On August 6, a female employee walked into a cafeteria at Alibaba’s corporate campus in Hangzhou, a megaphone and leaflets in her hands. People ambled in line to buy food with their smartphones while several security guards approached her, all seemingly unsure of what to do. One of her coworkers took out a phone and pressed record. In a video later shared on the internet, the woman can be heard screaming: “A male executive at Alibaba raped a female employee!” and “This is a criminal case!”
The next day, the woman posted a lengthy account on Alibaba’s internal website accusing her boss of sexually assaulting her while she was unconscious after a “drunken night” on July 27 during a work trip in Jinan, a city in eastern China. The post also alleged that managers at Alibaba failed to take action after she had reported the incident to them. The post gained traction on the company platform, where thousands of angry employees demanded answers. From there, it burst into public debate, topping the list of trending topics on Weibo.
Alibaba has since fired the male manager. But the case is only a starting point to address sexism in the company and in China’s workplaces. While the incident has been condemned in the press and on social media, censorship has prevented a broader discussion of the #MeToo movement from happening. The #MeToo tag was banned on Weibo in 2018, as were code words like “rice bunny” or “🍚🐰.” Weibo doesn’t surface relevant results if you do a search for “#MeToo” together with “Alibaba.” The current censorship environment may discourage women with similar experiences from coming forward.