[Marxism] Taking Feminist Battle to China’s Streets, and Landing in Jail

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Apr 6 10:40:29 MDT 2015

NY Times, Apr. 6 2015
Taking Feminist Battle to China’s Streets, and Landing in Jail

BEIJING — The young Chinese feminists shaved their heads to protest 
inequality in higher education and stormed men’s restrooms to highlight 
the indignities women face in their prolonged waits at public toilets.

To publicize domestic violence, two prominent activists, Li Tingting and 
Wei Tingting, put on white wedding gowns, splashed them with red paint 
and marched through one of the capital’s most popular tourist districts 
chanting, “Yes to love, no to violence.”

Media-savvy, fearless and well-connected to feminists outside China, the 
young activists over the last three years have taken their righteous 
indignation to the streets, pioneering a brand of guerrilla theater 
familiar in the West but largely unheard-of in this authoritarian nation.

Now five of them — core members of China’s new feminist movement — sit 
in jail, accused of provoking social instability. One of the women, Wu 
Rongrong, 30, an AIDS activist, is said to be ailing after the police 
withheld the medication she takes for hepatitis. Another, Wang Man, 33, 
a gender researcher, was said to have had a mild heart attack while in 

Lawyers for the detainees, who include Zheng Churan, 25, affectionately 
known as Big Rabbit, say the women have been subjected to near-constant 

The detentions took place early last month on the eve of International 
Women’s Day as the women planned a public awareness campaign about 
sexual harassment on public transportation.

Now, as security agents from Beijing fan out across the country hunting 
down the volunteers who took part in the women’s theatrical protests, 
many young feminists have gone into hiding. “We’re so afraid and 
confused,” said one of them, Xiao Meili, 26, who recently completed a 
1,200-mile trek across China to draw attention to sexual violence. “We 
don’t understand what we did wrong to warrant such a ferocious backlash.”

Despite government efforts to keep reporting of the crackdown out of the 
domestic news media, the jailing of the five women has not gone 
unnoticed here. Word has spread across college campuses, and more than 
1,100 people took the risky step last week of adding their names to a 
petition demanding the women’s release.

Outside China, campaigners have used Facebook and Twitter to publicize 
the detainees’ plight, and Western governments have been issuing 
statements to protest their incarceration.

“If China is committed to advancing the rights of women, then it should 
be working to address the issues raised by these women’s rights 
activists — not silencing them,” said Samantha Power, the American 
ambassador to the United Nations.

 From Morocco to India to New York, supporters have been posting images 
of themselves wearing masks that bear the photos of the jailed women. 
Because two of the detainees are lesbian and another is bisexual, 
overseas gay rights organizations like All Out have jumped into the 
fray, collecting more than 85,000 signatures and popularizing the 
hashtag #freethefive on Twitter.

As international attention to the women’s case mounts, some rights 
advocates see echoes of the public relations maelstrom surrounding the 
female Russian dissident group, Pussy Riot, whose members were arrested 
in 2012 for their protests against President Vladimir V. Putin.

Sophie Richardson, the China director at Human Rights Watch, said the 
five jailed feminists have drawn far more international attention than 
the scores of Chinese activists who have been detained during the 
previous two years of an intensified government drive against political 

“Many people find it mind-boggling that the government of the 
second-largest economy and the world’s largest standing army is afraid 
of a group of women trying to draw attention to sexual harassment,” she 
said. “The combination of power and paranoia on display is very telling.”

Analysts say the effort to quash China’s nascent feminist movement 
represents a dismal milestone in the Communist Party’s war on 
grass-roots activism, a campaign that has gained momentum since 
President Xi Jinping came to power in November 2012. Unlike the 
government critics and political reform advocates jailed in earlier 
sweeps, the five detained women confined their activities to matters 
like domestic violence and discrimination against people with H.I.V. — 
issues that the government claims to have also embraced.

But rights advocates say security officials were evidently alarmed by 
the women’s skillful use of social media to organize volunteers, their 
links to foreign organizations, and the inventive protests and flash 
mobs that often drew favorable coverage in the Chinese media.

In contrast to the state-affiliated feminists and academics who have 
long dominated China’s gender-equality landscape, experts say the young 
mavericks prompted a seismic shift in women’s activism that yielded 
measurable results, including a landmark bill on domestic violence that 
is being considered by the national legislature.

“They have been very successful in using performance to provoke social 
dialogue on gender issues,” said Zeng Jinyan, a blogger who studies 
Chinese feminist activism. “I think we can call them the first modern, 
independent, feminist, grass-roots actors in Chinese history.”

Soon after coming to power in 1949, Mao Zedong outlawed forced 
marriages, prostitution and foot binding, and he introduced a 
groundbreaking marriage law that gave women the right to file for 
divorce. Women were considered equal to men, but only as a collective 
force for economic production, Ms. Zeng said. But in recent decades, as 
market economics took hold in China, unapologetic male chauvinism 
re-emerged, and with it, traditional notions of a woman’s role in the 
family. Women’s incomes have been falling compared with those of their 
male counterparts in recent years; just over 2 percent of Chinese women 
hold managerial positions; and all but two of the 25 Politburo members 
are men.

Many of the young activists, born in the 1980s and the coddled and 
well-educated offspring of China’s one-child policy, discovered in 
college that the Communist Party dictums on gender equality had become 
little more than window dressing.

Raised in China’s rural south, Wei Tingting, 26, is typical of the new 
brand of socially conscious women who have challenged the status quo. 
Soon after gaining a spot at the prestigious Wuhan University, Ms. Wei 
was drawn to feminist provocateurs in the West; during her sophomore 
year, she staged a production of “The Vagina Monologues,” drawing the 
ire of some male students, according to friends.

In 2012, as she, Li Tingting and another woman prepared for a 
Valentine’s Day protest against domestic violence in Beijing, she 
described the childhood trauma of watching men pummel their wives in 
public — including her own father. “People thought that women deserved 
beating,” she said, according to a video made at the time. “The worst 
thing is people tolerate it and accept it as a natural part of life, but 
no one believes beating a man is O.K.”

As a project manager at the Beijing Gender Health Education Institute, 
Ms. Wei helped stage an annual AIDS Walk on the Great Wall, attended 
women’s conferences in India and South Korea, and started collecting 
footage for a documentary about bisexuality in China.

“She has so much passion and energy. You can find her at every event, 
whether it be about H.I.V., gender issues or bisexuality,” said Fan 
Popo, a filmmaker who made a movie about the staging of “The Vagina 
Monologues” and subsequently became Ms. Wei’s roommate after she moved 
to Beijing. “I would always joke that she has more film projects than me.”

In early March, Ms. Wei and the other detained women were preparing to 
stand outside subway stations and distribute stickers and leaflets to 
highlight the scourge of men who grope women on crowded trains and 
buses. But beginning on March 6, the police moved in, detaining nearly a 
dozen people in several cities. After a few days, all but Ms. Wei and 
the four others were released.

Lawyers for the women say the police have repeatedly flouted Chinese 
law. In addition to denying the women medication, the authorities failed 
to notify their families about the detentions, and in one instance, the 
police sat in on a meeting between Ms. Wei and her lawyer, Wang Qiushi.

“The interrogations have been exhausting,” Mr. Wang said by phone. “The 
police keep asking her the same questions over and over again and are 
pressuring her to sign a confession, which she refuses to do because she 
has not broken any law.”

The charge of “picking quarrels and provoking troubles” carries a 
maximum five-year sentence in China, although it can be extended to 10 
years if a defendant is convicted of organizing multiple public 

Officials at the Haidian District detention center where most of the 
women are being held declined to comment.

In the meantime, friends, relatives and fellow feminists are reeling. If 
the women are not released this week, it is likely they will be tried 
and convicted.

Mr. Fan, Ms. Wei’s roommate, said none of the women ever imagined they 
could be jailed for their work. He said that Ms. Wei had been doing 
laundry on the day she was summoned by the police and had left a load of 
clothing in the washing machine. “Clearly she thought she would be 
returning home in a few hours,” he said.

Mia Li and Patrick Zuo contributed research.

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