinese health policy in the face of Covid-19 and the increasingly strained international relations for China, the regime cannot tolerate any other phenomenon that could lead to the onset of social unrest,” Dusica Ristivojevic analyzes.

Beijing has also taken measures indicating that the authorities are not insensitive to the issue. 1Verse January 2021, a law went into effect recognizing for the first time the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. In particular, companies are required to act in order to protect women.

The text remains incomplete and “the burden of proof continues to weigh on victims who struggle to establish the truth of the facts,” Valari Tan notes. But at least it is there.

Besides, the battle of Xianzi all these years set a precedent. “She held on despite the obstacles and fought back knowing that her chance of winning was slim,” said Dusica Ristivojevic. Perhaps those who come after them will have a better chance of success thanks to this first major legal battle.

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