Beijing professor suspended after sexual harassment allegations [UPDATE]

Society & Culture

A professor at Beihang University (北京航空航天大学 Běijīng Hángkōng Hángtiān Dàxué) has been suspended over accusations of sexual harassment made by a former student, as announced by the university on Sina Weibo on Monday.

The student, Luo Xixi 罗茜茜, reported Chen to the university in October. She made her story public on Monday in a Weibo post that begins: “My name is Luo Xixi, I entered Beihang as an undergraduate in 2000 and received my doctorate in 2011, I want to openly report Beihang professor of the Changjiang Scholars Program Chen Xiaowu 陈小武 for persistent sexual harassment of his female students.” She claims Chen sexually harassed multiple women in his 15 years as a teacher. She exhorts the women of Beihang, “Don’t be afraid, if you face harm, we need to have the courage to stand up and say no.”

This is the second major sexual harassment scandal on a Chinese campus in the last two weeks. On December 20, two deans at Nanchang University were fired over accusations of sexual assault and a subsequent cover-up.

Luo, who is currently living in the U.S., recalls that this past October 15, her husband asked her, “Do you know the big news at Hollywood?” It was then that she saw Alyssa Milano’s “Me too” tweet that launched a global campaign.

“I said a silent ‘Me too’ to myself,” Luo wrote. “Then I breathed deeply and began my day.”

As luck would have it, that very day her WeChat news feed had a link to a discussion on Zhihu (the Chinese equivalent of Quora) titled, “How do we judge Beihang instructor Chen Xiaowu?” The post accused Chen of sexual harassment, detailing how he would request sex in exchange for academic favoritism. “I was dumbstruck, and a little invigorated, but also disbelieving,” Luo wrote in her WeChat post. “It wasn’t because I doubted the Zhihu post’s authenticity, but because I couldn’t believe, after all these years, someone finally had the courage to stand up.”

Luo revealed on Zhihu how Chen also assaulted her 12 years prior. (The Zhihu post has since been deleted — Luo suspects it was because Chen became aware of the post and put pressure on his students to take it down. This Quora post notes that Chen was also accused of stealing authorship from his students’ papers.)

At the end of 2004, when Luo was a Ph.D. student, Chen pressured her to go with him to his sister’s vacant apartment. Once there, he locked the doors and began complaining about his wife. He then tried to force himself upon her. When Luo cried and said she was a virgin, Chen backed off. According to Luo’s account, Chen drove her home and told her, “Don’t tell anyone what happened today, I was just testing you. When I recruit students, I’m not merely looking for smarts, I’m also looking for moral standards. You’ve passed the test just now, your moral conduct’s not bad.”

Scared, Luo kept the incident to herself. Her years studying under him were like “a living nightmare,” she said, and she sank into a depression. She seized the first chance she got to study abroad, in part to get away from Chen.

Soon after posting on Zhihu, Luo made the matter known to the university; one of her requests, as outlined in an October 18 email, was that Chen’s students be free to select new mentors, because one of Chen’s intimidation tactics was telling his mentees that if they switched out, no one would want them. Luo created a WeChat group with some of Chen’s other victims (who have chosen to remain anonymous).

“Before deciding to go public, I learned that in China, there is little to no punishment of those who sexually harass women, and it’s very difficult to prove guilt,” Luo wrote. She noted that in the U.S., while harassment exists, there are guidelines to deal with it.

“The protections in place for women and children in the U.S. were earned through blood and tears, gradually progressing from none to a little, and then a little more. If we’re to start somewhere in China, should it not be from the supposedly safe haven of the school campus? My objective in revealing this is to create a starting point.”

Luo said she would report this incident to the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection as well as the Ministry of Education.

Chen said he didn’t violate any laws or break any rules, according to Beijing Youth Daily. He said people should wait for results of the school’s investigation, and that because this matter touches upon his reputation, he “reserves his legal rights” (to sue).

The university, in its official response on Weibo, said it has created a work team to investigate the matter, and added that it had “zero tolerance” for immoral behavior from its instructors.

According to his profile on the Beihang University website, Chen has been researching and teaching at the school since 2002, after receiving his Ph.D. from Beihang the year prior.

UPDATE, 1/12, 1 am Beijing time: Beihang announced on Thursday night that after a thorough investigation, “Chen Xiaowu sexually harassed his students” and committed a “severe violation of the moral and behavioral code of teachers, with deleterious effects on society.” Citing zero tolerance for Chen’s kind of behavior, the school has stripped him of teaching duties.

Also see:

China’s sexual harassment problem