Famed Chinese drama teacher accused of sexual assault and predatory behavior

Society & Culture

Assaults on overseas trips. Groping during private lessons. Uncomfortable assignments. Scores of Chinese young women have broken their silence and exposed a drama teacher of years-long predatory behavior and sexual harassment, sparking a #MeToo discussion on social media.

Du Yingzhe. Photo via Weibo

Scores of graduates from Yǐnglùzhàntái 影路站台, one of the most popular private prep schools in China, have come forward with sexual assault allegations against Dù Yīngzhé 杜英哲, the institute’s founder and principal. The incidents allegedly occurred over the course of 15 years and affected hundreds of students.

The scandal broke on Monday morning when Shī Zǐyí 施子怡, a first-year student at Beijing Film Academy, published a 5,000-word post on her WeChat public account, which quickly went viral, accusing Du, 40, of preying on students — including underage girls — and abusing his power since the founding of his school in 2007.

In the post, the writer says she first met Du in 2019 when attending his class. After obtaining her personal WeChat account through a group chat created for the class, Du started “paying extra attention” to Shi and attempted to assign private writing assignments about sexual topics to her, which she declined.

Du also offered to enroll Shi in a literature summer camp in Thailand. Shi turned it down and later learned that the camp was notorious for being a place where Du sexually harassed and assaulted young women. In the article, Shi recalls Du bragging to her at one point that he “has slept with hundreds of students” and describing himself as “the godfather in the film industry.”

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Shi says that Du eventually stopped harassing her after she refused his sexual advances multiple times. “I just entered adulthood at the time. I didn’t dare speak up because I was afraid of being slut-shamed by the public or facing retaliatory action from him,” Shi says. But after talking to other victims with similar experiences and identifying a pattern in Du’s predatory behavior, Shi decided to come forward.

“What he’s been doing probably constitutes a grave case of sexual exploitation that lasts the longest and involves the most victims and minors in the history of Chinese education,” Shi writes. The post also contains personal accounts from two other alleged victims, both of whom were unidentified former students of Du’s. In one complaint, the girl detailed multiple incidents of groping when she was 18 and how Du manipulated her classmate into a sexual relationship with promises of academic and professional opportunities. In another story, a participant in the writing camp recounted an occasion in which Du tried to rape her after luring her into a private trip in Thailand.

Shi signs off by sharing information about a WeChat group where other victims are encouraged to join and submit stories. She concludes the article by writing, “Du Yingzhe, I have no personal agenda against you. My only request is that you leave the teaching profession for good and stop harming girls. You should also apologize to all the girls you’ve hurt.”

Founded in 2007, Yingluzhantai is a Beijing-based college-prep school that trains students for interviews and written exams required to get into art universities. Among aspiring actors and filmmakers, the school has a reputation for being the gateway to China’s top art colleges, such as the Central Academy of Drama. Du himself is a graduate from the Beijing Film Academy and has worked in the entertainment industry as a scriptwriter for years.

After Shi’s post was published, several hashtags related to her claims began trending on Weibo, with the most popular one generating more than 600 million views. As Shi’s accusations gained attention online, a string of major news outlets, including CCTV, posted about the story, adding pressure on Du to respond.

Although he hasn’t released a statement yet, a slew of screenshots of Du’s WeChat Moments, shared by Shi on Weibo, show him countering the claims and calling them the result of a misunderstanding of his teaching method.

“My teaching strategy is controversial, but it’s very effective,” Du writes in one screenshot. “There’s nothing wrong about the #MeToo movement, but we have to acknowledge that there are some people who are utilizing it to make themselves look good.” Other screenshots shared by Shi seem to show Du reaching out to some former students who spoke out and questioning their intentions.

Meanwhile, the school founded by Du was quick to declare independence from him. In screenshots of WeChat posts published by Shi, several current employees at the institution, including teachers and administrative staff, claim that Du has already left the school and that the school shouldn’t be held responsible for his behavior. Their immediate dissociation was called out by Shi, who accused the staff on Weibo of turning a blind eye to Du’s acts, especially after parents of an assaulted girl protested in front of the school in 2013. “When you were complicit, you never called him a scumbag,” Shi wrote. “Do you have any conscience left?”

This morning, Du followed up on her original post, publishing a collection of 18 personal testimonies that she has received, which ranged from inappropriate touching and emotional manipulation to assault and rape by Du. “We’ve actually received more submissions and evidence than we have shown. It occurred to us that Du was involved in something darker and bigger than we had imagined. We are currently organizing and verifying all the claims,” she writes in a WeChat article published today.

The reckoning at Du’s school comes at a time when China’s #MeToo movement has lost momentum due to legal setbacks and censorship. Although the movement has achieved many things since it took off in the country in 2018, including changing the public discourse around sexual assault and accountability, reshaping definitions of boundaries in the workplace, and transforming many industries such as entertainment and tech, criminal convictions are still rare for the powerful. In the latest blow to the beleaguered movement, a Beijing court rejected an appeal in a landmark #MeToo case in August, upholding a 2021 judgment that found Zhōu Xiǎoxuán 周晓璇 (also known by the pseudonym Xiánzǐ 弦子) had insufficient evidence to prove that popular CCTV host Zhū Jūn 朱军 sexually harassed her while she was an intern at the state broadcaster.