By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN
BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese university has sacked a prestigious scholar following accusations of sexual misconduct against him by multiple women, the result of a campaign heralded by his chief accuser as the start of a Chinese chapter of the (hash)MeToo movement.
Beihang University in Beijing said in a message on its official microblog on Jan. 11 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 official China News Service said the move followed accusations of sexual misconduct against Chen by Luo Xixi, a Chinese academic now based in the U.S., and at least five other women. The allegations date from as far back as a dozen years ago.
Chen could not immediately be contacted on Jan. 12, although he was quoted by the official newspaper Beijing Youth Daily earlier this month as saying that he had done nothing that was illegal or violated school discipline. Chen said he would await the result of the school’s investigation.
Calls to Chen’s office at Beihang rang unanswered on Jan. 12 and a graduate school receptionist said she had not seen him.
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 and the Yangtze River Scholars.
According to reports, he holds a doctorate and multiple honors in computer engineering. His personal profile was removed from Beihang’s website on Jan. 12.
According to a Dec. 31 post on her official Weibo microblog using the (hash)MeToo hashtag, Luo said she was inspired by the movement originating in the U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
Little research has been done on the issue of sexual misconduct in China, where men overwhelmingly dominate leadership positions in politics and the economy.
However, 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.