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US Academic Accused of Rape and Human Trafficking Loses Defamation Case in Chinese Court

Gary Xu, the former University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (“UIUC”) Associate Professor accused of rape and sex trafficking, has lost his attempt to sue for defamation in a Chinese court.

Xu, a US citizen who spent nearly two decades at UIUC, most notably as head of the Department of East Asian Languages and Culture, was accused of multiple instances of sex trafficking, gender violence and forced labor in a 2019 federal lawsuit filed in the US. The lawsuit, which has yet to go to trial, was brought by two of Xu’s former students, Chinese nationals Xingjian “Vina” Sun and Xing “Ely” Zhao, along with Ao Wang, Associate Professor of East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University, Connecticut.

Wang, a member of the tight-knit academic circle specializing in Chinese art and literature in the US, was aware of Xu’s reputation for mistreating his female students and was “appalled that UIUC allowed Xu to wear the cloak of professorship for years after his confirmed sexual and physical assault of a student.”

In 2018, Wang began posting details of Xu’s misconduct on Chinese social media, hoping to “prevent students from becoming his next victim.” Xu responded by threatening to kill him, both personally and through his network of associates, before launching legal action of his own.

In claims filed with a Chinese court, Xu alleged that Wang’s comments had caused Xu to be dismissed from several positions, including as curator of the Shenzhen Biennale. However, the People’s Court of Luohu District, Shenzhen, rejected these claims on May 13 and ruled that Wang’s statements were “basically true” and could not be deemed an infringement on Xu’s reputation. Xu did not file an appeal against the court’s judgment within the required window of time.

While Xu lost in China, he remains a party in the federal case. The University is facing a separate lawsuit for its own conduct, having allegedly turned a blind eye to Xu’s misconduct for financial reasons. UIUC, which in some recent years has relied on Chinese students for half its international intake, had taken out a $60m insurance policy to cover it against a drop in enrollment. One of Xu’s victims said that she felt the university had brought her and other students to UIUC “not for an education but for Professor Xu’s personal pleasure and profit.”

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