Muyi's #MeToo Story

No. 4

Hello! This is Colum from Chinarrative.

In recent days, the #MeToo movement has begun to pick up significant momentum in China as more victims come forward with accounts of sexual harassment and assault.

In this issue, Xiao Muyi, a former journalist from China who now works as an editor in New York, shares her story with Chinarrative readers. Muyi’s personal essay, which was published online in Chinese earlier this week, coincides with another revelation from an anonymous Beijing scriptwriter who alleges she was harassed by a prominent China Central Television (CCTV) host when she interned at the state-owned broadcaster. Translated excerpts from her essay are also featured below.

Incidentally, Muyi considers the source of the CCTV allegation a cousin: “We’re not related by blood, but we grew up together,” she says.

For more background on #MeToo in China, we’ve included some links to further coverage of the subject at the end of this newsletter.

Until next time,

Colum at Chinarrative

This Is My Story. #MeToo.

By Xiao Muyi

On Oct. 16, 2017, I woke up to a deluge of #MeToo posts on Facebook and Twitter from my female friends. Some were brief and concise, others lengthy and heartbreaking exposés. I felt empowered to speak up as well—and I was determined to spread that courage.

Many people voiced their support after I shared my story in English on Facebook. There were also young women who got in touch with me in private. I want to say to everyone who responded back then that I am extremely grateful. I’m truly proud of you and proud of myself for going public.

But since then I’ve lamented the fact that the #MeToo movement never took off back home in mainland China, where most of my horrible encounters took place. That’s like being bullied at work and complaining to my boyfriend instead of confronting my boss. It’s not coming full circle. It’s not brave enough. But back then I didn’t have any faith at all in Chinese civil society. I thought anything I said would simply end up part of the feeding frenzy.

A young girl looks out at her village in China’s Yunnan province. Oct. 27, 2014. Courtesy Xiao Muyi.

Only later did I realize that even though the #MeToo movement hadn’t spread like wildfire in China, powerful sparks surfaced from time to time, popping up here and there every few months. People who genuinely cared took note, so the flames raged more brightly with each new story.

In the past six months or so, the fire has spread to the NGO and media sectors. I was particularly pleased and moved by a piece I read a few hours ago posted by a senior journalist. The post didn’t name a prominent industry figure, but rather recounted the various types of harassment she had suffered at the hands of all the men in her life, famous or not.

This is the real story. More often than not, young women aren’t violated by celebrities but by the ordinary men around them, the unbelievably cocky, self-centered, and non-empathetic men nurtured by a sick patriarchal culture.

So I’ve decided to step up once more and describe my encounters with the scum I’ve stumbled upon in my 27 years of life.

When I was around 4 or 5, my parents brought me along when they paid a visit to a relative. A distant cousin sat on his bed watching TV. He cradled me in his lap and started fondling me. I was too young to understand what was going on and quickly forgot the incident until a few years ago, when I recalled the encounter after being harassed again.

In university, two good female friends, their roommate, and I planned a weekend getaway. The two friends were held up at the last minute, but they begged me to go ahead with their roommate because she was looking forward to the trip. I agreed. When we set off, I noticed that the roommate, whom I did not know, had brought her boyfriend and another guy.

When I woke up in our room in a Beijing suburb the next morning, my face had been covered and a man was on top of me. It was the roommate’s boyfriend. I froze and went blank, unable to muster a response. A few hours later I called my friend, shivering. My friend urged me to bolt, which had never occurred to me until that point.

The next three months were a blur. Perhaps a defense mechanism had been triggered, leading me to denial—until one day, when a good friend shook me by the shoulders and said, “You were raped!” I broke down instantly.

It took me the bulk of the next year to come to terms with the fact that I had been raped. I barely accomplished anything else. I still don’t know the name of the man. So next time someone wonders why rape victims don’t contact the police immediately, this is why. Being raped isn’t quite the same as being pickpocketed.

Then I graduated and became a journalist. On a reporting trip, I ended up wining and dining a potential interview subject in a distant village. A good male friend was traveling with me, so I wasn’t too worried. Everyone ended up drinking too much, and we fell asleep on the floor at the home of the prospective interviewee.

I woke up in the middle of the night to find my pants partially removed. A stranger lay beside me. But it was too dark, and I couldn’t make out his face. I fled immediately. I had no means of transportation at that hour, so I snuck into the room of our female host and climbed into her bed.

The next morning, my male friend woke me up. He was furious because he could tell that something had happened to me. But I had no idea who my attacker was, so there was nothing I could do. I was in no state to keep filming that day, so we went back to the hotel together, and he stayed with me all day.

These are some of the worst attacks I have experienced. Other examples include the time the Party secretary of the Communist Youth League branch at my university invited me to his home for the weekend via SMS, saying his wife and kid were out of town; the time a man I had gone on two dates with tried to forcibly kiss me in public; the time I was crashing at a friend’s place and her husband’s brother started fondling one of my thighs when the entire group was chatting in the living room. I kept avoiding his hand, to no avail. In the end, I had to pry his hand away.

The sad thing is my story is hardly unusual. Sexual assault of girls is very common. Sexual violence in universities is very common. Being attacked by friends is very common. Bosses violating employees at work is very common. It’s very common for the men around us to say or do things that are out of line, disrespectful, and—frankly—disgusting.

I’m quite lucky. Three years ago, I started working with an excellent psychotherapist. Two years ago, I met my boyfriend, whose character is as solid as oak. My mother has been a rock since I summoned the courage to share my story with her a year ago. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve broken down and found myself engulfed in fear, rage, shame, and self-loathing during my nearly 200 therapy sessions, before pulling myself together bit by bit.

My boyfriend has been a tremendous source of love. He doesn’t simply let me vent—instead, he shows genuine empathy. He has never been the least bit chauvinistic, always the perfect gentleman who shows deep respect for women. He’s also willing to step up when he needs to. In him, I see how a man should behave.

I want to tell all the young women (and men) who have similar stories to share that you haven’t done anything wrong, not in the slightest. You can wear whatever you want. Do men have to worry about wearing loose shorts? If you want to drink, go right ahead. Are men suggesting anything by having a drink? If you don’t want to deliver a tongue-lashing, you can refuse advances diplomatically. The onus lies with those who don’t get the message, the men who have no sense of decorum, who lack empathy and objectify people, who hurt others with their words and actions out of blind self-confidence.

The trauma inflicted by sexual assault is huge. If possible, I encourage you to seek therapy. You have to take care of yourself first. The next step is to decide whether to simply move on, or to take legal action. This is a decision everyone is free to make. The most important thing is figuring out where fault lies (definitely not with you) and being aware of the options you have.

Lastly, to the men who have hurt others or condone such behavior, you are the worst. I so badly want to squeeze the grease from your slick ways and pour it over the fire that is the #MeToo movement.

Translator: Min Lee

Beijing Scriptwriter Speaks Out on Harassment by CCTV Host

After what happened [the alleged sexual harassment at the hands of TV host Zhu Jun], I had very low expectations for the opposite sex for an extended period. As long as a man didn’t do anything way out of line, I would think that he was a decent guy, regardless of his character. It took a long time until I realized I shouldn’t demean women to such a degree, that I shouldn’t be grateful for the fact that I wasn’t raped. We are the sole masters of our bodies, which shouldn’t be violated.

… The harassment I experienced wasn’t that serious. The reason I’m thick-skinned enough to “blow things out of proportion” is not to garner pity or sympathy. I’m fully aware that I’m in no position to pass judgment on another person. The amount of punishment a criminal should face isn’t up to the victim. But I’m often disillusioned by how toothless Chinese laws regarding sexual harassment are. I sincerely believe that it would be awfully egotistical and self-important of me to want to ban Zhu Jun from the Spring Festival Gala permanently, to spare my family the disgust. But is it OK for him, as a regular offender, to escape completely unscathed? …

… The one thing I can’t let go of is the physical toll my teachers suffered to be with me, the pressure my classmates withstood to grant me harbor, and the pain my parents endured because they couldn’t protect me. …

… To this very day, I can’t hold back my tears every time I imagine the meeting between my father and the police, when it dawned on him that he couldn’t protect his beloved daughter even after working hard his entire life, even though our family did nothing wrong. …

Translator: Min Lee

For more on #MeToo in China, we recommend the following articles:

  • In The New York Times on July 26, Javier C. Hernández and Iris Zhao write that “more than a dozen Chinese women” have taken to social media to post “gripping open letters” in recent days. The article quotes gender equality activist Li Tingting as saying: “It’s only the beginning of ‘Me Too’ in China.”

    Javier C. Hernández@HernandezJavier

    The women recount being forced into sex by bosses. They speak of being discouraged by the police from pressing charges. They recall being told their lives would be ruined if they spoke up.
    Another watershed moment for China's #MeToo

    July 27, 2018

  • SupChina’s newsletter has a good roundup of some of the latest allegations to hit China’s media and NGO sectors, including a piece by Sixth Tone on rape allegations against prominent journalist Zhang Wen. Zhang denies the allegations.

  • In What’s on Weibo’s comprehensive review of the earlier days of #MeToo in China, updated in April, author Manya Koetse explains why there was (at the time) “no China-based, Chinese #MeToo movement as there is in the U.S. and other countries.”