MINNEAPOLIS — When Liu Jingyao introduced herself, in the lobby
of her apartment building, I didn’t recognize her. It was a
puzzling feeling. For an entire year, photos of her had blanketed
the Chinese internet. Like tens of millions of other Chinese, I had
watched and rewatched surveillance video of her in this very
building. She was one of the most talked about and mysterious women
in China, and I thought I knew what she looked like.
In the video, she wanders the halls of a mazelike building, with a man trailing along. They get in and out of several elevators. She seems unsure about how to get to her apartment. She wears striking waist-length hair and a long, dark knit dress. She doesn’t look glamorous, exactly, but for a 21-year-old college junior, she is dressed smartly.
But on a morning in early August, she greeted me in a loosefitting checkered dress. Now 22, she looked pale and nervous. Her lips were chapped. She invited me upstairs, and began an intense conversation that continued for 18 straight hours.
In the summer of 2018, Ms. Liu, a student at the University of Minnesota, alleged that the billionaire founder of one of China’s largest companies, JD.com, followed her back to her apartment and raped her. The executive, known as Liu Qiangdong in China and Richard Liu in the English-speaking world, was arrested by Minneapolis police and released within 24 hours. (He and Ms. Liu are not related.) He insisted that the sex was consensual, and prosecutors declined to charge him. In April, Ms. Liu accused Mr. Liu of rape in a Minnesota civil court, seeking more than $50,000 in damages.
2018年夏天，明尼苏达大学(University of Minnesota)学生Liu Jingyao声称，中国最大企业之一京东的亿万富翁创始人尾随她回到公寓，并强奸了她。这名高管叫刘强东，英文名Richard Liu。他被明尼阿波利斯警方逮捕，在24小时内获释。刘强东坚称性行为是双方自愿的，检方拒绝对他提起诉讼。今年4月，Liu Jingyao在明尼苏达州的一家民事法庭指控刘强东强奸，要求逾5万美元的赔偿。
But hers is not a typical #MeToo story. After her name became common knowledge on the Chinese internet, Ms. Liu was widely called a slut, a whore, a liar, a gold digger and many other things. It may be difficult for Westerners to grasp the scale and intensity of her online shaming. But the Monica Lewinsky frenzy is a good comparison, had it taken place in the era of Twitter and YouTube in a country with 800 million internet users and no independent news media. When Ms. Liu and I met, it was the first time she had ever spoken to an English-language publication about what she has endured.
但她的故事并不是一个典型的“#MeToo”（#我也是）故事。当她的名字在中国互联网上传开后，Liu Jingyao被许多人称为荡妇、妓女、骗子、拜金女和其他种种。西方人可能很难理解她在网上受到的羞辱规模有多大、程度有多强。但是可以拿莫妮卡·莱温斯基(Monica Lewinsky)引发的疯狂作比——再假设它发生在Twitter和YouTube的时代，发生在一个有8亿互联网用户、却没有独立新闻媒体的国家。我和Liu Jingyao的会面是她第一次对一家英文出版物讲出自己的经历。
‘A feeling that someone is watching me’
In her apartment, a 500-square-foot studio, Ms. Liu showed me photos of trips she had taken to Morocco, Greece and Spain, before all that had happened. She looked different then. Her eyes were brighter, and her smile looked unreserved.
She said she had thrown away half of her cosmetics and no longer wore makeup. Like many young Chinese, she used to like designer clothes and handbags; now she mostly wears Muji, the inexpensive Japanese brand whose style reputation in China might be described as dowdy and demure.
When Ms. Liu transferred to the university a year ago, she chose the high-floor apartment for its view of a nearby park and a water tower known to locals as the Witch’s Hat. Now, she said, she keeps the blinds down day and night. “I always have a feeling that someone is watching me from outside,” she said. “I want to be as inconspicuous as possible.”
It’s an understandable concern, given the social-media attention directed at Ms. Liu, which has been vast and often vicious. On Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, her case has been one of the most popular topics of the last two years.
“The woman is a slut,” one commenter said. “The woman looks disgusting,” commented another. “It was obvious that they disagreed on the price,” added a third. “Looks like the woman set up the whole thing.” And one suggested that Mr. Liu was the actual victim, writing, “Look at the woman’s build, I absolutely believe that Liu Qiangdong was raped.”
These are just a few of the 8,500 comments on a single Weibo post, which was retweeted 14,000 times and liked by 95,000 users. Now imagine this, and worse, at scale, for months and months.
Many of the most active hashtags related to the case, including #RichardLiulawsuit and #RichardLiusexualassault, have been disabled on Weibo. But even less popular hashtags regarding the case get an astonishing amount of attention. One, which has to do with a denial that Mr. Liu was getting divorced, has 170 million views. Another, which concerns a defamation lawsuit Mr. Liu filed against a Chinese blogger, has 130 million views. A hashtag about a pretrial hearing in September has logged 110 million views.
Followers of the case quickly translate legal documents into Chinese and add subtitles to police audio and video. In some ways, Ms. Liu has become a figure as polarizing as President Trump. In July, the morning after the Minneapolis police released a report on the case, I got into a debate with a friend, and I suggested that she might want to read the document first before jumping to conclusions. My friend, an accomplished career woman and busy mother, replied that she had indeed read it — all 149 pages, in English, overnight, purely out of curiosity.
Ms. Liu’s case is attracting so much attention because she is accusing one of the country’s most powerful men of behavior that has long been ignored. Sexual harassment and assault are widespread in China, and elites face little scrutiny. The workings of government and the private lives of national leaders are off-limits to the news media. Self-made tech tycoons are widely admired celebrities.
Among this class of billionaires, Mr. Liu is one of the most high-profile. Born in a village in the eastern province of Jiangsu, he likes to recount how his family was able to afford meat only once or twice a year, and how he went to college with $70 raised by his fellow villagers. He founded JD.com in the early days of Chinese e-commerce, and turned the company into a logistics colossus. Mr. Liu became an entrepreneurial icon, known for putting on a helmet and JD.com’s red uniform to personally make deliveries on a three-wheeled electric bike one day a year.
Mr. Liu only got more famous in 2015, when he married a 21-year-old student and internet celebrity named Zhang Zetian. By the summer of 2018, when he traveled to Minnesota, he was worth an estimated $7.5 billion.
27 toasts of wine
Ms. Liu grew up in Beijing, introverted and intense, the only child of an affluent family. Her father was a businessman, and her mother, Ms. Liu said, was strict and quick to scold or punish her physically. She only allowed Ms. Liu to wear her hair short. Today, Ms. Liu’s waist-length cut is an act of rebellion.
Liu Jingyao在北京长大，性格内向且严肃，是一个富裕家庭的独生女。Liu Jingyao说，她父亲是商人，母亲严厉并且爱责骂或体罚她。她只允许Liu Jingyao留短发。如今，Liu Jingyao的及腰长发是一种反叛。
In 2016, she went to a liberal arts college in Minnesota to study literature, while also practicing piano two and half hours a day. She dreamed of becoming a diplomat or a professor of linguistics, but she was also interested in business. She transferred to the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management in August 2018, where a professor recruited her to volunteer with a program for visiting international executives. One of them was Mr. Liu.
Every morning, Ms. Liu got up early and took the executive visitors jogging. On the fifth day, she was invited to a group dinner at a Japanese restaurant. When Ms. Liu arrived, she found that she was the only volunteer — and the only woman — at a table of about a dozen middle-aged Chinese men. Surveillance video shows that one of the men directed her to sit next to Mr. Liu, the most accomplished and wealthiest member of the group. At Chinese business dinners, it is common for pretty young women to be placed next to powerful men to laugh at their lewd jokes.
每天早上，Liu Jingyao起的很早，并带来访高管慢跑。在第五天，她被邀请去一家日料餐馆参加集体晚宴。当Liu Jingyao到达时，发现桌子入座了十几个中国男性，她是唯一一个志愿者，也是唯一的女性。监控视频显示，其中一名男子指示她坐在最有成就及最富有的刘强东身边。在中式的商务晚宴上，通常漂亮的年轻女性会被安排在有权有势的男性身边，以笑回应他们的黄段子。
In the next two hours, according to the police, members of the party raised their glasses of red wine in at least 27 toasts. Ms. Liu drank 19 times. The man sitting across from her passed out on the table and had to be carried away.
After dinner, Ms. Liu left in a limousine with Mr. Liu and two of his female assistants. They drove to a house rented by one of the executives, but Ms. Liu didn’t want to go in. The chauffeur, whose name is redacted in police reports, later told officers that he saw Ms. Liu and Mr. Liu talking in front of his car. “Then he grabbed her arm, kind of overpower her and bring her to my car in the back,” the chauffeur said, according to a transcript. “I look in my mirror and this guy was all over this girl.” Then, he said, one of Mr. Liu’s assistants pushed the mirror up to obscure the chauffeur’s view. The chauffeur told the police that he didn’t hear anyone saying “stop” or “no," or cry for help.
晚餐后，Liu Jingyao和刘强东还有他的两个女助手乘坐豪华轿车离开。他们开车去了其中一名高管租下的房子，但Liu Jingyao不想进去。司机（名字在警方报告中已被隐去）后来告诉警官，他看到Liu Jingyao和刘强东在他车前方谈话。“然后他抓住了她的胳膊，有点强迫的样子，并把她带到我车的后座上，”根据录音抄本，司机这样说。“我从镜子里看，这个男的对这个女孩上下其手。”然后，他说，刘强东的助理之一把镜子推了上去，以掩盖司机的视线。司机告诉警察他没有听到有人说“停”或“不”，或大声求助。
Mr. Liu went with Ms. Liu to her apartment. A few hours later, a friend of hers reported to the police that Ms. Liu had told him, via a messaging app, that she had been raped.
刘强东和Liu Jingyao去了她的公寓。几小时后，她的一个朋友报警说Liu Jingyao通过一个即时通讯应用告诉他，她遭到了强奸。
A spokesman for Mr. Liu denied that account, saying, “The evidence released by the Minneapolis Police Department, including the written police report and surveillance video, does not support the accusations that have been made.”
When I met with Ms. Liu, she said that she seldom left her apartment anymore and that she spends most of her time cooking, drawing, playing piano, watching Japanese soap operas and struggling with whether to check Chinese social-media platforms. Each night, she double-checked her door lock before going to bed. On her nightstand were a canister of pepper spray and a stun gun that she purchased after that evening.
Ms. Liu said she had a recurring nightmare: a man forcing her down and sitting on top of her. Her psychiatrist told her that it was a common symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder.
YANG FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
She said that during nights of insomnia, she would replay in her head how she should have handled the situation differently. She would try not to be intimidated by how powerful Mr. Liu was. She would definitely drink less. She would definitely not tell the police, when they arrived, “Yes, I was raped, but not that kind of rape.” Or wait two days before telling her parents that she was the woman in the biggest news of the week in China. Or wait five days before getting a lawyer. Or use the word “money” when telling Mr. Liu’s lawyer what she wanted, in addition to an apology, when the English word she meant to use was the more neutral “compensation.”
“I was such a fool,” she said. “I was such a coward. I messed it up.”
One woman versus the Chinese internet
In 2018, encouraged by the #MeToo movement elsewhere in the world, more than 50 Chinese women came forward with their stories of being sexually harassed or assaulted. The men accused included professors, journalists and NGO organizers. Some lost their jobs or resigned.
But the fledgling movement started to lose its momentum just around the time of Ms. Liu’s allegation. Men who had been publicly accused were starting to sue their accusers for defamation. #MeToo victims faced criticism from even the most liberal-minded corners in China. Most important of all, the Chinese government — distrustful of independent social movements — clamped down on public discussion of gender issues.
Online allegations of sexual misconduct were one of the most heavily censored topics on WeChat, China’s biggest social-media platform, in 2018, according to WeChatscope, a research project at the University of Hong Kong. The hashtags #MeToo and #Woyeshi — a Mandarin translation — were banned. Some of the WeChat accounts that voiced support for Ms. Liu were deleted. WeChat is owned by Tencent, which is also the biggest shareholder of JD.com.
根据香港大学(University of Hong Kong)研究项目WeChatscope的数据，在2018年，网上的性侵指控是微信这个中国最大的社交媒体平台上审查最严格的话题之一。“#MeToo”及其中文翻译“#我也是”标签遭禁。一些声援Liu Jingyao的账户也被删除。微信为腾讯所有，腾讯则是京东最大的股东。
Ms. Liu’s experiences illustrate how Chinese society treats women who dare to speak up about sexual assault. Victims need to be seen as perfect to win any sympathy from the public, or they’ll be subject to immense slut-shaming. Younger women who sleep with older and powerful men, willingly or unwillingly, face even more public distain.
Liu Jingyao在她的床头柜上放了胡椒喷雾和电击枪。CAROLINE YANG FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
In December 2018, Minneapolis prosecutors decided not to charge Mr. Liu with sexual assault because they did not find enough evidence to pursue a case against him. They made the announcement without meeting with Ms. Liu. She said that when she heard the news, she felt “as if the sky had fallen.” But what came next on the Chinese internet was much worse.
One major Chinese news site posted an article headlined, “Richard Liu’s Attorney: Everything Happened in the Room was Voluntary. Woman Repeatedly Asked for Money.” The story featured a lengthy statement from one of Mr. Liu’s lawyers, but nothing from Ms. Liu’s side. It got 14,000 comments. A well-respected former writer for the Southern Weekly, the country’s most liberal-leaning newspaper, shared the article on Weibo with the comment, “Richard Liu isn’t guilty legally though he is morally. The woman is a cheap slut. She’s inviting humiliation.”
A few days after Ms. Liu filed her lawsuit, in April 2019, a heavily edited video surfaced on the Chinese internet. It was titled “Proof of a Gold Digger Trap?” and was cut to give the impression that Ms. Liu had invited Mr. Liu to her apartment for sex. It was posted to Weibo by an account that had never posted anything before. One of Mr. Liu’s Chinese lawyers wrote online that the video was “authentic,” and it was viewed more than 54 million times. Numerous Chinese websites published articles saying Ms. Liu had escorted Mr. Liu into her room.
2019年4月，在Liu Jingyao提起诉讼几天后，一段经过大量剪辑的视频出现在中国互联网上。它的标题是《仙人跳实锤？》，剪辑给人留下Liu Jingyao邀请刘强东去她公寓发生关系的印象。发布视频的微博账户此前没有发过任何内容。刘强东的一名中国律师在网上称视频内容是“真实的”，它的观看次数超过5400万。多家中国网站都发表文章称，Liu Jingyao陪同刘强东进入自己的房间。
Separately, one of China’s most influential newspapers published an edited audio clip, in which Ms. Liu can be heard asking Mr. Liu’s lawyer for an apology and money. News of the recording was reposted widely. Taken together, the video and audio clip seemed to turn the whole of the Chinese internet against Ms. Liu.
另外，中国最具影响力的报纸之一还刊登了一段经过剪辑的音频片段，里面可以听到Liu Jingyao向刘强东的律师要求道歉和钱。关于录音的报道被大量转发。合起来，视频和音频片段似乎让整个中国互联网都站在了Liu Jingyao的对立面。
In Minneapolis, I asked her to estimate what proportion of news consumers in China believed her. Initially, she said 30 percent. Thinking about it longer, Ms. Liu said that there were probably just three types of people in her corner: women who have been sexually assaulted, feminists and people who know her. “Definitely not 30 percent,” she said, a little defeated. “Ten percent at best.”
Then Ms. Liu grew agitated. “I didn’t want to report to the police in the first place because I knew this would happen,” she said. “People would look at me and say, ‘There are too many holes in her story. She said she was drunk, but the way she walked in the video didn’t show it at all.’ But I didn’t say that I was so dead drunk that I couldn’t move.”
She kept talking. “They said that I was pretending when I couldn’t find my apartment in the building. But if I were a real gold digger, why would I take a man running around in the building for 15 minutes to find my door? They questioned why I would take a man home in the middle of the night. But it was my home, and he was Richard Liu! Who would have thought he would do that?”
“我一开始不想报警，因为我就知道会有这样的结果，”Liu Jingyao说。“人们看到我就会说，‘她的故事有太多漏洞了。’”CAROLINE YANG FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES
‘The Price of Shame’
Ms. Liu said she felt powerless — that she couldn’t make the public see how scary it was for a 21-year-old to sit among a group of powerful middle-aged men, and how she couldn’t make the most powerful among them leave her alone. Ms. Liu couldn’t make them see how creepy it was that a 45-year-old billionaire, who mingled with the Davos elite, followed a young woman around an apartment building that mostly housed students. She was angry at Mr. Liu’s two assistants and the other executives at the dinner: She saw them as complicit, but barely any public outrage had been directed at them.
Liu Jingyao说她感到无能为力，因为她无法让公众看到一个21岁的女人坐在一群有权有势中年男人中间有多么害怕，而她无法让其中最有权势的那个放过自己。Liu Jingyao也无法让他们明白，一个与达沃斯精英们谈笑风生的45岁亿万富翁，跟在一个年轻女子身后，在一栋大部分住户都是学生的公寓楼里转来转去，是多么不正常。她对刘强东的两名助手和参加晚宴的其他高管感到愤怒：她认为他们是同谋，但几乎没有多少针对他们的公愤。
She continues to hide in her apartment with her two Yorkshire terriers, waiting for developments in her lawsuit against Mr. Liu. Her parents are working in China. Her boyfriend has had visa trouble and can’t visit. Ms. Liu uses a pseudonym when ordering takeout food and Ubers, for fear that she’ll encounter a Chinese person who recognizes her name.
During our long conversation, I asked Ms. Liu whether she thought her experience was similar to that of Monica Lewinsky. “Of course not,” she said quickly. “I would never sleep with a married man voluntarily.” A week later, I sent her a link to Ms. Lewinsky’s TED Talk, titled “The Price of Shame,” in which she argues for a more compassionate social-media environment. “Public shaming as a blood sport has to stop,” Ms. Lewinsky says.
在我们的长谈中，我问Liu Jingyao是否觉得自己的经历与莫尼卡·莱温斯基(Monica Lewinsky)相似。“当然不一样，”她很快否认。“我绝对不会主动跟已婚男人上床。”一周后，我给她发了一个莱温斯基TED演讲的链接，标题为“羞辱的代价”(The Price of Shame)，她在演讲中主张营造一个更富同情心的社交媒体环境。“公众羞辱作为一项嗜血运动必须停止，”莱温斯基说。
“We’re so similar!” Ms. Liu told me a day later. “I truly admire her that after all that, she can still live a positive life. Extraordinary!” Then she added, “I’m such a loser that I don’t even dare to read the police report.”
But Ms. Liu has, she said, turned out to be more resilient than she at first expected. True, she said, she suffers from PTSD and is sometimes suicidal. But she’s determined to pursue the case. She said she would not settle, because she would never agree to signing a nondisclosure agreement. If she won, she said, she would donate all the money to Chinese feminists who have been supportive of her — except for $1,000, which she would keep for herself.
She spent money on a flight to New York to find a lawyer. And she wants compensation, she said, for the clothes and bedsheets that were destroyed.
“If I had known I could endure so much,” she said. “I would not have hesitated about reporting to the police.”