Zhou Xiaoxuan was in 2014 a 21-year-old intern looking forward to a career in Chinese state television, CCTV. Their boss was the well-known host Zhu Jun, famous for having been the face of the network's lunar new year gala for years, the most watched show in the world with more than 700 million viewers. Four years later, in 2018, she would end up accusing him of sexual harassment during that time, in a notorious case that would open the incipient debate about #MeToo in China. This week, a Beijing court denied the lawsuit due to insufficient evidence, in a major setback to the movement after three years of legal battles.
In its decision, issued late on Tuesday, the Haidian District People's Court in northwest Beijing found that evidence provided by Zhou - also known by her nickname, Xianzi - and her legal team did not substantiate the allegations. The young woman denounced that the presenter had groped her and forcibly kissed her when she brought a basket of fruit to her locker room during her time as an intern. He demanded a public apology and compensation of 50,000 yuan, about 6,500 euros.
"The evidence provided by Plaintiff Zhou is insufficient to prove her allegations that defendant Zhu sexually harassed her," the court ruled.
Following this conclusion, the case will not go to trial: in the Chinese civil law system, courts generally only accept a claim if they determine that the facts alleged by the complainant are “highly likely” to be. truthful.
It was the second time that the court met to decide whether to accept the case, after the first session, in December, brought together a crowd of women sympathizing with the young woman, now 28, in front of its headquarters.
The second and final, which was to have been held in May, was abruptly postponed at the last minute until this week.
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After hearing the sentence, Zhou has assured that he will appeal.
He has denounced that the court did not accept "conclusive evidence" of his accusations, including the testimony as a witness of a psychologist who is an expert in sexual abuse, the testimony of his parents or a video recording in the place where the alleged harassment took place.
"I have exhausted all my efforts," he declared as he left the court, around midnight.
"I'm sorry I couldn't offer a better result to everyone."
Originally, the former intern had sued her boss in 2018 - when the #MeToo movement began to uncover cases of sexual harassment in many Western countries, especially in the entertainment sector - for violating "personality rights", a concept that in Chinese law relates to the rights to physical integrity and health.
Zhou's lawyers resorted to this figure given the absence then of a specific rule against sexual harassment.
But that same year, the Supreme Court recognized that this type of abuse could be cause for demand, and in 2020 the new Chinese Civil Code included it to protect survivors.
The young woman's defenders requested that the case be heard under the new legislation, something the court denied.
Feminism under pressure
The Haidian court's decision represents a severe blow to the Chinese feminist movement, which is increasingly under pressure. Although young women are increasingly aware of equality, in the last six years some of the most prominent activists have found themselves on the ropes; several no longer live in China. Censorship against openly feminist ideology publications has grown; the social media accounts of young advocates for equal rights have been temporarily limited or blocked. Zhou's own on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, has been suspended since July and for a year for violating the operating rules of the popular social network.
The Chinese #MeToo movement had returned to the front page in August, after a senior manager at electronic retail giant Alibaba was arrested on suspicion of harassment of an employee. Also that month, Chinese-Canadian singer Kris Wu was arrested on a rape suspect following a series of online complaints.
But the manager has finally been released due to lack of evidence. And the official Chinese narrative around Wu speaks of an isolated case, in which harmful foreign influences have weighed. Sexual harassment cases continue to be surrounded by strong stigma for survivors. It is not uncommon for defendants in turn to sue complainants for defamation and, if they are fired from work due to allegations, it is also not unusual for courts to find termination inadmissible. A study led by Darius Longarino, Yale Law School, and published in the digital
found 83 cases related to sexual abuse in Chinese court databases between 2018 and 2020. Of these, only six were complaints by a person against their stalker. The other 77 were complaints of the alleged perpetrator against the person who denounced him, or against the company that had fired him.
“Survivors must prove their claims with a high degree of probability (between 75% and 85%) to win. This is very difficult, especially since the courts give little credibility to the complainant's testimony. If survivors lack 'hard' evidence, such as a video recording, they have a very difficult time. On the other hand, when alleged harassers sue for defamation, the duty of proof changes sides, and it is the surviving person who must prove their accusations of harassment with a high degree of probability. In short, the 'rules of the game' discourage survivors from reporting, and encourage alleged harassers to go to court, ”Longarino explains in an email.
One of these complaints corresponds to Zhu Jun himself. In 2018 he sued Zhou for defamation to claim compensation of 655,000 yuan (85,400 euros), without it being known at the moment in what situation that lawsuit is.