Jingyao Settles #MeToo Case Against Liu Qiangdong

Just two days before the civil trial of one of China’s biggest #MeToo cases was scheduled to begin, the two sides announced Saturday that the case had been resolved for an undisclosed sum. Liu Jingyao, the plaintiff, had accused JD.com billionaire founder Liu Qiangdong (Richard Liu) of raping her in 2018 when she was a student at the University of Michigan. After a years-long battle in the US legal system and in the Chinese media, feminists have hailed this latest development as a progressive if unsatisfactory step in the fight against gender violence.

Xinmei Shen and Yaling Jiang of the South China Morning Post reported it the joint statement announcing the agreement:

“The incident between Jingyao Liu and Richard Liu in Minnesota in 2018 resulted in a misunderstanding that has consumed substantial public attention and caused deep suffering to the parties and their families,” said Florin Roebig, an office of ‘lawyers representing the plaintiff Liu. a statement on Sunday.

“Today, the parties agreed to set aside their differences and resolve their legal dispute to avoid further pain and suffering caused by the lawsuit,” the firm said. He added that there will be no further comment from all parties involved.

However, JD.com founder Liu issued a separate statement on Sunday, apologizing to his wife Zhang Zetian and thanking her for her tolerance and support. “I hope my life and work can get back to normal as soon as possible,” he said. [Source]

The settlement left many shocked and struggling to judge guilt in the case. Liu Jingyao told The New York Times in 2019 she would never get it because that would involve signing a confidentiality agreement. While it’s likely, it’s unclear if she was forced to sign one by this deal. “He said he wanted to fight until the end, but it is very difficult” Chinese feminist activist Liang Xiaowen told the BBC, adding: “It’s a relief for her that it’s settled, but she feels guilty that she didn’t see it through to the end. She is very grateful for everyone who believed in her and says she would do anything to help others in the same situation.” Some wondered if the translation of the word “misunderstanding” the plea agreement also featured a public relations tactic by the defendant to undermine the rape allegation. Lili Pike at Grid News describes how different audiences interpreted the statement:

Sara Liao, assistant professor of media studies at Penn State, said the debate reflected different interpretations and translations of the brief statement that accompanied the agreement and was released by both sides. Liao said feminists and groups sympathetic to Jingyao emphasized language that referred to “differences” between the two sides, which had chosen to “settle their legal dispute.” Meanwhile, Jingyao’s detractors latched onto the line that the 2018 incident “resulted in a misunderstanding,” as a way of suggesting that Jingyao was admitting that his claim had been a “misunderstanding” and that he had been motivated by compensation throughout.

“This debate relates to the long-standing victim shaming associated with rape and sexual harassment,” Liao said, “but it also reflects the powerful public relations campaigns of [JD.com] and the misogynistic culture prevalent in China.” [Source]

The power differential between defendant Liu Qiangdong and plaintiff Liu Jingyao was a constant theme throughout the legal battle. At the time of the incident in 2018, Liu Qiangdong was 45 years old and Liu Jingyao was 21. According to statements and testimonies of several people, pressured her to drink an excessive amount of alcohol at an all-male business dinner and forcibly groped her during a shared limo ride home before raping her later that night. As evidence was being gathered, video and audio clips of Liu Jingyao’s accounts of the incident, edited to undercut his claims, circulated on Chinese social media in what many of his supporters claim was part of a coordinated public relations campaign to sway opinion public in favor of Liu Qiangdong. Although he stepped down as CEO of JD.com in April, he’s been around ever since charged nearly a billion dollars in stock and leftovers among the 150 richest people in the world. Liu Jingyao was forced to drop out of school and continue to suffer of PTSD and constant misogynistic attacks online.

As Shen Lu and Rebecca Feng of The Wall Street Journal reported, many of Liu Jingyao’s supporters remained steadfast in their support:

Supporters of Ms. Liu, who had planned a rally for her in Minneapolis after Monday’s initial remarks, expressed support for her decision to settle.

Sunday afternoon, about 10 of the followers of Ms. Liu gathered outside the Hennepin County Government Center, the site of the court, holding signs and chanting in Chinese: “We refuse to drink culture. We say no to victim blaming. We stand with you, Jingyao.

Anna Zhao, a 28-year-old graduate student in Washington state, left home at 4 a.m. Sunday to catch a flight and arrived in Minneapolis just in time for the rally. “If this is the last demonstration, I have to be here for it,” said Ms. Zhao, who is a Chinese national and attended the University of Minnesota as a student during the same period as Ms. Liu. [Source]

Outside the Minnesota district court where the trial was to be held, a group of Liu Jingyao’s supporters described how their solidarity was important to the feminist movement, regardless of the outcome, and how her case also has helped us grow as feminists:

For Jingyao’s supporters, the settlement was a “communal victory”. A supporter named Gigi told The Guardian that “Jingyao decided that this case had many more details to reveal through the [legal] process and was prepared to take it to court,” she added: “With so many #MeToo survivors coming forward, we can humanize the cases, we see them, and they don’t have to be the perfect victim. We’ve come a long way.” Amy Qin and Chang Che of The New York Times described how Jingyao’s persistence in seeking justice through the legal system encouraged a larger public conversation about sexual harassment:

“One of the most important things that came out of Jingyao’s case is that it has been widely discussed by the public. I think this has been very important for Chinese women and for Chinese society in general,” said Lü Pin, a Chinese feminist activist based in New York. “It exposed the role of wealth and power in cases of sexual assault and exposed the sexual violence embedded in Chinese drinking culture.”

[…] In a post on his personal WeChat account, Zhou Xiaoxuan, who last year lost a landmark #MeToo case in a Chinese court […]praised Ms. Liu for his “dedication” and “persistence”.

[…] “Jingyao could have settled this under the table a long time ago, but he fought for four years so that it could be a public outcome,” he said. [Liang Xiaowen, a Chinese feminist activist and lawyer in New York]. “We are all grateful for what he has done to help raise awareness of rape myths, victim-blaming culture and toxic drinking culture. And we still have more to do.” [Source]

Another supporter of Liu Jingyao stated that instead of simply moving on, people should use the agreement as a starting point to understand how survivors of sexual violence by powerful men can successfully fight back for their rights and try to recover their lives. She added: “The system is rigged, that’s the way the world is. But if you make an effort to improve it, whatever the outcome, you can have peace of mind.” In a statement released after the agreement, the Jingyao Feminist Support Group he urged continued solidarity and action to protect Jingyao and those who speak out in her defense:

[W]We must continue our efforts to resist and correct patriarchal interpretations of settlement. The outcome of the settlement does not protect Jingyao from the stigmatization of national public opinion, nor does it reduce the censorship to which supporters and organizers may be subjected. Many feminist activists and volunteers have thrown themselves into the public eye and exposed themselves to vulnerable environments in support of this case. [Source]

Liu Jingyao, like many other #MeToo public figures in China, resisted censorship, repression and the attack on the victims. Her activists have claimed that many of her social media accounts and posts related to her case were removed by government censors seeking to silence their voices. In August, a court in Beijing rejected Zhou Xiaoxuan’s last resortalso known as Xianzi, in her sexual assault case against popular CCTV anchor Zhu Jun. Like Liu Jingyao, Xianzi was a 21-year-old intern at the time, while Zhu was 50, and has faced an onslaught of censorship i nationalist attacks online. Peng Shuai, the tennis star who accused former CCP Politburo Standing Committee member Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault in November 2021, did Censored WeChat post and remains in a state of forced disappearance and reappearance. #MeToo activist Huang Xueqin also remains detained (along with labor activist Wang Jianbing) after her forced disappearance more than a year ago

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