It was a busy week last week for China’s media. Once again, we’ve picked out a few stories that merit particular attention. First, we note the wave of accusations last week of sexual harassment against prominent figures in the media. These accusations, the latest in China’s domestic #MeToo Movement, relied to a great extent on the platform afforded by WeChat.

WeChat also played an important role in the development of another major story last week, the revelation of the sale of tainted vaccines produced by produced by Changchun Changsheng Life Sciences, one of the country’s largest producers. Concerns about vaccines produced by Changchun Changsheng and others had been voiced online for nearly a week before a single article, “King of Vaccines” (疫苗之王), was posted to a WeChat public account and went hugely viral. The article can be credited with advancing the story and eventually forcing the government to respond more robustly.

This Week in China’s Media 
July 21 – July 27

Online Accusations of Sexual Harassment  Hit the Media, Prompting Discussion of China’s “MeToo” Movement
WeMedia Article Prompts Doubts About Vaccine Inspection System
Jiang Jianguo (蒋建国) Removed as Head of the State Council Information Office, Replacement Not Yet Decided
Facebook’s Company in China is Shut Down, Possible Links to China-US Trade Tensions
Shandong Calls for More ‘Supervision By Public Opinion’ Directed at Local Administration

[1] Online Accusations of Sexual Harassment Hit the Media, Prompting Discussion of China’s “MeToo” Movement

Since October 2017, the #metoo hashtag has been widely used on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram as women report cases of sexual harassment and share their experiences. This week, China experienced its own wave of #metoo reports focussing in particular on media and public intellectuals.

July 23 — An anonymous female volunteer posts a long article to a WeChat group accusing Yi You Charity head Lei Chuang (雷闯) of sexual assault in an incident happening 3 years earlier.
July 23 (evening) — The founder of “Natural University,” well-known environmental activist Feng Yongeng (冯永锋) is accused of sexual assault, physical assault and rape by several different women.
July 25 — An article called, “Zhang Wen: Please Stop Your Violations” (章文, 请停止你的侵害), goes viral online, accusing well-known media personality Zhang Wen (章文), a member of the editorial board of China Newsweekly, of rape in an encounter on May 15, 2018. Zhang Wen denies the accusations in a letter from his lawyer and in a media interview. Writer Jiang Fangzhou (蒋方舟) and journalist Yi Xiaohe (易小荷) come forward to also accuse Jiang of sexual harassment.
July 26 — An anonymous web users accused China Central Television anchor Zhu Jun (朱军) of sexual harassment dating back to 2014. The accusation is reported on the Weibo account of Phoenix Online, but is continually deleted by censors.

At 2:56PM on July 27, Caixin Media posted a follow-up report on the accusations against Zhu Jun called “Female Intern Accuses Zhu Jun of Sexual Harassment” (女实习生指控朱军性骚扰). According to the report, the victim actually reported the abuse to police at the time accompanied by teachers, fellow students and a lawyer, but in the end nothing came of the case. By the evening of the 27th, the Caixin Media report had been deleted.

Some commentators pointed out that the fact that the focus in this recent wave of sexual assault allegations was on men in the university, charity and media sectors was not an indication of unique problems in these areas, but rather a reflection on the difficulty and sensitivity of reporting such abuses when they involve powerful men within the system.

Key Chinese Reports:
WeChat Public Account “Living” (在人间): 一直删除 新进展
WeChat Public Account “Living” (CM大大): #Me Too#对性侵勇敢说“不”!

[2] WeMedia Article Prompts Doubts About Vaccine Inspection System

In mid-July, a scandal quietly broke online in China concerning safety concerns about vaccines produced by Changchun Changsheng Life Sciences Limited (长春长生生物科技有限责任公司), known for short as Changchun Changsheng (长春长生). According to a notice from the China Food and Drug Administration, the company had been ordered to stop production, and its Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certification (生产质量管理规范证书) had been revoked. According to a news report by the Shanghai-based outlet Jiemian, the investigation had been prompted by an older staff member working inside a production facility who had come forward. Despite concern about the case online, it simmered for nearly a week before becoming a full-fledged national scandal.

Finally, on July 21, a post made to the WeChat public account “Shou Lou Chu” (兽楼处) threw oil onto the embers. The post, called “King of Vaccines” (疫苗之王), drew more than five million reads before finally being deleted, leaving behind a notice saying it was a “violation of laws and regulations” (涉嫌违法违规). A version of the post is still available here.

The “King of Vaccines” post provided an overview of publicly available information about the vaccine scandal, and revealed that Changchun Changsheng had cheated safety tests in the production of its rabbies vaccines, and that other vaccines manufactured by the company had failed safety tests, though an estimated 250,000 problem doses had already been sold on the market.

This is a rare, and relatively new, instance a post from a WeChat public account having an immense impact on the direction of public opinion in China. At 11PM on July 22, the day after the “King of Vaccines” post, an article appeared on the website of China’s central government: “Li Keqiang Issues Official Comment on the Vaccine Incident: We Must Give the People of the Country a Clear Explanation” (李克强就疫苗事件作出批示:必须给全国人民一个明明白白的交代). The article said: “Premier Li Keqiang has issued official comments on the vaccine incident: This vaccine scandal has crossed a moral red line for the people, and we must give the people of the country a clear explanation.”

Key Chinese Reports:
WeChat Public Account “National Business Daily” (每日经济新闻):《疫苗之王》火爆朋友圈,牵出隐秘富豪发迹史

[3] Jiang Jianguo (蒋建国) Removed as Head of the State Council Information Office, Replacement Not Yet Decided

Since January 2015, Jiang Jianguo has served as director of the State Council Information Office, and as a deputy director of the Central Propaganda Department.

On July 25, China’s Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security issued a routine announcement on appointments and dismissals in which it was revealed that Jiang Jianguo (蒋建国) would be relieved of his duties as head of the State Council Information Office, a position he has held since 2015.

As of July 27, a replacement for Jiang has still not been formerly announced. However, some speculated that Xu Lin (徐麟), a close ally of Xi Jinping and current head of the Cyberspace Administration of China, would replace Jiang. Others have speculated that Jiang’s replacement may be due to the recognition within the top leadership that the overseas propaganda strategies under Jiang, emphasizing China’s growing dominance as a global power, have failed in light of pushback from the United States and other countries.

Key Chinese Reports:
China.com.cn (中国网): 国务院任免国家工作人员
United Daily News (联合新闻网): 扭轉中國形象 習近平親信傳將出掌宣傳部門

[4] Facebook’s Company in China is Shut Down, Possible Links to China-US Trade Tensions

The New York Times and other international media reported on July 25 that China had withdrawn approval for the setup of a Facebook subsidiary in the city of Hangzhou. Facebook has said publicly that it planned to use the subsidiary to set up an innovation hub. On July 26, Securities Daily (证券日报) reported that the status of the planned company — Facebook Technology (Hangzhou) Ltd. (脸书科技(杭州)有限公司) — had already been designated “revoked” (撤销). Currently, no information about the company is available through China’s National Enterprise Credit Information Publicity System. Concerning the reasons for the denial of approval for Facebook’s subsidiary in China, a Foreign Ministry spokesperson said at a press conference on July 26 that the question should be directed to the “responsible department” — presumably meaning the State Administration for Industry and Commerce.

Key Chinese Reports:
Securities Daily (证券日报): Facebook在华子公司被撤 财报公布后股价暴跌超20%

[5] Shandong Calls for More ‘Supervision By Public Opinion’ Directed at Local Administration

According to a report in Dazhong Daily (大众日报), the official newspaper of the provincial Party committee in Shandong province, Provincial Party Secretary Liu Jiayi (刘家义) chaired a meeting on ideology and propaganda on July 23 during which he urged “news units” (新闻单位) to intensify so-called “supervision by public opinion” (舆论监督) — a practice often associated with investigative reporting, or the monitoring by the media of instances of corruption or negligence. Liu said that cases in which local officials inadequately implement the policies of the Central Party, or in which they violate laws and regulations or do not heed the concerns voiced by the people, must be “firmly exposed.”

On July 25, Jilu Evening News (齐鲁晚报), a provincial-level evening newspaper, ran a commentary called “Strengthening Supervision by Public Opinion, The Time is Right” (加大舆论监督力度,正当其时).  The commentary criticized unspecified government departments for “causing obstructions” (关卡压) and “dragging their feet” (推绕拖) as a matter of convention. The commentary said that supervision by public opinion played a crucial role in breaking through these bottlenecks and resolving key issues.

While the call for greater “supervision” may sound like a positive development, we need of course to be cautious. Generally, a call like this by a top provincial leader would be a call essentially for top-down monitoring by the leadership using Party media. It cannot be construed as giving license to media generally to conduct bottom-up monitoring of power structures.

Key Chinese Reports:
Dazhong Daily (大众日报): 省委意识形态和宣传思想工作领导小组第二次会议召开 用习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想强基铸魂更加积极主动做好意识形态各项工作
Jilu Evening News (齐鲁晚报): 加大舆论监督力度,正当其时