Does China have Weinsteins?

As world mulls mogul’s fall, Chinese analyse sexual harassment at home


The eyes have it: Weinstein checks out Fan Bingbing in Cannes

Sometimes a picture can be worth a thousand words. The image of Harvey Weinstein leering at top Chinese actress Fan Bingbing falls into that category (see photo).

Weinstein’s alleged victims now include French, Italian, British, American and Vietnamese stars. One wonders how long it will be till a Chinese actress comes forward…

Meanwhile revelations over the film producer’s decades of sexual harassment have led to introspection in China over its own issues with the same problem.

A survey in 2013 by the Sunflower Women’s Worker Centre, a Guangzhou-based NGO, found that 70% of female factory workers had suffered sexual harassment ranging from offensive comments to leering, obscene phone calls, flashing and requests for sex. And 15% of respondents left their jobs as a result of the unwanted attention.

Another survey by the China Youth Daily in 2015 found that 53% of women had experienced inappropriate touching or body contact on buses or trains, prompting the city of Zhengzhou to set up a women-only bus service (see WiC324) in response.

In July, a young woman was repeatedly stabbed after she slapped a man for molesting her on a Beijing bus. Meanwhile this May a former student at the Beijing Film Academy accused the school of withholding her diploma after she complained about being forced into a relationship with her tutor’s father.

Another student took to social media to claim other teachers at the academy were known for “introducing their students to powerful men”.

This week Christoph Rehage, a German alumnus of the school, appeared to add weight to those allegations. “The Chinese movie industry is full of abuse. Many actresses, especially the younger ones, are being treated like prostitutes,” he wrote on Twitter.

In recent months there have also been news stories out of the banking sector.

A woman at HuaXia accused a manager of docking her pay when she resisted his advances, while another woman at Minsheng said she was threatened with the sack if she refused to sleep with her boss.

“There are other options… it depends on what you decide to do,” wrote the manager in a series of now public WeChat messages.

The bank initially refused to act on the woman’s complaints because nothing physical had happened.

Later it was forced to sack the manager due to a public outcry.

Yet despite the widespread knowledge that this goes on, Chinese papers have depicted the Weinstein scandal as something that only happens overseas.

“Chinese men are taught to be protective of their women. Behaving inappropriately towards women, including harassing them sexually, contradicts every Chinese traditional value and custom,” said the China Daily in an opinion piece titled “Weinstein case demonstrates cultural differences”.

(The article was published on Monday before being removed a day later when internet users reacted angrily over the author’s claim that sexual harassment is just a Western problem.)

Another article by Xinhua said sexual harassment was part of official culture in the US. “Bosses expect favours as part of the job,” it said. Even by Chinese standards this is abnormal. One suspects that if the ruling Communist Party were not holding its all-important Congress there would be a more open discussion in the media of the problem.

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