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As sexual assault case sparks debate in China, Q&A platform Zhihu cuts adoption-related content

Allegations against a ZTE executive, which have been circulating in China, center around the alleged abuse of his foster daughter.

Photo: tuchong,stock.com

Zhihu, the biggest Quora-like Q&A site in China, announced yesterday that it has removed “suspicious content” about adoption services from the platform, as a sexual assault case involving a former ZTE board member continues to spark debate about adoption and protection of children across the country.

Allegations against Bao Yuming, which have been widely circulating in China since April 9, center around the alleged abuse of his foster daughter beginning when she was 14. Yesterday afternoon, China’s Supreme People’s Procuratorate posted on Weibo that it has dispatched a team to Shandong to supervise the investigation, accompanied by authorities from the Ministry of Public Security.

Although Zhihu didn’t detail why it took this measure, the clean-up came after a spate of news and reports involving illegal adoption in China, which were triggered by the exposé about Bao published by Guangzhou-based media outlet South Review five days ago.

According to the report, Bao, a successful businessman and lawyer who served as an independent non-executive board member at Chinese telecom firm ZTE since 2018, got in touch in 2015 with the girl’s mother, who advertised her daughter for adoption online, and convinced her that he would be a “reliable father”.

The alleged victim told South Review that Bao repeatedly assaulted her after she entered his care and forced her to watch pornographic videos involving children. She also provided a photo of Bao’s phone, taken in 2018, allegedly showing Bao attempting to connect with other QQ users who wanted to place their children for adoption.

The report has led to an investigation that sparked a debate on the Chinese internet about the practice of adoption in the country.

An investigative report by local news portal Legal Weekly published on April 11 found that Zhihu contained several posts advertising adoption. Zhihu’s move to officially remove such posts previously unchecked on the platform came two days later.

“According to the laws of our country, it’s illegal and invalid to sign an adoption agreement individually without lawful procedures,” Zhihu said on its official account. “We have done a comprehensive clean-up of illegal content regarding this and banned associated user accounts forever. At the same time, we have also upgraded our security strategy, scrutinizing new suspicious information.”

According to the report, illegal kid adoption has become an established industry on China’s internet. Legal Weekly revealed several chat groups on QQ, Tencent’s instant message service, for connecting children with hopeful foster parents. It is still unclear whether what channel of adoption was used in the case of Bao’s foster daughter.

Bao has since resigned from ZTE, according to the company’s filing with the Shenzhen Stock Exchange last week, and has also been dismissed from positions at an oil company and a university.

A local police department in Yantai, a city in Shandong province, said last Thursday on Twitter-like Sina Weibo that they are still investigating the case.

In another report written by Caixin, Bao describes the relationship between him and the girl as “lovers.” The report has been deleted by Caixin on April 12 shortly after its release due to harsh criticism online saying it’s not well-reported and took the perpetrator’s position. Caixin apologized for the misconduct. 

Due to strict requirements for adopting children under the current laws, most foster relationships are established in the grey market, Legal Weekly wrote.