China's #MeToo movement will soon get its day in court

Tom Cheshire, Asia correspondent

China's #MeToo movement has endured a fitful existence since it emerged at the beginning of 2018, facing heavy censorship online and in state media.

Soon, though, it will get its day in court.

On one side, Zhu Jun, a television host and one of the most famous men in China. Some 700 million people watch when he hosts the annual New Year's Eve Gala on state TV.

On the other, a 25-year-old screenwriter called Zhou Xiaoxuan living in a small flat in the outskirts of Beijing.

Four years ago, Ms Zhou was doing work experience on one of Mr Zhu's shows, as part of her university degree. She claims she was taken to his make-up room.

"He said I looked like his wife and we had a similar face," she told Sky News. "He suddenly grabbed me and groped my breast and my thighs with his hand. He even tried to put his hand down my skirt."

Ms Zhou says she fled; Mr Zhu continued with his programme.

Afterwards, she went to the police to describe what she says happened. They didn't take her case forward; she stayed silent.

Last year, though, the #MeToo movement arrived in China. It started with allegations at universities, then in NGOs and in the media.

Ms Zhou got inspired - and she got angry. She typed out 3,000 words and posted it to social media. It caused a sensation.

Mr Zhu denied the accusation. He filed a lawsuit against Ms Zhou seeking damages for harming his reputation and causing emotional distress. The court document said her allegations were "blatantly fabricated and maliciously spread".

Mr Zhu did not reply to Sky News' requests for comment.

What Ms Zhou did next, though, was surprising - she sued Mr Zhu for damaging her reputation. The two cases will be heard later this week. Ms Zhou's lawsuit has since been amended and she is now suing Mr Zhu for sexual harassment.

"Zhu Jun represents the establishment - behind him there are a lot of powerful shadows," Ms Zhou says. "So this case doesn't just attract people who care about sexual harassment, but also people who care about social injustice."

The constitution of China enshrines equal rights for women. Chairman Mao himself famously proclaimed: "Women hold up half the sky."

For many the phrase rings hollow.

Xiong Jing, a feminist activist, told Sky News: "In general in China there's still a lot of gender based discrimination and violence. It's quite prevalent.

"For this regime, it's still quite patriarchal. They maybe feel threatened by feminism."

And threatened, they're pushing back hard. Ms Xiong's network, Feminist Voices, was 250,000 people strong before it was blocked online. Mentions of #MeToo were also censored on social media. Ms Zhou's case has also been banned from being mentioned on state media.

But it's still the highest profile #MeToo case in China and, right now, the best chance for all the women here who have not been able to seek justice.

"I don't know one day if it could change," Ms Zhou said. "But my lawyer told me that I must fight to the end because of them. So I will fight to the end."