Chinese professor sacked 20 years after his sexual misconduct led to student’s suicide
A Chinese professor has been sacked following outrage on the country’s social media over an alleged sexual assault which was reportedly linked to a student’s suicide 20 years ago, according to Chinese media, making him the second prominent Chinese professor this year to be fired for allegations of past sexual misconduct.
 
On April 5, an article written by Li Youyou, a former Peking University student and a friend of the victim, went viral on China social media. In the article, Li accused Shen Yang, born in 1955 and a language professor, of the assault and called for a re-examination of the case. 
 
The victim Gao Yan, who was one of the students of Shen at Peking University, committed suicide in 1998 at the age of 21. Her friends have claimed that she was raped by Shen on multiple occasions before taking her life. Gao’s supporters demanded Shen apologize for his alleged actions. 
 
Peking University where Shen taught until 2011 said in a statement on its website on Friday that it served Shen a disciplinary warning based on a police report at the time in 1998. 
 
The university also released an old document noting the results of their investigation into Gao’s suicide, which said that the school found that Shen was not responsible for Gao’s death and Shen was forced to have intimate interactions with Gao, including kissing and cuddling, because of Gao’s “mental issues.”
 
Following the university’s announcement, both the School of Liberal Arts at Nanjing University and Shanghai Normal University, where Shen holds current positions, said they had terminated his contract. 
 
Shanghai Normal University said it had been made aware of the fact that Shen had been given a demerit for “ethical misconduct” two decades ago after an investigation by Peking University into sexual harassment charges.
 
Nanjing University’s administrative department said in a statement it was unaware he had received such a punishment when he was hired in 2012.
 
But Shen has insisted that he was innocent and a victim of Gao’s “mental disorders.”
 
In an interview with The Beijing News on Friday, Shen described the accusations as “malicious defamation.”
 
On April 7, Shen responded to an interview request by the China Newsweek with a text saying there is no evidence that could support the three universities’ accusation that he had violated teaching ethics. 
 
Despite Shen’s continuous claim of innocence, comments made by Gao’s friends dominated China’s social media discussions, with netizens expressing outrage not only toward what Shen had done, but also how one of the most prominent universities in China had handled the issue.
 
The issue caused a stir amid ongoing efforts by a group of Chinese women’s rights activists to fight against sexual harassment on university campuses in China. 
 
In January this year, Chen Xiaowu, a professor of Beijing-based Beihang University, was stripped of his title and fired from the university after allegations of sexual misconduct were made against him by multiple women. Many of them spoke out via social media, contributing to the rise of the Chinese version of the #MeToo movement.
 
Following that, more than 50 professors signed an online letter calling for stricter rules to combat sexual harassment on campuses in China.
 
In China, legal interpretation of sexual harassment is still vague, and it’s not easy for the victims to defend themselves through legal processes due to the high cost of making complaints and little punishment to offenders, according to some experts and activists interviewed by the sino-us.com in January.
 
Sometimes there is also bias against the victims who are sexually harassed, according to Li Ying, director of the Beijing Yuanzhong Gender Development Center, as some people may wonder why “you are the one who is harassed instead of others. Maybe it’s because of your own behaviour or dressing.”
 
Peking University held a meeting on Sunday to discuss a set of anti-sexual harassment regulations which the university started to draft in January and claimed it is dedicated to solve issues linked to sexual harassment on Chinese university campuses, according to an announcement by the university.

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