Scholar sacked after #MeToo comes to China
A Chinese university has sacked a leading scholar following accusations of sexual misconduct against him by numerous women, the result of a campaign heralded by his chief accuser as the start of a Chinese chapter of the #MeToo movement.
Beihang University in Beijing said in a message on its official microblog late on Thursday that an investigation found that Chen Xiaowu’s behavior had violated professional ethics and created an “odious influence on society.”
It said Chen has been relieved of his duties, including as professor and deputy head of graduate students.
“Morality and ability are paired; actions and talent are one. This is the demand of Beihang’s values and the school has zero tolerance for violations of professorial ethics,” Beihang said in its statement, pledging also to upgrade mechanisms and increase its attention to such issues.
The China News Service said the move followed accusations of sexual misconduct against Chen by Luo Xixi, a Chinese academic now based in the United States, and at least five other women. The allegations date from up to 12 years ago.
Luo hailed the school’s decision on her Weibo microblog as a “victory in the initial stage” and said she and the other women involved would continue to monitor Beihang’s handling of the matter.
“Women who have awoken to themselves are even more powerful,” Luo wrote, while congratulating Chen’s other accusers who had chosen to remain anonymous.
“Kindness and bravery are our most beautiful expressions,” she wrote.
Chen is among a select few named by the Education Ministry to the Cheung Kong Scholars Program, considered one of the country’s highest academic honors.
The program funded by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing is also known as the Changjiang Scholars or the Yangtze River Scholars.
According to reports, Chen holds a doctorate and multiple honors in computer engineering. His personal profile was removed from Beihang’s website last Friday.
According to a December 31 post on her official Weibo microblog using the #MeToo hashtag, Luo said she was inspired by the movement originating in the US to expose sexual predators.
Luo said she was a graduate student under Chen’s advisement in 2004, when he drove her to his sister’s home, ostensibly to water the flowers. After he attempted to force himself on her, Luo resisted and Chen backed off, driving her home and telling her to keep quiet about the matter.
Luo said she suffered from depression after the incident and subsequently moved to the US to continue her studies.
“I know there is a risk in standing up. My family’s privacy is my biggest concern,” Luo wrote. “I know my status as being overseas might expose me to nasty attacks, so it is a double-edged sword,” she wrote.
Luo’s going public with her accusations will likely stir women to come out with their own stories, said Fang Gang, director of the Institute of Sexualities and Gender at Beijing Forestry University.
“This will definitely influence more females who have experienced sexual harassment to step out,” Fang said.