A high-profile case of sexual harassment in China’s #MeToo movement involving a well-known state TV host has finally reached trial, more than six years after the alleged incident.
As the #MeToo movement spread globally in 2018 and women came forward to share their stories of assault and harassment, a young Chinese woman named Zhou Xiaoxuan publicly accused CCTV host Zhu Jun of groping and forcibly kissing her when she was an intern.
Ms Zhou took the previously taboo step of filing legal action against him, after writing a series of social media posts about the incident.
But the ruling Communist Party dislikes such grassroots activism and offers few ways to pursue complaints. Ms Zhou waited two years for an initial hearing, while the host fought back by filing a defamation claim.
On Wednesday, Ms Zhou’s case goes to trial in Beijing, highlighting the growing willingness of Chinese women to speak up about sexual harassment despite official resistance and censorship that eroded #MeToo’s impact.
Ms Zhou said: “There are very few sexual harassment cases who have a court hearing. We hope each individual case can be a type of push forward.”
The ruling party, whose late leader Mao Zedong famously declared “women hold up half the sky”, has improved its legal and social status but is far from delivering on its promise of equality.
In some areas, conditions are deteriorating and women have disappeared from leadership roles over the past three decades.
Ms Zhou is seeking a public apology from Mr Zhu as well as 50,000 yuan (£5,700) in damages.
In a series of social media posts when she first raised her complaint, she said she was alone with Mr Zhu in his dressing room for a few minutes during the incident in 2014.
She said he tried to reach into her dress and drag her on to himself, and then forcibly kissed her.
The posts were shared widely and reposted by many on the Chinese internet and prompted a great amount of media coverage.
When Ms Zhou filed her legal action in 2018, such complaints were treated as labour disputes or under other laws that did not relate directly to sexual harassment. Her case was termed a “personality rights dispute”.
Her lawyers have asked for it to be heard under a new legal provision that explicitly cites sexual harassment.
Mr Zhu has denied the allegations and has a counter-suit pending against Ms Zhou asking for damages of 650,000 yuan (£74,200).
Ms Zhou expressed hope her case will show “there are problems in the legal process”.
She added: “No matter what the result is, we feel that doing this has meaning.”