A sexual harassment case reexamined 20 years later
Published: Apr 09, 2018 10:23 PM

The firing of Shen Yang, a Chinese scholar accused of sexually harassing Gao Yan, a female Peking University student, more than 20 years ago, has generated intensive debate online. The victim, Shen's star student at the prestigious seat of learning, committed suicide in 1998 at the age of 21, which her friends and family insist is closely linked to Shen's misconduct. On the 20th anniversary of Gao's death, her friends called for a re-examination of the case as part of efforts to commemorate the victim and find justice for her. Shen, who had already left Peking University, was employed by two other universities in Nanjing and Shanghai, and both have clarified their intention to terminate his employment.

Shen is the second eminent Chinese academic to be toppled this year amid allegations of sex abuse. In the previous case, Chen Xiaowu was dismissed by Beihang University after he was publicly accused by his former student Luo Qianqian of sexual misconduct. In recent years, a wave of sex scandals fed the rise of the #MeToo campaign in China, enabling people to speak out against sexual violence and gender discrimination on campus and in the workplace.

An increasing number of Chinese women have become more courageous and willing to share their sexual harassment experiences, and encouragingly, their allegations have been taken more seriously than before.

For instance, Peking University has vowed to formulate a set of anti-sexual harassment rules, the first such set of regulations dedicated to addressing the issue on campus. Mechanisms are being explored and established in other colleges to impose tougher supervision on tutors as well.

Furthermore, punishments for educators charged and found guilty of ethical misconduct are approved of and welcomed by the public. While netizens were known for their critical voices in the past, they have expressed the utmost support for the universities' handling of Shen's case.

This is valid evidence of an improved legal environment in China. The rule of law has struck deep roots into the hearts of the people. Li Youyou, who played a leading role in reporting Shen's misconduct, explained that Chen's dismissal motivated her to call for a re-examination of the case after 20 years. "I believe it's time for me to speak out for my friend, [after Chen received his due punishment]," Li was quoted as saying.

Trust in the law is the fundamental reason that encouraged Li and her friends to publicly accuse Shen more than 20 years after the tragedy.

While the Chinese government has been unswervingly advancing the rule of law, the public's gradually developing habit of combating misconduct in accordance with the law is also encouraging. Although construction of China's rule of law still has a long way to go, #MeToo-like cases have undeniably highlighted the country's judicial progress in recent years.

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