Ian Williams Ian Williams

China’s #MeToo moment

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The employee alleged that she was forced to drink heavily at a banquet during a business trip and was then sexually assaulted by her boss. She informed her managers, but they failed to act and told her to keep quiet. So she staged a protest in the company canteen and shared details of her ordeal in an 11-page document posted on a company message board.

The company was Alibaba, China’s e-commerce giant, and the document quickly spread, creating a firestorm online. Chief executive Daniel Zhang struggled to contain the damage, saying he was ‘shocked, angry and shameful’. He fired the accused manager, and the two others who had failed to act were forced to resign. ‘We must rebuild, we must change,’ he said.

The scandal earlier this month followed the arrest of Kris Wu, a Chinese-Canadian pop star, in Beijing on suspicion of rape. He faced allegations from multiple women. This week a well-known host on Hunan TV was accused of rape. In a long online post, his alleged victim said she had audio, video and text evidence that she was drugged and assaulted by him two years ago.

Sexual harassment has rapidly become one of most discussed topics on Chinese social media. Even state media has waded in, highlighting the events at Alibaba. The Communist party’s anti-corruption watchdog warned that it will crack down on a corporate culture of heavy drinking, and ban songs with ‘harmful’ lyrics from karaoke machines.

‘I’ve been offered £10,000 to change universities or £20,000 to become a lorry driver.’

This has raised the tantalising question of whether China is facing its #MeToo moment — and how that will be met by a male-dominated and deeply paranoid Chinese Communist party.

A culture of boorish drinking and entertaining, sexual discrimination and casual harassment is widespread in the Chinese workplace.

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Ian Williams
Written by
Ian Williams
Ian Williams is a former foreign correspondent for Channel 4 News and NBC, and author of The Fire of the Dragon: China’s New Cold War (Birlinn).

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