Chinese University Probes Student Protest Over Sexual Harassment Allegations


2018-04-19
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renmin-professors-04192018.jpg Renmin University professors Gu Haibing (L) and Zhang Kangzhi (R) were reported by their students for sexual harassment, drawing protests on the campus in Beijing.
Renmin University.

Authorities at the prestigious Renmin University in Beijing are investigating claims of sexual harassment after angry students surrounded a prominent professor accused of sexually assaulting a student 10 years ago, as the #MeToo movement gathers pace in China.

Professor Gu Haibing was surrounded by large numbers of students at a classroom on Friday, after a former female student reported on an online Q&A platform that she had been sexually harassed by him in 2015, the Maoist website Red China reported.

"Recently, reports have emerged online of violations of professional behavior by professors at this school," the statement, reposted to the Sina.com news website, said.

"The party committee takes these reports very seriously, and has decided to set up a special task force to confirm and investigate this incident," the statement, dated Apr. 13, said.

It said the university opposed any behaviors that violate professional standards, and that there would be "zero tolerance" for such behavior.

In her Apr. 11 post, the woman, who kept screenshots of subsequent messages between herself and Gu, said he had grabbed her and touched her buttocks after summoning her to his office to "discuss" something, but her posts were deleted from the question and answer site Zhihu by government censors.

"The rapid deletion of posts, the quelling of public opinion, and the lack of comment from university authorities made people angry online, including students from the university," Red China reported.

"Dozens of college students asked Gu Haibing to respond to allegations that he had harassed multiple female students outside the classroom," it said. "The students' siege of Gu Haibing continued for about five hours."

Mixed reaction to victims

Eventually, the college authorities regained control of the area, and Gu was able to leave by the back door.

Repeated calls to Gu's number rang unanswered on Saturday.

Meanwhile, a woman who said she was a former student of Zhang Kangzhi, another professor and doctoral supervisor at School of Public Administration at Renmin University, alleged that he had forcibly grabbed, groped and kissed her while supervising her undergraduate thesis.

Calls to the ruling Chinese Communist Party office at Renmin University, as well as the main school offices, also rang unanswered.

Renmin University alumnus Lu Nan said many alumni of the university are concerned about the emerging reports, but he said support for the alleged victims was far from unanimous.

"Everyone is taking sexual harassment more seriously, because there have been many such incidents recently, especially female students, who are very angry and feel that we should conduct a thorough investigation in our universities, to weed out these rotten apples," Lu said.

"Another view is that the evidence that is currently available is not conclusive ... while there are also some people who are familiar with this teacher and [support them] ... and other people say it's important to keep things clean and protect women on campus," he said. "There are a lot of contradictory views right now."

The latest allegations at Renmin University come after a number of women accused male professors of sexual harassment in the wake of the #MeToo movement overseas.

How much traction in China?

More than 10 professors from the School of Journalism and Communication at Wuhan University issued a “Declaration on Sexual Harassment among College Teachers”, closely followed by similar statements from Zhejiang University and Shanghai Jiaotong University.

A female professor at the University of Shandong said the #MeToo movement won't necessarily gain much traction in China, however.

"Maybe this took off somewhere else in the world and inspires a woman to [blow the whistle]," Ma said. "But it may not be so easy to prove, and a woman may worry about how she is seen by the wider world."

"This is an issue, not just in universities, but in the whole of society, but perhaps university graduates have a higher level of education and actually dare to expose it," she said. "But if a woman is still working with that teacher on something, she may not have the courage to do anything."

There are already signs of a backlash against those speaking out against sexual harassment from the authorities, however.

Government censors have been banning the keyword "anti-sexual harassment" on social media platforms and removing online petitions calling for the protection of women, Taiwan's Central News Agency reported.

Activists have been warned that if they continue to speak out publicly, they will be seen as collaborating with "foreign forces."

An attempt by students at Peking University to set up an online forum to discuss sexual harassment and a related petition were recently taken down by government censors, while social media platforms intermittently block the Chinese version of the #MeToo hashtag, The New York Times said in a recent report.

Reported by Wong Siu-san and Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Shi Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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