Spiritual bankruptcy

Buddhist leader accused of harassing nuns poses big test for China’s #MeToo movement

Venerable Xuecheng. (Screengrab CGTN/YouTube)

In a case that may test the limits of the #MeToo movement in China, one of the country’s preeminent spiritual leaders, the Venerable Xuecheng, abbot of the Longquan Buddhist Monastery in Beijing, has been accused of trying to coerce female disciples into sexual relationships. The 50-year-old religious official, who also serves as secretary general of the ruling Communist Party’s official supervisory organ of Buddhism, the Buddhist Association of China, allegedly harassed at least six women by sending them explicit messages in which he claimed that having sex with him would advance their spiritual practice, according to two male monks, Du Qixin and Liu Xinjia, who conducted interviews with the alleged victims and reviewed messages believed to have been sent by the Buddhist leader.

The two monks said that they were writing on behalf of two nuns who said that Xuecheng had tried to force them to cut off contacts with their friends and relatives in addition to trying to extort sex from them. At least four other other women, they said, had also faced inappropriate advances from the powerful religious authority.

“My belief system nearly collapsed, and I thought about leaving the life of a nun,” one of the alleged victims wrote.

In response to the accusations, the government swiftly moved to censor discussion of the case on Chinese websites and social media. In general, the ruling communist party has responded to #MeToo stories by banning posts about sexual harassment and abuse — and in some cases even actively pushing back against women who dared to come forward with allegations, according to The New York Times. As a result, the #MeToo movement in China has thus far found itself mostly limited to academic circles, the nonprofit sector, and the media industry.

The high-profile case of the Venerable Xuecheng could potentially change that trend. Despite the government’s broad censorship regarding discussion of the allegations against Xuecheng, they also announced an investigation into the case through The State Administration for Religious Affairs. Xuecheng has denied the allegations against him, and in a statement the Longquan Monastery claimed that Du and Liu had “collected and forged materials” in order to “[harm] Buddhist morals and [mislead] the public.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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