How Kris Wu and Alibaba Resurrected the #MeToo Movement in China

Kris Wu behind bars 

Near the beginning of August, Wu Yi Fan, also known professionally as Kris Wu, a Chinese-Canadian actor, singer, record producer, rapper, and model, was arrested by the Beijing Police on suspicion of sexual misconduct against young women. The news expeditiously circulated on social media, even overshadowing coverage of the Tokyo Olympic Games, prompting a debate over sexual consent.

Be that as it may, the most significant verity is that women’s rights in China and a stand against sexual crimes and abuse have indeed gained a new momentum. All valor goes to Du Meizhu, a 19-year-old college student who courageously arose to share her allegations on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social media platform and has given several media interviews speaking up about her sexual assault. 

Wu was accused of sexually assaulting Du when she was 17 years old, and she had evidence of his maltreatment of other young women too. Since then, roughly 24 additional women have come forward, accusing him of improper behaviour. More than a dozen companies, including major brands such as Louis Vuitton, Bulgari and Porsche, have severed ties with Wu, and there have been several demands for him to leave the entertainment industry and even leave China. Wu has denied all allegations. 

Originally, the police force of China claimed ‘she did it to increase her online visibility’, which enraged netizens. According to women’s rights campaigners, the police’s conduct was a textbook illustration of China’s patriarchal society. Their indignant act led to a social media outcry. “Summary: what Du Meizhu claimed was accurate,” one of the most popular comments underneath the announcement read. “Let’s calculate the number of people who don’t believe Wu,” wrote another commenter, garnering 1.5 million likes. According to prominent Chinese feminist Lu Pin, “From this, we can see what the government’s attitude is… They won’t recognise the legitimacy of female voices – and a woman speaking out is accused of ‘wanting fame’.”

Alibaba manager embroiled in rape scandal

Alibaba’s shares in Hong Kong fell 2.5 percent in an afternoon trade, adding to the pressure on the firm that is still under regulatory investigation following a $2.8 billion antitrust penalty earlier this year. The multinational tech company has been shaken by a sexual assault scandal, which has resulted in departures from the Chinese e-commerce behemoth. “Alibaba Group has a zero-tolerance policy against sexual misconduct, and providing a safe workplace for all our workers is Alibaba’s top priority,” a company representative said in a statement. 

Manager Wang Chengwen and a client were alleged by a victim whose identity she chose to mask on Alibaba’s intranet. Later, allegations expanded through a post on Weibo. According to a letter addressed to workers by Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang, the manager acknowledged “intimate acts” with an inebriated female colleague. The dismissed manager will “never be rehired,” according to the message.

Consistent with the CEO’s message, Alibaba will immediately perform a company-wide training on employee rights protection, including anti-sexual harassment. In addition, the business will “speed up the development of an anti-sexual harassment policy.” While the event is still being investigated by authorities, Zhang further stated that the firm is “staunchly opposed to the nasty forced drinking culture.” “Regardless of gender, whether a request is made by a client or a supervisor, our workers have the authority to refuse it,” he said in the message.

For women in China, the arrests and uproar have signalled the beginning of a new era, with the society and government finally taking threats and abuses against women more seriously, as the topic is well stymied in the country. Sexual harassment and assault cases are notoriously difficult to bring to court, and the police frequently choose to dismiss such allegations. These incidents are indeed a bite of the reality sandwich that choked out supremacy, flickering idealism in the hearts of young women. Hoping it will all end.

Chinese TV Anchor Qian Feng Unveiled

Barely a month after what was a spark of hope led to another veil lifted on 26 August when a well-known Hunan TV anchor became the latest person to be accused of rape. Though he has since been suspended by his own company, actor and host, Qian Feng, was accused of drugging and raping a woman, Xiao Yi, two years ago from the outset of Xiao Yi’s respect to learn from a role model. 

“That night, he kept urging me to drink fruit wines. I’ve eaten at this restaurant before and I knew that the fruit wines have very little alcohol in them. Strangely, I felt very giddy after dinner and wasn’t fully conscious. I have a strong suspicion that the drinks were drugged.” Xiao Yi said. When she regained consciousness, it was all too late. She found herself bare beside Qian, bruised all over, only to be involved in an argument with him before storming out of the apartment. Xiao was quick to collect evidence from the CCTV footage of the apartment and a witness statement from the cab driver that drove them the night before. 

CCTV footage of what allegedly happened

Unfortunately, even Xiao’s quick actions were to no avail, when the police closed the case with evasions of insufficient evidence in 2019. “He admitted to me in the questioning room that he raped me, which was recorded by the police,” she claimed, demanding an explanation from police as to why they declined to pursue a case despite having proof. 

At present time, Xiao Yi chose to report Qian’s sexual assault after being inspired by Kris Wu’s case. She believes she is not the only victim and encourages the discouraged to rise just like her. Her aspirations are valid as victims of sexual misconduct and assault have come out on social media in recent years as public awareness of the issue has grown following the introduction of the worldwide #MeToo movement in 2017.

How the #MeToo movement came about

The #MeToo movement is a social movement against sexual abuse and harassment where people publicize allegations of sex crimes. The movement aims to empower women through empathy and solidarity through strength in numbers, especially young and vulnerable women, by visibly demonstrating how many women have survived sexual assault and harassment.

The phrase ‘me too’ has been around since 2006, but it picked up in 2017, when the numerous criminal sexual acts that film producer Harvey Weinstein had committed were exposed. A whopping total of 92 women spoke up against Weinstein, most of whom were actresses or his employees. Among the women on the list were prolific actresses Cate Blanchett, Angelina Jolie and Gwyneth Paltrow, and singer-songwriter Madonna. Criminal investigations were conducted, and he was soon charged and convicted. In March 2020, he was sentenced to 23 years of imprisonment.

Embed from Getty Images

Harvey Weinstein and his attorney, Benjamin Brafman, exiting the State Supreme Court in New York

Rise of the movement

After Weinstein’s scandal came to light, American actress Alyssa Milano made a Tweet, asking for women to speak up about their experiences with sexual harassment and assault. This sparked tens of thousands of replies, from both men and women, showing just how rife sexual misconduct is, with responses from A-list celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lawrence, Uma Thurman and Terry Crews.

This triggered a chain of events under the hashtag #MeToo movement, where several people in Hollywood spoke up about their sexual abuse by prominent actors, directors and producers. Two filmmakers who were accused were Brett Ratner, the director behind X-Men: The Last Stand, Tower Heist and The Revenant, who was accused by six women and James Toback, who was accused by a staggering total of 395 women of sexual abuse, including Salma Blair and Rachel McAdams. James Franco and Morgan Freeman, both high-profile actors, were also called out for their sexual misconduct.

Oprah Winfrey speaks about the #MeToo movement

The shushed #MeToo movement in China

The movement took root in China in 2018, and prompted a wave of university students, factory workers, journalists and even nuns to speak up. The sexual assault allegations rocked Beihang University, Peking University, Foxconn (the Chinese manufacturer for Apple, Dell, Huawei, Sony and more), and Longquan Monastery, although little action was taken against the alleged perpetrators.

Furthermore, they were quickly quashed by the Chinese government. Those who posted on social media with the hashtag #MeToo or #我也是 (wó yě shì, English: Me too) on Chinese social media found that their posts were quickly deleted, and posters put up around schools were quickly taken down.

Huang Xueqin, a Chinese activist and journalist who was almost raped by her supervisor previously, conducted a poll among journalists. From the survey pool of 250 journalists, she discovered that nearly 80% had been sexually assaulted and kept silent about it. Despite being a victim herself, she was arrested on the grounds of ‘picking quarrels and provoking troubles’. And as of September 19, 2021, Huang has gone missing, causing speculation that she has been arrested by the police.

On July 26, 2018, an open letter accusing Zhu Jun, a China Central Television (CCTV) presenter, of sexual assault was spread on Weibo. Zhu Jun trended on the site, but just hours after the letter went up, users could no longer repost news about Zhu Jun.

Slowly, these allegations and cases were forgotten – by the general public at least, as social media posts disappeared and cases made close to no progress. Zhou Xiaoxuan, the victim of Zhu Jun’s sexual assault, sued him in 2018, but three years later, the case still hasn’t been resolved.

Resurgence of China’s #MeToo movement in 2021

The movement only gained traction in China in 2021 after the exposé of Kris Wu, the Alibaba manager, and Qian Feng.

When Wu was arrested, posts about his sexual misconduct spread like wildfire on Chinese social media. But this time, something was different. State-owned media outlets denounced him, and posts remained visible online. It wasn’t exactly because the government was finally ready to take a firm stand against sexual abuse. Rather, it was likely due to the government’s stand against China’s fan club culture (Chinese: 饭圈, fàn quān), where cyber bullying, doxing and excessive displays of wealth are ubiquitous. Earlier this year, authorities set new rules and guidelines for artists and celebrities to abide by, with warnings of repercussions should they fail to comply.

This brings with it an unexpected upside – women are finally allowed a voice on social media. Many are speaking up and expressing their support for Du, and it has encouraged other women to open up about their own experiences with sexual assault.

As for Alibaba, it was unclear why posts regarding their employee’s sexual misconduct remained uncensored, though there are speculations that this is part of the Chinese authorities’ crackdown on tech conglomerates. Now that Alibaba has become a cautionary tale to other Chinese firms, activists are hoping that this will act as a spur for other companies to introduce more stringent anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies.

Where to go if you need help

What to do if you have been sexually harassed

Resources from All Women’s Action Society

Helplines

Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO): 03 7956 3488

Think I Need Aid (TINA): WhatsApp or SMS 018 988 8058

All Women’s Action Society (AWAM): 03 7877 0224

Counselling and legal help

AWAM provides free and confidential services such as counselling and equipping clients with legal information. They can be contacted via the helpline above, or via email at telenita@awam.org.my.

Sources:

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-57938328

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/06/kris-wu-arrest-raises-hopes-for-chinas-metoo-movement

https://www.todayonline.com/8days/netizen-accuses-day-day-host-qian-feng-drugging-and-raping-her-says-he-tried-buy-her-silence

https://edition.cnn.com/2021/08/09/tech/alibaba-employee-sexual-assault-intl-hnk/index.html

https://fortune.com/2021/08/10/alibaba-rape-china-metoo-backlash-discrimination/

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/06/kris-wu-arrest-raises-hopes-for-chinas-metoo-movement

https://www.reuters.com/world/china/sexual-assault-scandals-china-revive-stifled-metoo-discussion-2021-08-10/

Written By: Natalie & Jamie

Edited By: Maki

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