China’s Zhou Xiaoxuan loses appeal in landmark #MeToo case

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A Beijing court on Wednesday dealt a serious blow to China’s beleaguered #MeToo movement, rejecting the appeal of a woman whose harassment claims against a TV host had inspired dozens of others to open up about their assaults.

At a closed-door trial, the court said it had “rejected” the appeal of Zhou Xiaoxuan, 29, against a previous ruling that dismissed her claims due to insufficient evidence, Reuters reported.

Zhou had sued Zhu Jun, a star presenter at the state-owned CCTV broadcaster, for emotional damages after accusing him of groping and forcibly kissing her while she interned at the channel in 2014.

She first came forward in 2018, using the online alias Xianzi to accuse Zhu of harassment on the popular Chinese blogging service Weibo. Zhu has denied the allegations and lodged a defamation suit against Zhou.

But her account ignited a firestorm in China and galvanized countless other women to publicly share their own sexual assault stories.

Beijing court dismisses landmark #MeToo case as authorities censor discussion

In recent years, Chinese authorities have taken some steps to strengthen laws against sexual abuse — but the country’s women’s rights movement remains consistently under fire, with some officials claiming it’s a tool used by Western nations to destabilize China. As a result, sexual harassment victims in China often avoided filing complaints, worried they could face a public backlash, rights advocates say.

Zhou first brought her case to the Hadian People’s Court, filing a grievance under the “personality rights” law that covers complaints related to an individual’s body and health. But in 2020, China passed a new civil code aimed at clamping down on workplace sexual harassment — and Zhou’s lawyers then asked that her suit be considered under the new framework.

Still, the court ruled in 2021 that she did not meet the burden of proof. She vowed to appeal her case, despite what she said was a growing emotional toll from the proceedings.

“I don’t think I can do anything more,” Zhou said outside the courthouse after her case was dismissed last year. “I can’t do that for another three years.”

Ahead of Wednesday’s ruling, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported that Zhou’s legal team had focused on gathering more evidence, including surveillance footage and police transcripts of interviews with her parents after she reported the incident.

“Deep down, I am very disappointed,” Zhou told the Guardian. “But perhaps at this stage and in such a case, the fact that I lost the battle could provoke more reflection on the real difficulty of being a woman in today’s China.”

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