Nearly 70 Chinese students at the University have signed onto an April 15 statement, published on the social media site douban.com, stating that they had no involvement with a letter published two days earlier purportedly signed by “Anonymous Welseyan [sic] Chinese students.” The signatories maintain that they had no involvement in the publication of the first letter, which sought to discredit the recent actions of Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies Ao Wang.
“On behalf of the Chinese students at Wesleyan University who feel misrepresented by the letter we would like to state that the letter is not reflective of our genuine opinions,” the students’ letter reads. “We had no previous knowledge of the letter and were not consulted by anyone regarding its contents.”
Neither Wang nor the University has responded to requests for comment.
The students’ letter goes on to defend Wang and claim that the University’s reputation is independent of Professor Wang’s accusations.
When the students learned of the anonymous email, they were immediately skeptical.
“There was not a [second] I could believe it came from Wesleyan students,” said Fiona Sun ’20, who contributed to the response letter, citing awkward syntax and misspelling Wesleyan in the subject line.
Still, the students wanted to be cautious in that they could not be sure of its origins.
“There was not actual evidence so we had to be cautious with wording,” said Binxin Wang ’20, who also contributed to the letter. “We felt outraged because the people in the letter claimed to represent all of us but none of us have been consulted and never expressed our opinion before.”
Thus, several of the students soon after resolved to write the response letter to inform the administration that the letter was not representative of their views. They also sought to walk a fine line of support. While those arranging the letter were interested in distancing themselves from the email, they were careful to not be too forceful in their views on Wang, but nevertheless supportive of survivors going public with their stories.
“Some people support him, some are in a more neutral position,” Wang said. “We are supporting the #MeToo movement but we don’t want to be too absolute on the side of Professor Wang.”
Wang has accused two professors of sexual misconduct in recent months. Both have denied the allegations.
The first accusation, posted by Wang on March 10, alleged that Professor Xu Gang, a prominent tenured associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, sexually abused students for over two decades and had multiple inappropriate relationships.
Wang’s post alleged that, in one episode, a friend of his interested in studying in the United States went over to the professor’s home in China for an interview. There, Xu forcibly cuddled her, according to the accusation.
The account was posted on Douban, but it has since been deleted. While he rejects the accusations, Xu plans to resign on Aug. 16 and has been removed from his position as curator at the Shenzhen Biennale.
On April 6, Wang accused Professor Shen Yang of sexually assaulting a female student when he taught linguistics at Peking University. The student later committed suicide in 1998. Since Wang posted the accusation, two Chinese universities have severed ties with Shen.
This case has garnered international public and media attention, but cultural reforms to sexual assault face strong headwinds in China.
“People are just being really quiet, and also there are limited resource to help someone when they speak us,” said Yuki Yu ’20, a signatory of the response letter. “It’s a topic that’s come up in recent years because there are a couple other Chinese students who have come public but their posts were shut down either by the platform or, who knows, probably the university because they’re harmful to their reputation.”
In fact, the growing number of people who have joined Professor Wang in accusing Shen of sexual assault has initiated a cultural reckoning in China, as the Wall Street Journal argues in “#MeToo Meets China Censors and Students Learn a Tough Lesson.”
A decades-old case of alleged rape and suicide at a prestigious university is giving China a #MeToo moment—and showing the constraints confronted by social movements in the authoritarian-ruled country,” the Journal writes, alluding to Wang’s accusation against Shen.
Mason Mandell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @MasonMandell.
Kaye Dyja can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @Kayedyja.