A group of about 25 Chinese university students and young professionals from around the country gathered in Minneapolis on Tuesday in a show of solidarity with the student who has sued billionaire Richard Liu following an alleged sexual assault in 2018.
The two dozen people, most of them women, carried supportive signs in the Hennepin County Government Center atrium. They snapped photos with the intention of posting them to Weibo, a Chinese social media site similar to Twitter, that has hundreds of millions of users.
Liu, whose Chinese name is Liu Qiangdong, is CEO and founder of JD.com, an e-commerce site similar to Amazon. He is one of the world’s richest men.
He was attending a doctoral program for Chinese executives at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management when he was arrested in August 2018 for allegedly raping a 20-year-old undergraduate who was attending the school. He was released, and following an investigation, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to press charges. The woman, who insists she was raped, then sued Liu.
The Star Tribune has not published the name of the student, Liu Jingyao, until now. But last month she went on the record in an interview with the New York Times, telling a correspondent that survivors of sexual assault shouldn’t allow the public to shame them.
In China’s social media community, she has been harshly and widely criticized. The organizers who came to Minneapolis are trying to counter that message. The activists said another purpose of their protest is to point to the similarities between the young woman’s case and that of other sexual-assault victims in China.
“There are a lot of young women in China who are experiencing the same thing,” said Xiaowen Liang, 27, a New York lawyer, who helped coordinate the group that showed up in Minneapolis. “They are sexually harassed, raped by people in power, but a lot of them cannot speak out for a lot of reasons.”
Others turned out from other cities including Philadelphia, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, Toronto and Madison, Wis.
A hearing in Liu Jingyao’s lawsuit was scheduled for Tuesday, but postponed to Jan. 28. Most of the activists had already booked flights to be here Tuesday so they came anyway to show their support, said Anna Zhao, 25, a 2016 graduate of the Carlson School.
“She’s a role model for us,” said one woman, Serena Wang, 24, a law student in Minneapolis, and one of a handful of local Chinese activists who participated Tuesday.
Wil Florin, the woman’s attorney, said his client is “enormously grateful for the outpouring of support.”
A spokesperson for Liu did not respond to a request for comment.