Professor sued for sexual harassment 20 years later after victim's death



On April 5, 2018, the Tomb-Sweeping Day in China, on which people pay tribute to beloved ones who are no longer with them, Shen Yang, 63, once a literature professor at Peking University, the current dean of literature department at Nanjing University, was accused of having sexually assaulted his undergraduate student, Gao Yan, who killed herself in 1998.

Gao, majoring in Chinese literature, went to the university in 1995. Shen, an associated professor graduating from the PhD program of the same major three years ago at that time, taught Gao modern Chinese language when she was fresh.

The accusation was written by Li Youyou on her personal blog. Li, living in Canada now, the classmate of Gao from high school and then going to the same university together, witnessed the changing of Gao after going through much an ordeal.

“After the harassment, he then spread rumors that Gao had a mental disease. Gao committed suicide as a result since feeling humiliated,” Li wrote on her personal blog.

“He (Shen) is the culprit behind the death of Gao,” she wrote.

The post soon sparked national media coverage and attention on #MeToo movement in China.

“Even though it has passed over 20 years and my life has changed a lot, I never forgot what she had been through.

The #MeToo movement and the scandal of Professor Chen Xiaowu gave me the courage to get the justice for her,” she told Beijing News.

“Gao’s parents and I have tried to accused him for many times but we didn’t get any result.”

After the sophomore year, Shen invited Gao to go for dinner many times. “On a weekend, she told me that Shen lured her to his apartment to talk about an assignment of linguistics class. Suddenly, he jumped at her,” Li wrote that in her blog.

Shen responded that the party committee of the literature department at Peking University and the police of Haidian district, Beijing, had investigated the issue.

The picture of Shen Yang.

“I didn’t do anything illegal,” he said, “In this case, the accusation of Li is such a malicious slander and I will reserve the right to sue.”

Peking University said in its statement on April 6 that the university had given Shen administrative penalty in June 1998 after the investigation conducted by the local police.

The Nanjing University then posted a statement saying that relevant authorities have launched investigation on the same day. “If we find Shen violate any professional ethics and the school’s code of conduct, we will handle it seriously.”

The death of Gao broken her parents’ heart. Every year, the senile parents sweep the tomb of their beloved daughter.

Gao's parents sweep the tomb every year after their beloved daughter died.

“She is too introversive and never told us what she had been through. Until the forensic report told us she was not a virgin, we then found out what really happened,” said Gao’s mother, too sorrowful to speak out. “Shen even made rumors among students that Gao was mentally disordered, wanted to have relationship with him and slept with him.”

“We hope Shen could apologize for what he did to my daughter,” the mother cried.

Gao Yan's photos in childhood have been put in the shelf at her parents' apartment after her death.

On April 7, the Nanjing University said in its latest statement that Shen told Nanjing University in 2011 that he could transfer from Peking University to Nanjing University, which can help him apply the Changjiang scholar program awarded by the Ministry of Education.

However, during the whole transferring process, the Peking University has never mentioned he was punished due to the misconduct.

‘We hope Shen could resign,’ Nanjing University said in the statement.