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Public demands truth in Peking University scandal

(Xinhua)

08:12, August 29, 2012

BEIJING, Aug. 28 (Xinhua) -- Chinese netizens are clamoring for details regarding an alleged sex scandal that has tarnished the image of one of the country's top universities.

Last week, a microblogger identifying himself as Zou Hengfu, a former professor of economics at Peking University (PKU), claimed in a microblog post that his former colleagues had regularly sexually harassed hostesses at a restaurant they frequent.

Zou claimed that PKU deans and directors would "always do that" after having meals at the Mengtaoyuan Restaurant, located close to the university's hospital. However, Zou did not reveal their identities or provide any evidence for his claims.

The post was forwarded and commented on thousands of times over within a day of going online, creating a scandal that has impacted both Zou and the university.

PKU spokesman Jiang Langlang responded to the claim on Thursday and promised to open internal disciplinary investigations.

A preliminary report from PKU was issued on Monday saying that none of Zou's allegations could be confirmed and asking Zou to provide further evidence to assist in the investigation.

The university said it has failed to establish contact with Zou, despite its best efforts. Zou responded by blaming the university for not listening to him.

Although Zou's accusation is vague at best, it is considered to be truthful by some Chinese netizens. A poll of 1,927 people on Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging site, revealed that 40.6 percent of respondents believe Zou's story.

Weibo users have noted that Zou's account has been verified and tied to his real identity, adding that it is not likely that a public figure would risk his or her reputation by making false accusations.

Some users have asked the university to prove the innocence of its faculty, although other voices have challenged the credibility of Zou's claims.

Pang Congrong, a Beijing-based book editor, said it is hard to tell whether the allegations are true or not, adding that she does not believe her friends who work at PKU would engage in such behavior.

Professor Xie Danyang at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology said that if the charges prove false, they will damage Zou's reputation.

However, if they are true, the disgrace could affect the entire country, Prof. Xie said.

"The charges are likely true, especially considering Prof. Zou uses his real name. But is PKU still a university we should feel proud of?" wrote netizen "jiangshuidongshi."

Some newspapers have published commentaries on the case, taking a slightly different perspective from China's netizens.

Most columnists have argued that Zou's post fails to provide enough concrete information to constitute a strong case. Others have blamed the public for believing the charges without verifying the facts, as insufficient transparency has created room for online rumors.

A disastrous department store fire that occurred in the city of Tianjin in late June provided grist for the online rumor mill, with netizens claiming on Sina Weibo that more than 300 people had died, much more than the 10 deaths reported by authorities. Local police promptly arrested those who were found responsible for spreading the rumor.

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