Chinese police detain ‘godfather of film industry’ over abuse claims

Chinese police have detained a man over the alleged abuse of at least 19 former students at a prestigious tutoring academy, after a viral article outlined one of the country’s most shocking #MeToo cases in years.

Du Yingzhe, 40, was a well-known tutor at Shadow Road, which assists high school students to get into the country’s best art and film schools. On Monday Du was accused by a former student of harassing, grooming and raping students, including some who were underage and a 17-year-old girl who fell pregnant.

In a lengthy post on her Weibo account, a former student, Shi Ziyi, said Du had harassed her and assigned sexually explicit writing tasks when she was 17 and he was her tutor. She said he had bragged to her that he was “the godfather of the film industry” and that he had had sex with hundreds of students over a period of about 15 years. Shi also posted the allegations of two other former students to her 1.5 million followers.

By Tuesday at least 16 other former students, a former colleague and a former classmate had come forward also accusing Du of harassment and assault, or supporting Shi’s accusations.

Du Yingzhe, the ex-teacher of Shadow Road accused of abuse.
Du Yingzhe, the ex-teacher of Shadow Road accused of abuse.

The accusations spread quickly across China’s social media, were picked up by state media, and Shi was questioned by police. On Wednesday, Haidian police said they had detained Du in response to the online complaints and on suspicion of violating the law.

Shi said on her social media account she and her friends had been harassed over her post, and that her mother had received phone calls demanding Shi delete the post or be held “criminally responsible”. She said she had dropped out of the school for personal reasons, but would continue to speak out.

Tens of millions of people shared or posted comments related to the accusations, and Shi’s name become the fourth highest trending topic on Weibo on Tuesday. Many discussed the case as one of the more egregious to come to light from China’s #MeToo movement, which has struggled to see justice for victims.

Despite the strengthening of harassment laws and pledges from leadership to improve protections of women, feminist groups have been censored or shutdown and stigma remains for victims who go public. Few cases have made it to court, and often the perpetrator instead sues the victim for reputational damage.

Zhou Xiaoxuan, a high-profile voice of the movement who unsuccessfully took her claims of harassment against a famous TV anchor to court, said the case was shocking for the alleged number of victims in such a small, professional circle, and the lengthy time period.

“This is a sexual assault case that [allegedly] occurs under a relationship of power,” said Zhou, also known as Xianzi. “Therefore, many students will think: ‘If I offend him, I will offend the teachers of the colleges and universities behind him, the head of the colleges and universities, and then I offend the bosses in the industry.’”

She said Du may have been detained, but there were questions for the entire institution and industry to answer. “Everyone needs to be responsible for such a sexual assault incident.”

Du and Shadow Road were contacted for comment but did not respond. In an online post a senior manager at Shadow Road sought to distance the school from Du.

“Du Yingzhe has no relation to Shadow Road for a long time now, I felt very disgusted by him as well,” he said. “A lot of people have messaged me about this, I just want to say, keep posting, take him down.”

According to screenshots of statements purported to be from his personal social media account, Du apologised “to the people who have been hurt”, but also defended some of his behaviour as a “controversial but effective teaching method” to “change the fate” of his students.

The statement said there were “exaggerations and some untrue things” in the accusations. “[B]ut I will no longer refute it, what I did is what I did and it is wrong,” it said.

The statement appeared to take aim at the #MeToo movement, saying it was originally intended to stop further harm to vulnerable people, “not to reinforce hatred, or even abuse and vent anger”.

He said he would cooperate with the police.

Additional reporting by Chi Hui Lin and Xiaoqian Zhu