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Who Are the Young Women Behind the ‘#MeToo in China’ Campaign? An Organizer Explains

Xiao Meili, March 27, 2018

 

Meili, and Zheng Churan, Leta

Zheng Churan (郑楚然) and Xiao Meili (肖美丽), right, are two Guangzhou-based feminist activists. Photo: @LetaHong

 

January 2018 was a special month for the Chinese feminist movement. On January 1, Luo Xixi (罗茜茜) released an open letter –– using her real name –– in which she accused her former PhD advisor, Chen Xiaowu (陈小武), of sexually harassing female students. It was as if she had lit a spark that ignited a powerful and dynamic wave of anti-sexual harassment on Chinese social media, and its impact far exceeded the expectations of many, including Luo herself. Students from nearly 80 universities sent joint letters to their university presidents, urging their alma maters to establish a sexual harassment prevention mechanism. More than 9,000 people took part. It’s said that this is the largest student movement in China since the June 4th pro-democracy movement. The campaign directly led to the dismissal of Chen Xiaowu, and within half a month the Ministry of Education promised, “we will work with relevant departments to earnestly research the establishment of a sound and long-term mechanism to prevent sexual harassment in universities.” In today’s China, where all kinds of citizen movements have been suppressed, and public space has shrunk, and everyone speaks and acts cautiously, how is it that #MeTooInChina was successful?

As someone who has been deeply involved in the campaign, I would like to explain how this action was operationalized, what kind of people participated, and the activists’ ideas and thinking.

The Beginning

On January 3, a person named Xiao Qiqi (肖七七) contacted me on WeChat, saying that she wanted to apply for on Weibo a hashtag called #打破沉默反对性侵暴力性别歧视# (#breaking silence against sexual violence and gender discrimination), and asked me how to do it. I was puzzled; I didn’t know who she was, or what she wanted to do, or how to do it. After some discussion, she changed the long hashtag to #MeToo在中国#, which subsequently became the name of this anti-sexual harassment campaign.

Xiao Qiqi is a university senior in Vancouver. After seeing Luo Xixi’s open letter, she excitedly said to her WeChat circle of friends: “MeToo has started in China.” She received comments such as: “It’s too difficult.” “This is not possible in China.” “Too sensitive.” And there were many people who didn’t know what #MeToo was. Xiao Qiqi observed on Weibo that the #MeToo hashtag was getting only a small amount of attention, and most of the content was related to pursuing celebrities. Occasionally, some people also commented: Foreign countries are really awesome. It seems that the anti-sexual harassment movement can happen throughout the entire world, but there is no way it can happen in China.

Spurred on by these pessimistic emotions, Xiao Qiqi, who previously was not adept at using social media, began to invest a lot of energy in learning how to manage a Weibo hashtag. She looked for various people –– people she didn’t know well–– seeking their advice and help. On the first day that she decided to take this on, she barely slept, and later simply followed China time to arrange her own life, work, and rest. She searched all the Weibo posts related to MeToo, and “likes” all positive comments, and gave encouragement to all those who left pessimistic comments.

MetooinChina

#米兔在中国# Weibo feed 

Joining Forces

At the same time, a 25-year-old feminist activist Zhang Leilei (张累累)and her friends living in Guangzhou were discussing how to make this issue more popular, and prevent it from being suppressed and then fizzle out like similar events in the past. Inspired by the January 2 letter from graduates of Xi’an International Studies University to their alma mater asking for the establishment of a sexual harassment prevention mechanism, Zhang Leilei decided to contact students from different universities to send joint letters to their alma maters. She reckoned that this was a mild action that would allow more people to participate.

Zhang Leilei previously had launched a crowdfunding campaign for anti-sexual harassment advertisements in the subway, and after working hard on it for a year, the advertisements still were unable to launch. She then called on 100 people to wear the billboards on their bodies as a human-flesh advertisement. This activity garnered an enthusiastic reaction, but it was quickly stopped by the police. The police also repeatedly forced Zhang to move out of Guangzhou.

On January 4, Zhang began to organize people to write to their alma maters. She provided a sample letter on the internet that became a template. The letter included five recommendations:

  • Give every staff member of the school training in prevention and control of sexual harassment;
  • Give every student a class on anti-sexual harassment;
  • Carry out a sexual harassment survey online once every semester to enable students to anonymously respond to questions regarding sexual harassment, depression, anxiety, etc. online.
  • Set up a channel for accepting sexual harassment reports and complaints, including a mailbox, an email address, and a telephone line, etc.
  • Identify a department and a responsible person that accepts and handles complaints about sexual harassment conduct.

Beginning on January 5, Zhang Leilei chatted with dozens of people every day and added them to a WeChat group. Some participants already had a support networks; others were doing it alone. Getting launched was difficult. A lot of people don’t know how to do it, others just wanted to talk to her about feminism. Over the next few days, she communicated with more than 300 participants. In Zhang Leilei’s words, it was more arduous than being a customer service agent at Taobao.

A day later, the activists delivered a joint letter on sexual harassment prevention to 16 universities. Members of the WeChat group constantly pulled interested friends into the group. Many people found fellow alumnae in the large group, and then formed their own small groups. Everyone was in action. If there were new ideas, members would find people in the WeChat group who wanted to take action together and then separately went do it. After two or three days, the participants were very autonomous; they didn’t even know that someone had initiated and coordinated this campaign.

In the early stage, information was mainly published on WeChat. Since WeChat is a relatively closed circle of friends, each college initiator was like a signal tower, radiating out to where he or she could reach. Subsequently, more open publicity unfolded on Weibo. The members of the WeChat group for sending letters to alma maters decided to use two hashtags. One was “#10,000 people sent anti-sexual harassment letters to their alma maters” and the other was “#MeToo in China.” When the first hashtag was deleted, “#MeToo in China” became the primary one. Around January 10, this hashtag started to be ranked in first place on Weibo’s public interest list, with more than 3 million readers. It stayed in the first place until January 17, when the hashtag was deleted by Weibo.

 

MetooinChina Zhang Leilei

Zhang Leillei (right) and other activists staged an advertisement campaign to stop sexual harassment on public transportation. Photo: online

 

Joining In

Gu Huaying (顾华盈)graduated from Peking University, and is a graduate student specializing in gender studies at Cambridge University. She has also been an active participant in the feminist movement. When she saw that the open letter sent to a group of universities on January 6 did not include Peking University, she initiated a joint letter to PKU. She found her classmates, friends, and alumnae and formed a launch group. Based on the letters sent to other schools, the PKU letter integrated the school’s unique characteristics. The letter was published in a PKU student e-media “North Gate” (“北门”). Although the letter was deleted in less than a day, the number of viewers exceeded 10,000. It generated debate on PKU’s other websites and led to more anonymous revelations about sexual harassment.

The students involved in the launch of the PKU letter were prepared for it to be deleted. After the letter was indeed deleted, PKU students immediately began to make other links that were less likely to be deleted; they rendered the content of the text of the letter into images and disseminated the images, and they went on Weibo to look for relatively famous PKU alumnae to help re-post.

Chai Xiaoyang (柴小阳)is a university senior and one of the 9,000 signatories. Speaking of sexual harassment on campus, she could never forget an incident involving a classmate of hers in junior high school molested by a male teacher, who to this day still teaches in the same school. This letter campaign was an opportunity for Xiaoyang to take some action. In addition to participating in the joint letter, she also checked the e-mail addresses of the faculty members on her university’s official website and sent it to over 50 of them. She sent e-mails to the Hubei Provincial Bureau of Education, the Office of Letters and Visits, and the provincial People’s Congress, and other government departments. She also wrote and called the bus company in her hometown, and even went to the bus company in person to try to discuss the issue of sexual harassment. Xiaoyang did not receive a single reply.

She returned to her junior high school and found the teachers and principal. The teachers were all very cautious. They asked her what her goal was and on whose behalf she was acting — or told her to go find someone else to talk to. A teacher said to Xiaoyang: “Don’t follow the examples of college students here in a junior high school. It’s not necessary here.”

Xiaoyang said: The longer she received no replies from anyone, the more she wanted to talk with more people about the problem of sexual harassment. The fact that no one paid attention to her made her more upset than people attacking what she was doing. In a third-tier city like her hometown, people lived comfortably, but the problem was even worse.

Metoo rally in DC, VOA

Chinese women took their message to MeToo rally in Washington, DC, in January 2018. Photo: VOA

 

 

Facing Suppression

Since the launch of the “10,000-Person Letters to Alma Maters to Establish Sexual Harassment Prevention Mechanisms” campaign, officials have been suppressing it. In addition to deleting posts and Weibo hashtags, students who initiated joint letters have been “talked to” by their schools. There were also reports that this campaign was characterized by the government as “being manipulated by forces with ulterior motives” and that the Office of the Central Leading Group for Cyberspace Affairs was looking for the “black hand behind the scenes.”

The phrase “black hand behind the scenes” is ridiculous, but Zhang Leilei also understood that she faced great risks as an organizer. Because she previously experienced police harassment, she was somewhat prepared, but also at the same time a bit panicked. Even so, Zhang Leilei thought this was a rare opportunity: even if she was in danger, it was worth it. She really hoped that this action would create change.

Zhang Leilei saw that the participants were not scared; they were more rational and calm than she had imagined. Everyone was clear about why they were doing it, because they wanted to change the situation at the universities. After hearing the allegation of “black hand behind the scenes,” they began to discuss how to deal with the school’s roundabout, phishing-type questioning and how to communicate with the school to make them directly face the problem.

Gu Huaying, the initiator of the PKU joint letter, said that the deletion of posts enabled more people to see just how far the censorship system would go. For example, there was one member who was careful and cautious in participating in the drafting of the joint letter, and was as moderate as possible, so as not to lead to a misunderstanding by the school about any other purpose, and she also urged everyone not to accept media interviews. After the PKU joint letter was deleted, her attitude changed; she was disappointed with the behavior of the school –– the school didn’t understand at all the pains of the students had gone through to send this letter.

Along with the deletion of posts, there was also the “concern” of the school leaders. They cautioned Gu Huaying “not to be used by others.” Huaying angrily wrote in the WeChat friends’ circle: “Saying that young people are ‘immature’ is just like parents always trying to control their children.”

Facing the deletion of the Weibo hashtag she worked hard managing, Xiao Qiqi also worried about whether she would face political risks. But her worries dissipated after she realized that she was unsettled by conspiracy theories and the excessive self-censorship of people around her. She believed that the more people who know about this action, the safer she would be. Soon she created a new Weibo hashtag “#米兔在中国” [rice-rabbit in China], and commented on each post expressing sadness about the deletion of “#MeToo in China” posts: “Now you can use “#米兔在中国”.

Because she lived overseas, Xiao Qiqi observed changes in the attitude of foreign media and netizens before and after the #MeToo hashtag was deleted in China. In the beginning of the campaign, there were not many people following it on Facebook, but after the media reported the news that “#MeToo in China” was politically suppressed in China, some of her netizen friends began to repost the news and commented: “it is not at all surprising that such an action was stopped by the Chinese Communist Party.” Or, “in China it doesn’t work to sigh those anti-sexual harassment letters.” Xiao Qiqi believes that if she’s only concerned about political pressure, it will not help the action itself at all; on the contrary it will just give activists an additional burden. Is this not another kind of cynicism? The onlookers only want to see the result they envisioned –– “nothing of this sort can be done in China.” They are not interested in an action that is a thoroughly creative, active struggle in a difficult environment, and they can do nothing with a clear conscience.

She said that the pressure we face is real, but this is only one part of the story.

 

Metoo walk in NYC, Zheng and Liang, Leta

Feminist activist Liang Xiaowen (left) and Zheng Churan took part in MeToo rally in New York city. Photo: @LetaHong

 

What’s Next?

After Luo Xixi’s real-name reporting, exposures of sexual harassment in universities have appeared one after another. Some of them have been dealt with, others have been buried with no outcome. Now the next stage of the campaign is brewing. Students who participated in the joint letters established groups, and quite a few schools started to conduct surveys relating to the sexual harassment. The journalist Huang Xueqin (黄雪琴), who had disclosed Chen Xiaowu’s harassment incident with Luo Xixi, completed a sexual harassment survey of female reporters before the March 8 International Women’s Day this year. The surveys revealed that over 80% of female reporters had been sexually harassed.

That “#MeToo in China,” in a short period of time, created such a big response is a result of activists debating and learning during public incidents one after another over a long period of time. As feminist commentator Lü Pin (吕频) said, “it proves that there is no way for people to become apathetic to their rights. People are always waiting for opportunities to act.”

Lu Xun said, “May the young people of China cast off the cold air, just go upwards, don’t listen to the words of those who have given up and abandoned themselves to despair. If you can do something, then do it; if you have a voice, then make a sound. If you have heat, then send out a beam of light. Like a firefly, you can emit a little light into the darkness, without having to wait for the torch.”

The authoritarian environment has caused many people to exhale the cold air of nihilism and cynicism. What I’ve seen in “#MeToo in China” is that there are still many warm youth, who care for society, and are action takers. They are cool-headed, pragmatic, and very persistent. I am very happy to be a part of such a seemingly naïve but radiant group.

 

Xiao Meili (肖美丽) is a Guangzhou-based feminist activist.

 


Related:

China’s Feminist Awakening, the New York Times, Xiao Meili, May 13, 2015.

Detention of Five Chinese Feminist Activists at the Juncture of Beijing+20 – An Interview with Gender Scholar Wang Zheng, April, 2015.

 

 

 

 

Before International Women’s Day, Feminist Five And Their Lawyers Are Called in by Police

By China Change, published: March 6, 2016

女权五姐妹_long

 

Just before International Women’s Day on March 8, the Feminist Five activists in China, as well as their defense counsel, have been spoken to and put under pressure by police, according to friends and lawyers of the activists, communicating via social media.

On March 3, Internal Security police, the branch of the Public Security Bureau focused on internal political threats, sought out the defense lawyers of the feminist activists. They said that they knew that five lawyers had sent a legal opinion to the authorities recommending that the case against the the Feminist Five be withdrawn. Security police asked them which lawyer was in charge of that letter, what their motive was, and to which governmental departments it had been sent.

One lawyer responded: “Firstly, you can take me as the leader. I signed the postage for it and take full responsibility. Secondly, the motive was in the hope that the Beijing police would exhibit a modicum of legal awareness, adhere to procedure, respect human rights, and protect human rights.”

The lawyer then introduced the basic facts of the case of the Feminist Five, and added: “China is supposed to be known as a country of etiquette. Equality between men and women and respect for women is a sign of the level of civilization of a society. That women shouldn’t be subject to sexual harassment is something that all males in a civilized society should be taught. The five feminist activists were arrested by Beijing police simply because they had arranged some events to raise awareness about sexual harassment. The actions of the Beijing police not only have no legal standard, but completely violate normal social ethics. They seem to have a distorted sense of what is good for society and what bad. Do they really want to see, in public places in China, men harassing and humiliating women, with no sense of shame? Do they want to see China’s men turned into a bunch of hoodlums?”

Officials in the judiciary also called several of the lawyers in for talks, and among the Feminist Five, some were called in by police and talked to.

 

———–

Related:

Legal Opinion on Dropping the Investigation Against the “Feminist Five”, March 3, 2016.

Detention of Five Chinese Feminist Activists at the Juncture of Beijing+20 – An Interview with Gender Scholar Wang Zheng, April 12, 2015.

Wu Rongrong: How I Became a Women’s Rights Advocate, April 27, 2015.

Guo Jianmei, Zhongze, and the Empowerment of Women in China, a profile of China’s first public interest lawyer and renowned women’s rights advocate. February 14, 2016.

 

 

Feminist Five Thank Domestic and International Support That Secured Their Release

Published: May 6, 2015

Below are excerpts of the letters they posted following their release on April 13, 2015.

 

Wei Tingting (韦婷婷), April 17, 2015  

Since the first day home, I have been constantly trying to make up for what I missed during the detention, reading your articles, tracking your chats, browsing through various reports from various venues, and then allowing tears to flow. I am moved and excited each day by your spirit, bravery and love, so much so that I can hardly sleep at the night.  Having too much to say and too much to write about, I do not know how to start, overwhelmed by waves of feelings.

On the way back, I got to know the various voices of support from all over the world. I shed tears when I read how Po Po cried when she took out my clothes to dry on the line. I shed tears when I read how Xiao Tie prepared for me a T shirt/poster of the handsome Esther Eng. [Esther Eng was a Chinese–American film director and the first female to direct Chinese-language films in the United States.”] I shed tears when I read, one after another, articles posted in the two public [WeChat] accounts.

I saw the protest photos you took and loved especially the one featuring two half-naked girls.  I saw your declaration that the feminist activist group (女权行动派) would never die, and there are too many of us to be all put in jail. My tears swelled uncontrollably when I saw you walking in cities wearing our photos as masks, so cute yet so determined, so warm to the heart. I already shed a flood of tears when Lawyer Wang, on his visit, told me about the mask protest for our loss of freedom. I was about to shed tears again when S said that those outside were, in fact, suffering more than those inside [the jail].

A few hours ago, Huang Ye said she was so concerned that she wanted to help find psychological assistance for me. So many people have called to inquire after me since I was released, and so long was the list of friends who want to take me out for dinner to comfort me. Even more touchingly, some of my college alumni had spoken up on my behalf, and a younger male alumni had written an article about me. Isn’t this what motivated us to do what we did from the very beginning: to let more people understand gender equality and to become one of those who make a difference?

Our faces have turned up in different countries. Because three of us are lesbians, All Out have collected over 100,000 signatures, promising they will help whenever we are in need of support. Upon hearing that my cellphone and computer were taken away, some friends wanted to bring me new ones.  Friends in the gay/lesbian circle started posting my earlier articles, speeches, calling gays and lesbians to support the feminists. I was nominated for the Asian LGBT Milestone Award. Now I believe that, whether they like feminism or not, they understand that this is not just about women, or sexual harassment; the issues of the disadvantaged are always interconnected.

All of these have filled my heart with love, hope, and courage, inspiring me to go forward with surer steps.

I was disheartened at first, thinking this would be the end of the young feminist activists. But what each of you did has ushered in a new era of magnificent and persistent feminist activism, which shall live on, which cannot be locked up or shut down. You have also managed to bring the young feminist activists beyond China, and onto the international stage. As Sile (赵思乐) puts it: Whether or not we will be able to continue all depends on ourselves as a group. When some of us got into trouble and are imprisoned, the others did not disperse in fear. Instead, we overcame our fear and took action.

Although we cannot meet at the moment, I feel we are closely and profoundly united. I feel blessed to share such a bond with you, and I love you more than ever.

I’m in my hometown recovering now. So far so good. I shall take this experience as part of life’s trials and tribulations. The only regret I have is that, for the time being, I cannot leave here to hug you all.  We of this generation love freedom. Cheers for freedom. A cup of wine until we see each other. Love you.

Li Tingting (李婷婷, a.k.a. Maizi), April 20, 2015

Li Tingting (left) and Xia La. Photo: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/chinese-feminist-tells-of-ordeal-in-detention-vows-to-continue-advocacy/2015/04/21/00d0ffc6-ae95-4495-82a1-19e26c0b82a7_story.html?postshare=6161430234050125

Li Tingting (left) and Xia La. Photo: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/chinese-feminist-tells-of-ordeal-in-detention-vows-to-continue-advocacy/2015/04/21/00d0ffc6-ae95-4495-82a1-19e26c0b82a7_story.html?postshare=6161430234050125

Thank you for your support, my friends in China, including my feminist allies, LGBT comrades, college alumni, close friends and netizens who care for me.  Thank you for your help.  In a domestic situation as critical at it is now, you have great power to speak up for justice and truth regardless of the cost.  It was just for your efforts that I could walk out of the house of detention and see the smog of the capital city again.

Thank you for your support, lawyer Yan Xin, Xu Rong, and Wang Yu. You have never stopped providing me with strong support when I was illegally detained or since I was released on bail. Thank you for stepping out to represent me.  Your timely visits and legal efforts helped make it possible to defend my legitimate rights, your effective communication and constant encouragement helped instill confidence in me that I’m innocent when I was interrogated and faced the pressure of self-incrimination.

Thank you, friends from all over the world, I may or may not know you but you are our allies and fellow-travelers. Your concern for our case and your demand for our freedom enabled more people to know us, to understand us, and you have made China and the world witness the strength and power of the young feminist activists. If we eventually achieve the dignity and freedom we deserve, you will be among those whose contribution is indelible.

Thank you, my family.  You have fought fearlessly in the face of danger. You pushed back the pressure and refused to write a letter to persuade me to confess to a crime that I had not committed. You have been my most solid backer and my safe haven, and you have freed me from all family concerns.

Thank you, my girlfriend. In face of hardship, you endured insult and humiliation to secure the best outcome for me. Today, you are still doing everything you can to handle issues after my release. Xiao La (小辣), I’m sorry to put you through all this.

There are more feelings in me than I can express in words. There is so much to thank.  I hope to have a chance to thank each of you in person. Our struggle has yet to succeed, and there is still hard work ahead. I will continue to fight for my innocence and freedom, and I will keep up the pursuit of justice. My belief in feminism has become only stronger after this episode. Thank you all again.

Wang Man (王曼), April 20, 2015

Hi, my caring and loving friends:

It’s been a full week since I came out of the Haidian Detention Center. Encouraged by friends and loved ones, I have been recovering. Please be assured that I am all right now.

Since the first phone call I answered upon my release, what I have wanted to say the most is simply thank you all – my family, friends, and lovers of justice in China and abroad, whom we may or may not know, who voiced their support. Without you, we might still be in prison enduring brutalities.

I want to thank Ms. Zhao Xia, my lawyer.  The moment I saw her, I was reassured by her succinct and powerful remarks, which strengthened my belief in my innocence and informed me of the support in China and beyond.

I want to thank my four “co-offenders.” Their singing, which soared above the barbed wire walls, and their firm glances helped me to hold back tears.

I want to thank my fellow inmates (I hope they will see these words when they are freed). They did chores and duties for me, and they gave me the corner, the best spot in the cell, to me so that I could rest better, encouraging me to “get recharged and persevere to the end.”

I want to thank my friends, my elders, my lawyers and media friends for their rescue efforts on our behalf. They have embraced personal risks when they campaigned for us. Whether they carried it on or were forced underground, I imagine you have endured no less than I did.

I want to thank various women’s rights groups and people from all walks of life inside and outside China. Loud and clear, you supported us, strangers and ordinary people tens of thousands miles away, and your voices from beyond the national boundaries have impressed me profoundly.

The 38 days behind bars have strengthened me. We have yet to regain our rightful freedom and justice, we shall continue to demand them, and we appreciate your continuing support.

Thank you again!

Zheng Churan (郑楚然, a. k. a. Datu)

Zheng Churan. http://chinadigitaltimes.net/chinese/2015/03/%E6%94%AF%E6%8C%81%E4%B8%AD%E5%A4%A7%E6%A0%A1%E5%8F%8B%E5%8F%8A%E5%A5%B3%E6%9D%83%E5%85%AC%E7%9B%8A%E4%BA%BA-%E4%B8%AD%E5%A4%A7%E5%AD%A6%E5%AD%90%E7%9A%84%E8%81%94%E5%90%8D%E5%A3%B0%E6%8F%B4/

Zheng Churan. Photo: online.

I thought I would cry only when I was detained, and I thought I would stop crying once released. No, not at all. I am still crying. As I browsed through the multitude of voices of support posted in the past 38 days, I was shaken from head to toe!  During my only meeting with the lawyer, I was moved when Mr. Hu said “many people are campaigning for you, international, domestic, and especially from Sun Yat-san University,” but I had no idea that the campaign was so large, so earth-shaking, so beyond what I had ever seen. I was so moved, so flabbergasted that I did not know what to say but let tears flow.

Using a borrowed cellphone, I browsed articles that had not yet been censored (of course, most WeChat posts had been deleted with a big red exclamation mark in their places), crying as I read. My heart thumped when I saw photos of the five of us being carried from city to city around the world. I couldn’t stop crying when I learned that my schoolmates in Sun Yat-san University were summoned by police, warned by school administrators, and the campus was being “interrogated.” I can’t tell you how proud I am of my alumni and friends from other university campuses for their moral clarity.

Belatedly I received greetings from almost all corners of the world. I saw feminism being widely discussed.  Feminists, women’s rights activists, LGBTQIA supporters, NGOers, our lawyers, legal professionals, citizens, my factory worker friends, students, scholars, researchers, media friends, and everyone else……I browsed through the posts of the friend circle, and I’m still reading it today, still crying now and then. And I read over and over again articles by teachers and mentors who I had always admired.

How vulnerable I was when I was cut off from information, and how my self-confidence and self-esteem ebbed in isolation. Once out of jail, I realized all the worries I had about you all while I was in detention were completely unnecessary—you are braver and stronger than I had thought and you are my pride. Your posts in the friend circle helped me to restore my confidence. Reading those legal analyses of this case, I saw that I was innocent (I will start reading the criminal law and the criminal procedural law). Law is not a doll to be dressed by someone at will; it is based on reason. Oh, I digressed.

Thanks to all of you, thanks for everything you are, past, present, and future.

Wu Rongrong, April 18, 2015

With your caring thoughts and well-wishing over the last few days, Rongrong has been slowly reviving, finding again her inner strength.

The night I was released, my husband choked several times telling me what had happened while I was in jail. I felt inspired as never before. As Teacher Wang Zheng put it, this is a world-wide women’s rights movement.

I have been catching up for the past few days, reading once and again some articles. The love and care emitting from those pages gives me the strength to start anew. I saw the signatures of my Hepatitis B friends; I saw the signature campaign launched by the lawyers; I saw feminist sisters inside China and abroad wearing masks of our photos; I saw people tirelessly passing on information and speaking out for the sake of justice; I saw photos of Big Sis Ye Jinghuan being taken away by police as she showed up in the  detention center to bring me medicines; I saw the nursery rhymes professor Ai Xiaoming wrote and the letter from Professor Wang Zheng. Indeed, help and concern came from many and from all over the places. I feel love and strength.

On behalf of my family, I thank you all. While in custody, I had a dream one night. I dreamed of a roomful of balloons and smiles. And I believe I felt then the power of your support. It will accompany me wherever I go.

I look forward to seeing you again one day, when we will talk and cheer.

 

————

Related:

Detention of Five Chinese Feminist Activists at the Juncture of Beijing+20 – An Interview with Gender Scholar Wang Zheng, April 12, 2015.

Meet the 5 Female Activists China Has Detained, April 6, 2015.

Wu Rongrong: How I Became a Women’s Rights Advocate, April 27, 2015

The Education of Detained Chinese Feminist Li Tingting, an Excerpt from “China’s Millennials: The Want Generation” by Eric Fish.

Taking Feminist Battle to China’s Streets, and Landing in Jail, April 5th, 2015.

Supporters of Detained Feminists in China Petition for Their Release, April 1, 2015.

Lawyer’s Account of Second Meeting with Li Tingting, March 25, 2015

 

(Translated by Li Sumiao)

Chinese original

 

Wu Rongrong: How I Became a Women’s Rights Advocate

By Wu Rongrong, published: April 27, 2015

 

Wu Rongrong (武嵘嵘), though released along with the four other feminist activists on April 13, was subjected to grueling, humiliating interrogations on April 23rd and 24th. Don’t let the CCP machine destroy the very best of China. – The Editor

武嵘嵘

 

Fate and chance made me a social worker and a feminist: gentle and timid in appearance, but a staunch defender of women’s rights.

After four years of college social work studies and volunteer experience, I set off on a path of social advocacy

At college, I majored in social work. I fell in love with the ideas, values and curriculum of that major, its concern for society’s most vulnerable groups and its quest for fairness and justice. My Alma mater, China Women’s University (中华女子学院), was papered with images of heroic women who had been tireless campaigners for women’s rights. During my college years, apart from studying the book, I spent a lot of time volunteering at various public interest NGOs. I spent nearly two years as a volunteer at the China Children’s Press and Publication Group’s “Heart-to-Heart Hotline,” and nearly four years as a volunteer at the New Path Foundation’s Big Brother/Big Sister Program, where I served until I moved back to Hangzhou. In addition, I did a variety of volunteer work for other NGOs, pitching in for periods of days or weeks.

In the second half of my senior year at college, a friend who had opened up a bookstore couldn’t believe that I managed to be so actively involved in various kinds of social work while I was still bunking with roommates in a tiny, less than 8-meter-square, 600-yuan-per-month [then about $75 US dollars] apartment near Tsinghua University. But my material needs were few, and I realized that what made me happiest was using what I’d learned to do something of value to society.

In addition to my volunteer work during those years, I also did some personal advocacy, speaking up for the legitimate rights of many disadvantaged people. For example, when I heard about a female student who had been infected with HIV and was being pressured by her college to drop out, I took action at my own college—telling my friends, classmates and roommates to tell their friends and classmates about the young woman’s predicament, in the hope of drawing societal attention to the fact that she and other HIV-positive individuals have a legitimate right to an education. I was involved in many such efforts.

As a young student striving for academic success, I applied for scholarships and grants that required me to obtain certain certifications from officials of my home village. These officials frequently took advantage of the situation to sexually harass me or make me clean their houses for free. As a young student in that sort of environment, I had no advocate or supporter to turn to. Had I tried to speak up for myself, it would have resulted in humiliating gossip and innuendo and made me unable to show my face in the village.

In 2005, instead of returning to my hometown for Chinese New Year, I decided to stay in Beijing and find work. When I found myself in a car headed for Shunyi [a district in the far northeastern corner of Beijing] with a man who had posed as an employer to lure me there, I began to understand just how helpless I was—a weak and feeble woman versus a large and powerful man. Fortunately, thanks to some quick thinking on my part, I managed to call for reinforcements and get away. Like me, all of my female friends encountered harassment when looking for full-time or part-time work. As eighteen- or nineteen-year-old girls, all we could think of was buying a fruit knife for self-defense.

I am interested in public service, not only because of my vocation, but also because of a beautiful misunderstanding. While in college, en I entered university, a physical exam revealed that I was a “healthy carrier” of hepatitis B. Growing up in a small mountain village in Luliangshan (山西吕梁山), I had never heard of such a thing, but the doctor at the Sino-Japanese Friendship Hospital [in Beijing] told me not to worry, I could be 28 years old before I got sick. I took this to mean that I had only 10 more years to live, so from then on, I made a habit of trying to live each day to the fullest, and make sure each day was meaningful.

Why I stood up for Deng Yujiao (邓玉娇) and spoke out against sexual harassment— courage and conviction in the struggle for women’s rights

As a child, I grew up in an extremely patriarchal environment where girls were regarded worthless. Too many times, I witnessed promising young girls from our village forced to abandon their studies and go to work to support their brothers’ educations. My close friend and neighbor, who was one of four children, was only thirteen years old when she left school and started working. After a large portion of her body was burned in an explosion of a fireworks factory, she eventually got married to a very elderly man. As the daughter of a poor family, my quest for an education was hampered not only by severe economic hardship, but also by well-meaning people who tried to dissuade me from continuing my education.

In 2009, when a young sauna employee named Deng Yujiao used a fruit knife to stab to death a government official who had been sexually harassing her, it made me think of the harassment that many of my female classmates and I had experienced. To show our support for Deng Yujiao, a younger female classmate and I put on a work of performance art called “Deng Yujiao could be any one of us.” Although that was over six years ago, during my recent detention the interrogators asked me about that performance repeatedly, and kept demanding to know who or what was behind it. I told them exactly what I’ve described above, and while I don’t know if my explanation elicited any compassion from them, I hope that it did, at least from those with daughters of their own at home. I’m not some mastermind conspirator working behind the scenes to disturb the social order; I just want to call attention to the plight of women facing sexual harassment, and call for more public measures to punish and deter perpetrators.

Don’t cry, friends—you’re not alone

The reason my fellow feminists and I were detained was because of our planned campaign [to distribute stickers with anti-sexual harassment slogans] on March 8, International Women’s Day. But in fact, by March 6, we had already made separate promises to local police not to go forward with the event, and had even submitted our stickers and printed materials to the authorities. The original intention was simply to bring the community together to oppose sexual harassment, and to extend loving support to women who had experienced sexual harassment. Time and again, I’ve blamed myself…blamed myself for getting my fellow feminists detained. I wonder if they, like me, are being treated as political prisoners. Just thinking about it makes me even more upset. Every time I think about it, I worry that they’ll hate me for it.

Several of my fellow feminists were detained a day before I was. Some people, not understanding the situation, asked why I didn’t try to hide. The thought did occur to me, but only for a moment, and then I pushed it aside. I told some of my younger friends, the ones who hadn’t been detained, that I was going to go back to Hangzhou to explain the situation [to the authorities]. I naively thought that if [the authorities] had me in hand, other friends with minimal involvement in the campaign would be released. I naively thought that keeping my friends company would make them safer than if I went into hiding, so I made up my mind and boarded a flight to Hangzhou.

Big Rabbit [Zheng Churan’s nickname] and I were interrogated separately but on the same floor in the evenings. Twice I heard her crying. I worried whether she had a vicious interrogator, or whether she was under too much pressure or suffering too much.  At the time, I stopped and strained to hear what was happening in her room. Every day I prayed that my younger friends wouldn’t lose hope, that they wouldn’t feel alone. Sometimes we saw each other, and I wished I could tell them I’m here, I’m staying strong, and just knowing that we’re not suffering alone makes it easier to bear.

Making the best of a bad situation: my creative life in detention

My beauty regime: Of the 38 days in detention, I spent 19 days in a public security bureau hospital. 19 days, that’s all it took to transform my usual sallow complexion into a beautiful rosy glow. The secret was the leftover congee [rice gruel], which I would stir and stir (of course, as I stirred, I thought of my adorable little son, whose current pet phrase is “stir, stir the chocolate”). When applied to the face and body, the pale green gruel not only rids one’s skin of sallowness, it also keeps one’s hair soft and supple. Although the hospital had no “Yumeijing” brand beauty products or good shampoo, still I managed to emerge snow white and squeaky clean.

DIY fashion to beat the heat: During my first days in the detention center, the indoor temperature was kept too high, so I had to get creative by ripping out the stitching of my shirt with my teeth and removing the sleeves. It was a very fashionable look, but unfortunately the shirt was later confiscated, so I was unable to keep it as a souvenir. However, I would not recommend that others try the same, as some detention centers prohibit detainees from altering their uniforms.

Staying in shape by running in place: This is the very best medicine for curing pain and loss. Naturally, when running in place, keeping the arms elevated the entire time is an effective treatment for both neck pain and rheumatism.

The simple pleasures of reciting classical poetry: Before, I was never really able to relax and enjoy reciting classical poetry by heart—majestic lines like [Su Shi’s] “Eastward flows the Yangtze River, washing away all traces…”, or the bold optimism of Li Bai’s “Bringing in the Wine”, or the gentle beauty of [Xu Zhimo’s] “Taking Leave of Cambridge Again.” With such enjoyment, I would feel there wasn’t anything too difficult to get through.

There’s more, so much more. Later, someone will pick up where I left off.

You see, life is beautiful, I love you all, you who give me strength and warmth. You also give me the courage to describe my experience. I believe that, at the end of all this suffering, there will be a rainbow.

(Original title: Don’t Cry, Friends—You’re Not Alone)

 

———-

Related:

Chinese Officers Harshly Interrogated Women’s Rights Activist, Husband Says, the New York Times, April 28, 2015.

Chinese feminist: Long hours of interrogations after release, AP, April 25, 2015.

Detention of Five Chinese Feminist Activists at the Juncture of Beijing+20 – An Interview with Gender Scholar Wang Zheng, April 12, 2015.

 

(Translated by Cindy Carter)

Chinese original (the Chinese was posted in a friend group as a set of jpegs; China Change transcribed them for easy reading.)

 

Response to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Accusation against Yirenping

By Beijing Yirenping Center, April 14, 2015

 

On April 14, Hong Lei, the Spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), stated publicly that our organization, Beijing Yirenping Center (BYC), “has allegedly violated the law, and will be punished.” Our organization’s response is as follows:

1.  We welcome MOFA in its open discussion on BYC, as this is an improvement upon the break-in raid into our office, in the early hours of March 24.

2.  BYC will take the accusation from MOFA seriously. We will hire legal counsel to respond in accordance with China’s laws, as well as pursue the March 24 office raid.

3.  Since BYC’s founding in 2006, we have been the target of rigorous “solicitude” from various departments and levels of the police force. We have reason to believe that, should BYC have broken the law in any way, the police would have raised the issue long ago, rather than leaving it to be picked up by the foreign affairs agency. The fact remains that no one in the police force has ever pointed out any illegality in BYC’s work; on the contrary, across the board they see BYC’s work as meaningful. We are now unsure which of these two divergent opinions to believe.

4.  We have noticed that, starting last year, other anti-discrimination groups in China have run into a series of crackdown that is without legal basis or warning. In July 2014, Zhengzhou Yirenping, an organization whose mission is eliminating discrimination against disability, was raided; in March 2015, Weizhiming, a Hangzhou group whose mission is eliminating gender discrimination, saw the same thing happen.

5.  As the first professional public interest group against discrimination in China, BYC has, in collaboration with many other players, consistently pushed the envelope on anti-discrimination and promotion of equal rights. After many years of hard work, the concept of “anti-discrimination” is increasingly gaining currency within the entire society. In the communique issued after the 4th Plenary Session of the Chinese Communist Party Central Committee, “the elimination of all employment discrimination” was also raised. The government declares the intention to fight discrimination on the one hand, and on the other raids the office of anti-discrimination organizations and makes accusation of “illegality.” It is hard for people to know whether the government policies are real, uniform or consistent.

6.  The “Five Feminist Sisters” just released are all peers and good friends of BYC, and three of them either are or used to be our colleagues. They were arrested without justification by the police for organizing a legal education drive to fight sexual harassment on public transportation, and we joined everyone else both in China and abroad as a matter of course to protest these arrests and to advocate for them. On April 13, we were relieved and overjoyed at their release. However, we do not flatter ourselves that BYC had made any out-of-the-ordinary contribution to the advocacy campaign, nor can we prove that the March 24 raid of our office and the MOFA accusation constitute “retribution” against us.

 

———

Related:

China accuses prominent NGO of ‘breaking the law’, Reuters, April 14, 2015

China Raids Offices of Rights Group as Crackdown on Activism Continues, New York Times, March 26, 2015.

 

(Translated by China Change)

Chinese original, not yet available on the web.

 

Detention of Five Chinese Feminist Activists at the Juncture of Beijing+20 – An Interview with Gender Scholar Wang Zheng

Published: April 11, 2015

“You must know the global picture of women to understand the international response to the detention of the five feminists in China.”

 

Professor Wang Zheng spoke at the Brookings Institute in Washington, DC, on April 3, 2015.

Professor Wang Zheng spoke at the Brookings Institute in Washington, DC, on April 3, 2015. Photo credit: @LetaHong

Professor Wang Zheng (王政), of the University of Michigan, is a scholar whose research focuses on the modern and contemporary history of Chinese women and gender, and Chinese feminism in the era of globalization. Since 1993, Professor Wang has been working with Chinese domestic feminist scholars to promote feminist scholarship and establish courses in women studies and gender studies. She has also participated in the feminist movement itself in China over the years. On April 3rd, Professor Wang gave a speech at Brookings Institute in Washington, DC, about the recent arrest of the five Chinese feminists (starts around 48:00). On April 7th, the editor of this website talked to Professor Wang, further discussing the Chinese and global background of the incident and how it will impact the women’s rights movement in China.

YC: (Yaxue Cao): In your speech at Brookings, you hinted that you had known beforehand these young feminists’ action plan on March 8th, International Women’s Day. Do you know them?

Wang: They are either my students or the students of my students.

YC: Oh, how so?

Wang:  In 1989, when a group of Chinese PhDs or PhD candidates studying abroad attended an academic conference, we said, since we were all interested in women’s studies, we hoped to foster the development of feminist scholarship in Chinese universities, given that feminism and gender studies had already been well established in American higher education. At the same time, we also hoped to help the west to learn about changes in China in this area. We wanted to be this bridge. So we founded Chinese Society for Women’s Studies (海外中华妇女学学会), and I was one of the founders. In 1993, we applied and received a grant to hold seminars and training in partnership with Chinese universities and research institutes

Professor Wang Zheng (far right on 2nd row) in a Chinese feminist forum at Nanjing University, 2014.

Professor Wang Zheng (far right on 2nd row) taking part in a Chinese feminist forum at Nanjing University, 2014.

on women. We also translated and published many titles of feminist scholarship.  In 1999, I went back to China to work there. Working with colleagues in China, we initiated programs for women and gender studies, and the participants included government officials, China’s Women’s Federation, the China Social Science Academy, and the university faculty and students. In China, women’s studies can be traced back to the 1980s, but it was suppressed following the Tiananmen democracy movement in 1989. But after that, seeking ways to return to the international community, China hosted the Fourth World Conference on Women. To host the Conference, there must be a NGO forum, and China had to accept that. So the Chinese government gave a special pass for NGOs on women’s issues. So along with the Fourth World Conference on Women, NGOs on women’s issues began to flourish in China. It was against this backdrop that our Society worked in China legitimately and smoothly.

YC: How many members does the society have?

Wang: Over 100 scholars. The number fluctuates. It’s not just us who came from mainland China; it also includes scholars from around the world who study Chinese women’s issues. After returning to China in 1999, my Chinese colleagues and I secured a big grant from the Ford Foundation to train teachers in colleges. Our objective was very clear: we wanted to establish this field of scholarship to produce knowledge and to become interconnected with the international field. Speaking of interconnection with international scholarship, one of the most disconnected areas is feminist scholarship. We charged no fees for our training, and more, we disseminated large volumes of feminist translations and textbooks.

At the beginning, we held five-day training sessions, and we covered many people and many schools. In 2002, we partnered with China Women’s University (中华女子学院) and Hong Kong Chinese University and launched a three-year program. And later, China Women’s University became the first higher education institute in China to offer an undergraduate degree in women’s studies. After I began to teach at the University of Michigan, I still went back to China every year, and I established a base in Fudan University in Shanghai, the Michigan-Fudan Joint Institute for Gender Studies (密歇根大学-复旦大学社会性别研究所) where we offer courses during the summer. A number of feminist activists, not the ones who were detained, attended my classes. I know very well one of the five detained feminists who at one point attended my class.

YC: Wu Rongrong, one of the five, is a graduate of China’s Women University. Nine were arrested initially, and I think there must be a lot more feminist activists out there. So the feminist activism has been closely related to feminist studies in China, right?

Wang:  Right. They are the generation of feminists who grew up during a historical time when feminist discourse had been disseminated and making tremendous impact in China, centering on the two documents of the Fourth World Conference on Women – the Beijing Declaration and the Beijing Platform for Action, the implementation and the review. And these are the key documents of global women’s rights, and gender, which is a feminist concept, is the core concept of these two documents. Comparing global feminism with the work of the Women’s Federation (妇女联合会) under the auspices of the Chinese government, there are commonalities in both ideology and practice, but the difference is significant.

YC: As such, feminist studies and practices in today’s China are closely tied to the Fourth World Conference on Women held in 1995 in Beijing, and they are part of the global women’s rights movement. Specifically, how did you learn about these young women’s action plan for International Women’s Day?

Professor Wang lectures at Nanjing Normal University in 2010. Online photo.

Professor Wang lectures at Nanjing Normal University in 2010. Online photo.

Wang: Through WeChat. We are all in a WeChat group. I taught a lot of students in China over the years, and my students in turn have students, and we have a very big network. In addition, I’m also a participatory observer as a historian of Chinese women’s rights. Some of my earliest students have long become influential organizers. Among them, there are lawyers, professors, journalists, students, and they are very effective action-takers. Some work in public, and others prefer to stay less visible. They have different strategies. Before they were scattered in smaller WeChat groups, for example, the students I taught last year had their own WeChat group. But last July, after the sexual harassment case of a Xiamen University professor, an anti-sexual harassment WeChat group was formed to facilitate interaction and discussion. They are very capable women. They launched a signature campaign before Teacher’s Day (September 10) to mobilize university faculty and students, and they wrote letters to the Ministry of Education. All of these were done on WeChat. The young activists, including the detained five, did an enormous amount of work among college students, disseminating pamphlets telling them what to do when they are sexually harassed by their teachers. So, this year, approaching the International Women’s Day, people in the group asked: What do we do to mark International Women’s Day this year? Lively exchanges ensued. These young activists said they were going to be distributing leaflets against sexual harassment on public transportation, and everybody cheered them: Great, that’s a creative idea! Then all of a sudden, the news came that they are taken by the police. At first, people in the group didn’t think it was anything serious. “Probably just drinking tea,” they said.

[“Drink tea” refers to police summons for interrogation, an extralegal practice used by Chinese security police to intimidate dissent and social activism. – the Editor]

YC:  I didn’t think it was serious either at first.

Wang: Then they were brought to Beijing, and that’s very serious, something different altogether. I was puzzled at first: why are they detaining people in Guangzhou if it was related to the Two Sessions in Beijing? When they were brought to Beijing, everyone realized something was wrong. Their laptops and cellphones were also seized. We couldn’t get in touch with them anymore, and the police can read all of our WeChat conversations.

YC: WeChat is watched and monitored closely anyway.

Wang:  So people in the group stopped talking, knowing that the police will be reading whatever they said. At a time like that, I felt I had to speak up. So I did. Through WeChat, I wanted to shout out to the police. The detention is so stupid. When you detain feminists on the eve of International Women’s Day, you not only trample over the basic national policy of gender equality, you also provoke the international feminists. So I wrote and wrote, hoping that they would be sensible and release the five. Of course they don’t give a damn to what I said. Others in the group became nervous, “Teacher Wang, stop talking, the police are watching.” I said, “I know. I’m talking to them.” The detention of the five drove others underground, because the police had intended to arrest more, not just these few.

YC: Why did the Chinese authorities do this? What’s their thinking?

Wang: They want to smash Yirenping (益仁平). Yirenping is a NGO [that promotes rights for the disabled, workplace discrimination, etc.] These young feminists are affiliated with Yirenping where they have a group working on gender equality. The authorities probably don’t want to make too big a splash by arresting the head of Yirenping, so they detained these young women to send the message. They succeeded in terrifying Yirenping. Once these young feminists were detained, everyone working at Yirenping knew this was about Yirenping. But the police are so ignorant, and they have no idea what a force the global feminists are.

YC: They also raided Yirenping’s Beijing office. And Beijing police investigated feminist activists who took part in the Occupy Men’s Room (“占领男厕所“) campaign a few years back. But the Chinese authorities are probably surprised by how big a global response they caused and how fast it occurred.

Wang: That’s because they are ignorant. These male Chinese officials have not an iota of an idea about the women’s rights movement and organizations around the world. Nor are they informed about the international situation. In their mind, these young feminists are less than nobody, with no power and no impact.

Let me give you the global picture. You must know this picture to understand the global response. March 9th to 22nd, for two weeks, the United Nations’ 59th Commission on the Status of Women met to assess global progress for women 20 years after the Beijing Conference, and in attendance were more than 1,100 NGOs and a total of 8,600 representatives from around the world. Thousands marched in New York City on March 8, 2015, in support of women’s rights and gender equality, and there were already signs in the march calling for the release of the five. On March 9, the UN Chinese delegation announced that, in September, China will co-host the global women’s summit with the UN. Xi Jinping will be visiting the U. S. in September, and he will be giving a speech at the summit. These were arranged and prepared a long time ago, and the stage has long been set. The detention of the five is like lighting a match and throwing it on a pile of firewood. China barbarically detains feminists who campaign against sexual harassment, meanwhile on the world stage, China is co-hosting a women’s summit with the UN. No one can disregard such incongruity. So before the two-week conference was over, feminist leaders from around the world, not just the U.S. but also India, South Korea, and many other countries, organized protests in front of the Chinese embassies. World women’s rights leaders stood in front of the UN headquarters, holding signs that read, “No Release, No Summit.” Therefore, whether or not Chinese authorities release the five activists will determine how Xi Jinping will be greeted during his US trip. There will be consequences, but the Chinese patriarchal leaders have had no clue.

YC: This Monday, April 13, is the deadline for prosecutors to decide whether or not to formally arrest the five. If all five, or four, three, or even one, of the five are formally arrested, what do you think international feminists and women’s rights organizations should do? What can they do? In your speech at Brookings, you urged Americans in the audience to contact the American government, contact President Obama, asking them to pressure the Chinese government. But if you ask me, in my own experience as an activist over the last two years or so, I have come to placing less and less hope on the American government. Instead, I feel there is a lot that NGOs and civil society can do to effect change. For example, this time, I think the most effective and impactful action would be to boycott the global women’s summit in September.

Wang:  They are already taking actions and doing a lot of things. They are already asking among themselves: What leverage do we have? I just told you the global picture.

Masked activists pose on a subway with tea cups. Being "invited to drink tea" is a common euphemism Chinese authorities use for bringing activists in for interrogation. Credit: China File.

Masked activists pose on a subway with tea cups. Being “invited to drink tea” is a common euphemism Chinese authorities use for bringing activists in for interrogation. Credit: China File.

YC: You touched on this the other day when you said China’s political climate is uncongenial to NGO activism, and you talked about the apolitical strategy of the Chinese feminists. Dr. Leta Hong Fincher used the word “merely” several times to emphasize the apolitical nature of these young women’s activism.

Wang:  I have worked with Chinese colleagues on women’s rights for over 20 years from 1993 to the present, and I know very well that every feminist in China understands where the line is. As I said, benefiting from the Fourth World Conference on Women, the Chinese authorities gave special tolerance to NGOs on women’s issues. So there are anti-domestic violence organizations, there are gender development groups, and there are organizations that help women in countryside to fight poverty. A lot has been done, but the work must limit itself within the boundaries of protecting women’s equality as defined by Chinese law, and never get involved in the so-called sensitive issues. Chinese women’s rights activists have been very vigilant against such involvement.

YC: This is exactly my question. The Chinese feminists, or any Chinese citizen for that matter, think they know clearly where the boundaries are and are careful not to step over them. The feminists in your WeChat group obviously didn’t think these young women were crashing the limits when they proposed action plan against sexual harassment on public transportation. So ultimately, it still comes down to the question of political rights and civil rights. There is no escaping it.

Wang: I wrote a lot on WeChat, and I said the detention busted the bottom line. These young women didn’t organize a political party, nor are they against the communist party, nor did they engage in separatism. They did not do anything that can be accused of threatening your regime. They were defending women’s rights safeguarded by the law. It is a turning point for women’s rights in China when these activities are outlawed.

YC: Is this what you meant when you said, in your Brookings speech, that the detention of the five changed the field of feminism in China?

Wang: Yes, “field” in the same sense of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. From the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 to the present, we have strictly limited our discourse and actions to address the social and cultural inequality in a patriarchal culture, and we have never had anything to do with the issue of regimes. Now they say, “No, you can’t do this either, no more talking about gender inequality and discrimination.” Now, even the words “women’s rights” become prohibited.

YC: You have been engaged in women’s rights education in China for so long and you have many interactions with Chinese universities and organizations. Going forward, what kind of impact will the detention of the five have on NGO work to promote women’s rights?

Wang: Can’t go on anymore. These women didn’t even go on the street yet. They were only planning it when they were apprehended. In universities, when many students made calls to release the five, the administration and student counselors found each of them and intimidated them: What did you do on Sunday? Cease these activities! So, white terror everywhere.

YC:  This is promoting women’s rights in a big iron cage. The Chinese feminists might have felt that they enjoyed a special freedom, but now they see the barbaric and brutal reality where every Chinese citizen, man or woman, is denied of basic political rights. You are the director of the US-China Gender Studies program, and you have a partnership with Fudan University. How will this event affect your teaching and research in China?

Wang: If these five young women are tried and sentenced, if the Chinese government decides to follow their course to the end to wipe out these feminist activists, then I’m prepared to be arrested too next time when I return to China. Of course I’m an independent scholar and all I have done is speak out. They have been censoring the news to prevent people from knowing what happened. Then my task as a scholar is to inform the public. This is my responsibility, because I believe you are wrong to arrest these women and you are wrong to suppress the news of their detention. If you think you are doing the right thing, why are you trying to hide it? Since you are sneaky about it, I have to speak up. To me, the logic of this is very simple.

YC: Will they cancel your programs in Chinese universities?

Wang: They may, but it doesn’t matter. For all the work I have done in China since 1993, I have not taken one penny from the Chinese government. I applied for and received grants from various foundations to do my work.

YC: There, you are the “foreign force” and must be driven out.

Wang: They can’t say foreign funding is foreign force. The Chinese government entities receive far more money from foreign foundations than Chinese NGOs. I can tell you all about it. To say I’m “foreign force,” I tell you, I am still a Chinese national with a passport of the People’s Republic of China.

YC: I remember someone did a study and concluded that foreign charities, such as the Ford Foundation, give most of their money to Chinese government programs than to civil groups and NGOs.

Wang: Yes, as a grantee of the Ford Foundation, the project officer once said that a lion’s share of their money was given to government programs or government-sponsored programs. So the Chinese authorities are being disingenuous, very disingenuous.

YC: Even if they don’t arrest you when you go back, they probably will interrogate you.

Wang: Oh, interrogation is nothing.

YC: Have you been interrogated before?

Wang: I have organized many international seminars in China. In Fudan for example, I organized three large-scale ones. The police came every time, not interrogating me but my Fudan partners. They would say, “Give us the complete list of attendees,” and they would review it. Last time they told us one of the persons on the list was not allowed to come. Everything I did in China had been under their surveillance. I’m an academic and I didn’t do anything they could construe as illegal. But the problem is, you don’t have to break the law for them to arrest you. If they want to criminalize you, they will find or create charges against you. They can do that and they have done that. So I’m prepared.

YC: My sense is that the detention of the five is part of the broad suppression of public-interest NGOs in China since last year, especially NGOs receiving foreign funding. Do many women’s rights NGOs in China receive foreign funding?

Wang: Of course, they all have to, because nobody in China gives you money to do what you do. Besides, wealthy Chinese are not doing such charity work. All they do is indulge in extravagance. Are there public-interest charities in China? Very few. Domestic NGOs all have to apply for funding from foreign foundations.

YC: So in the end, it’s all about the Chinese government’s suppression of civil society. They can take money from left and right, but if you do, you are colluding with foreign forces.

Wang: Right, they alone are the ones who decide the rules of the game.

YC: My last question. The Chinese women’s rights movement has purposefully separated women’s rights from the underlying political rights, but with the persecution of the five feminist activists, the Chinese government now has politicized it, perhaps even politicized it internationally. Is this a promotion of the Chinese women’s rights movement?

Wang: It is. Before there was the illusion, now there is no more illusion. That’s why I keep saying the government is stupid. These young women represent a big section of the population – college students and beyond. This generation grew up in the last twenty and thirty years, most of them not keen on politics. But they are being politicized by this event. Any young women who have had experience of sexual harassment would be angry, and this will raise their consciousness. These young feminist activists have been using performance art as their choice of action, because they have little influence in the system, in academia, or in media. They can only draw attention to issues through performance. That’s why I said their detention is their most successful performance to date, and the police are their prop. It’s going to be a grand performance, impossible not to be.

 

———-

Signature campaigns:

1 Billion Rising

Feminists all over the World

The Association for the Advancement of Feminism

Amnesty International

 

Twitter hashtags: #FreeBeijing20Five #FreeTheFive

 

Related:

Meet the 5 Female Activists China Has Detained, April 6, 2015.

Taking Feminist Battle to China’s Streets, and Landing in Jail, April 5th, 2015.

Supporters of Detained Feminists in China Petition for Their Release, April 1, 2015.

Lawyer’s Account of Second Meeting with Li Tingting, March 25, 2015

US Foundations Boost Chinese Government, Not NGOs, Yale Global Online, 2012.

 

(Translated from the Chinese transcript by Yaxue Cao)

Chinese original

Evernote link accessible from behind the GFW