Citizens on Chinese social networking site Sina Weibo are fighting back after the platform took down a post making unverified allegations of sexual abuse and corruption at the Beijing Film Academy (BFA).

A user on the microblogging site named “Beijing Film Academy Hou Liangping” last Monday posted an article supporting a female student’s previous allegations that she was sexually abused by a professor at the academy. The user’s profile claims he is a male student at the school. His name refers to a character fighting corruption on the popular TV show In the Name of the People.

Established in 1950, the film academy is China’s only professional film school and the largest film academy in Asia, according to its website. It has produced prestigious graduates such as Zhang Yimou, who directed Hero and The Great Wall, and Chen Kaige, who won the Palme d’Or award for his film Farewell My Concubine.

The Weibo user’s profile. Photo: Screenshot.

In a long, detailed post, the user claimed that Song Jing, Dean of the Faculty of Photography, and other professors were embezzling funds from the school. He also alleged that Song was having a sexual relationship with a performing arts student and supporting the student financially. He accused another instructor, Wu Yi, of sexually harassing female students and introducing them to powerful friends.

Song has denied the allegations through a statement from her lawyer and accused the anonymous user of hiding behind the internet to spread lies and defame her.

The user titled the post “I give up on my graduation certificate, choosing my conscience.” He stated that he was willing to testify in court and take legal responsibility for his claims, and claimed he possessed evidence. But the phone number he listed in the article was not in service when dialled on Tuesday.

Screenshot of a post from ‘BFA Hou Liangping’ that has been removed, and a statement from Song’s lawyer. Photo: FreeWeibo/Mtime.

The school released a statement on Friday in response saying it has approached relevant government departments to investigate the matter.

It added that the Weibo user could not be reached via the phone number he posted, and said: “The school protects the legal rights of every teacher and student, and supports their lawful efforts to protect their own rights from infringement. At the same time, we ask all teachers and students to follow the country’s laws, and take responsibility for their speech and actions.”

All nine posts from the user suddenly disappeared on Sunday, according to entertainment news outlet Mtime, who reported that he had over 370,000 followers. Hou’s posts were no longer visible on Tuesday, and he only had 2,264 followers.

Volunteer ‘water army’

Weibo users responded to the article’s removal with outrage, unleashing a volunteer “water army,” groups of online posters usually paid by PR firms to influence public opinion. The volunteers took to the comment sections of popular news stories, calling on people to pay attention to the BFA allegations.

The Beijing Film Academy. Photo: BFA.

Users commended the Weibo user for his courage in speaking out, expressing support and reposting screenshots of his article, even as many complained that Weibo was deleting related posts.

“Shit-Sina is too scary. Trending comments that were visible a few minutes ago could all be deleted [later],” one user said. Others complained that their posts on the topic had also been removed, while some said that the topic was being taken off Weibo’s hot topic rankings.

As of Tuesday, the topic “BFA Hou Liangping was blocked” had been read by over 11 million and the hashtag had been posted by thousands.

“If it doesn’t explode in silence, it will vanish in silence. The relevant authorities’ indifference and attempts to avoid are really chilling,” one said about the school’s response.

Users denounced Weibo for censoring the user, saying the platform was siding with the powerful and infringing on the user’s freedom of speech. Yet others expressed fears for the students’ wellbeing.

Photo: Screenshot.

“It’s time that Sina was replaced,” a user said. “We hope for a better public social network – aside from whistleblowing, ‘Beijing Film Academy Hou Liangping’ also represents the people’s voice. Even if you delete one Hou Liangping, there are still thousands of them – don’t delete [posts], if you want to shut people up, then kill these tens of thousands of netizens, otherwise we will never stop chasing the truth.”

HKFP has contacted Sina Weibo for comment.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.