Chinese activists hail Richard Liu rape case settlement as victory for #MeToo

Feminist campaigners and lawyers say the independence of U.S. courts was a key factor in the outcome.
By Jenny Tang for RFA Mandarin
Chinese activists hail Richard Liu rape case settlement as victory for #MeToo founder Richard Liu, Hong Kong, China, June 9, 2017.
Reuters founder and billionaire Richard Liu is to settle a lawsuit brought by a woman who alleged he raped her in 2018 after she had dinner with him and other wealthy executives in Minneapolis, an outcome that has been hailed as a victory for China's #MeToo movement.

Liu and his accuser, former University of Minnesota student Jingyao Liu, issued a joint statement at the weekend saying they would "set aside their differences and settle their legal dispute in order to avoid further pain and suffering."

"The incident between Ms. Jingyao Liu and Mr. Richard Liu in Minnesota in 2018 resulted in a misunderstanding that has consumed substantial public attention and brought profound suffering to the parties and their families," the statement said.

The settlement, the amount of which wasn't disclosed, came just two days before the civil trial was due to begin on Oct. 3.

Richard Liu, who is estimated by Forbes to be worth around U.S.$10.9 billion, had been accused of raping Jingyao Liu while he was teaching on her school's MBA program, where she was a volunteer.

Liu, who was in his mid-40s at the time of the incident while Jingyao Liu was 21, was arrested on suspicion of felony rape in August 2018, but prosecutors declined to file criminal charges due to "profound evidentiary problems."

Jingyao Liu has agreed to be publicly identified, amid widespread support from the #MeToo campaign and feminist activists in and from China.

She filed the civil lawsuit in 2019 against Liu and, alleging sexual assault and battery, as well as false imprisonment.

In the lawsuit, she said she had dropped out of classes in the fall semester following the attack, and sought psychological treatment, while her attorney said she continues to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

'I begged him don't
According to Jingyao Liu, the attack came after she joined Richard Liu and other executives for dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Minneapolis, after being invited at his request.

He then allegedly sexually assaulted her in his limousine and raped her at her apartment, she said.

At one point, she texted a friend: “I begged him don’t. But he didn’t listen,” the Associated Press reported. She also told police the sex was "spontaneous" but that she was afraid and had been under pressure to drink more alcohol than she wanted at the dinner, the report said.

Zhang Jing, founder of the rights group Women's Rights in China, said the settlement was a victory for the MeToo movement.

"Actually, the settlement of the Richard Liu case doesn't mean that the woman who tried to prosecute him lost, but that she actually won," Zhang told RFA. "She won. Richard Liu settled."

Zhang said the billionaire was unlikely to have decided on a settlement if he believed he could win in the civil lawsuit, where actions only need to be proven on balance of probability, as opposed to beyond reasonable doubt.

She said she hopes the outcome will encourage more Chinese women to come forward if they have been the victims of sexual assault, and give a moral boost to the #MeToo movement in the country.

Feminist supporters of Jingyao Liu, who were raising money on for a rally in her support in Minneapolis as the trial was due to start, said the case was an important one for the #MeToo movement back home.

"This case is considered one of the most high-profile China's #Metoo cases because it involves China's billionaire Richard Liu, who was highly admired as a successful entrepreneur," the campaigners said in a statement on the funding page.

The campaigners said many accounts and posts linked to the case had been deleted by ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) censors.

"People in China and in the diaspora are eager to learn the truth, but Jingyao's story was constantly censored and blocked out [by government censors]," it said. "The voices of her supporters, including many of us, are silenced as well."

Hard to do in China
U.S.-based legal scholar Teng Biao agreed that the result was a good one for #MeToo.

"It's very hard to challenge someone as rich and powerful as Richard Liu in China," Teng told RFA. "China's judicial system tends to favor powerful figures, but in the United States, social status outside the law isn't taken into consideration by the courts."

The settlement comes weeks after a landmark #MeToo case brought by Zhou Xiaoxuan, a former intern at state broadcaster CCTV, against anchor Zhu Jun was rejected on appeal.

The Beijing No. 1 Intermediate People's Court rejected Zhou's appeal on Aug. 10, upholding the original judgment of the Haidian District People's Court in September 2021.

Backed by supporters, Zhou filed a second appeal later the same day, after making an impassioned statement to the court asking some tough questions of China's judicial and law enforcement agencies.

"In China, if you have power, you have everything, and you can do whatever you want," Zhang said. "It's very hard for someone without power to sue someone more powerful."

She said even the general public tends to side with the more powerful party in such cases.

"There is a culture of injustice to women and patriarchal bullying, so people supported Zhu Jun," she said.

Teng agreed.

"Zhu Jun may not be an official, but he is a well-known host on CCTV, which carries a huge amount of political and symbolic clout," he said. "China's judiciary had an incentive to protect Zhu Jun's name, which is tied up with political interests."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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