Reactions to JD founder’s alleged sex crime show just how far #MeToo has to go in China

Let’s talk about the alleged sex crime and subsequent arrest of JD.com chief Liu Qiangdong. After all, everyone else is.

US police say that the allegation of first-degree rape, which reportedly took place in Minneapolis, is still under investigation, although they’ve released Liu from custody and allowed him to return to China. JD.com has consistently stated that their founder is the victim of ungrounded accusations.

Meanwhile, the Chinese internet remains aflutter. Four days after the initial arrest, “Liu Qiangdong incident eyewitness” was still ranked at the top of Weibo searches, with 1.8 million hits.

Weibo screenshot from Sep 4 2018

Click the keyword and you’ll find many, many police mug shots of Liu Qiangdong, as well as (unconfirmed) receipts for 32 bottles of expensive wine on the night that the alleged crime took place.

Accompanying headlines – “Woman in Liu Qiangdong incident revealed to have been pressured to drink lots of wine ” – and content paint a picture of a powerful tech titan using his money and privilege to (again, allegedly) take advantage of someone.

Look more closely, though, and you’ll find another, equally ugly narrative. Dotting Weibo posts and WeChat groups are photos of a busty babe in a series of revealing outfits, who some netizens claim was the victim. You can almost hear the air quotes around the word, not-so-subtly shifting the blame from attacker to the attacked.

In fact, the woman is Chongqing net celeb Jiang Jieting, who has since publicly announced that she has no connection with the case and is planning to file a legal complaint against rumormongers.

By that, she’s referring to posts and even articles over the last few days that have called her out or compared her to Liu’s wife, slimly-built Zhang Zetian of “milk tea sister” fame. The implied question – who would you/Liu Qiangdong pick? – has been answered in microblogs like the ones below.

A Weibo user contrasts pictures of the two, concluding that “I still choose ‘milk tea’ [Zhang Zetian]”

Obviously, unsavory gossip on social media isn’t an accurate reflection of China as a whole. But it shows that national discussion of sexual assault, as well as gender-inflected balances of power, still revolves in part around staid attitudes towards women.

As the online furor around Liu Qiangdong’s (still alleged) crime continues, a likely unrelated woman has been drawn into the fray and cast as a seductress. And while netizens have expressed sympathy for Zhang Zetian, others have implicitly criticized her appearance. It’s not exactly a triumph of feminism.

Elsewhere in the Chinese tech world, ride-hailing companies are still dealing with the fallout after two female passengers were murdered by Didi Hitch drivers over the course of four months. While Didi has rushed to make amends and add safety features, multiple media outlets and observers have questioned the design of the carpooling service in the first place. By marketing it as a way to meet pretty women and letting drivers leave comments on passengers’ appearances, China’s biggest ride-hailing app may have set the scene for abuse.

Similarly unhelpful, although for opposite reasons, were online recommendations for Chinese women to take measures like staying home at night in the wake of the first Didi murder case. As SupChina reported, a professor at Chinese People’s Public Security University drew particular criticism for his impractical and sometimes insulting suggestions.

This past July, women and men in China’s burgeoning #Metoo movement were making waves as well as headlines for standing up against powerful people in a range of industries. A little over a month later, news of Liu Qiangdong’s arrest in the US has again highlighted the issue of sexual assault, but without empowering anyone in the process.