#Metoo reaches China: As claims are made against two professors, Beijing struggles to keep a lid on movement

A picture shows the message "Me too" on the hand of a protester during a gathering in Paris Credit: AFP

A new chapter in #MeToo appears to be emerging in China after a university professor was sacked and another is facing an investigation over sexual misconduct allegations.

The #MeToo campaign spread rapidly in the West in October after multiple accusations against Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Allegations have been made against men in China – particularly within academia - but the movement has struggled to gain momentum in a country where the media and Internet are controlled by a stability-obsessed, male dominated Communist Party.

However, on Thursday a Beijing university said it had sacked one of its top scholars after he was accused of sexual misconduct by a group of women.

Beihang University said on its official microblog that an investigation found that Chen Xiaowu‘s behavior had violated professional ethics and created an “odious influence on society.”

The university said: “Morality and ability, and actions and talent are as one. This is the demand of Beihang‘s values and the school has zero tolerance for violations of professorial ethics,” 

A placard with the hashtag "MeToo" is seen on a European Parliament member's desk during a debate Credit: Reuters

Beihang also pledged to upgrade mechanisms to identify such cases.

The initial allegation against Chen came from one of his former doctoral students, Luo Qianqian, who posted on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, that the professor had tried to pressure her into sex 12 years ago.

Ms Luo, who lives in the US, tagged the post #WoYeShi, the Chinese translation of #MeToo, and said in her online comments that the campaign had inspired her to act. Several other alleged victims came forward with accounts of Chen’s behaviour.

Ms Luo wrote on her Weibo after Chen’s dismissal: “Women who have awoken to themselves are even more powerful!

"Kindness and bravery are our most beautiful expressions.”

Chen’s case was covered widely in Chinese media, possibly because the allegations originated overseas. And then on Friday, another Beijing professor was at the centre of sexual misconduct claims.

Xue Yuan, a professor from the University of International Business and Economics, was accused of sexual harassment in an online posting by an anonymous college student.

The student also sent emails to China’s graft body, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Commerce, the China Daily said.

A vendor sells #MeToo badges a protest march for survivors of sexual assault and their supporters in Hollywood, Los Angeles Credit: Reuters

The university said that it had immediately formed an “investigative team”.

It said: “The working team has exchanged emails with the Internet user (who made the allegations), inviting her to supply authentic, correct and original evidence under the condition of protecting her privacy and personal safety."

Meanwhile, Xue Yuan, who is carrying out a short term academic project overseas was called back for further investigation.

The two cases are being widely discussed on Chinese social media, raising hopes among many that more women might speak out.

However, Leta Hong Fincher, an expert on feminism in China, said the authorities will act before the movement becomes too powerful.  

“So far, students at around 60 universities in China have joined in the #MeToo campaign, many of them using their real names,” said Hong Fincher, author of Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China.

“Women are posting the letters on social media, but censors delete them very quickly. There's no question that the Communist Party is frightened by the prospect of a viral #MeToo movement galvanising Chinese university students."

The men have not yet responded to the allegations. 

Additional reporting by Christine Wei