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The #MeToo Movement in China

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Source: Roman Boed/ Flickr

At the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., on January 20, among thousands of people protesting for wider political and social progress, slogans written in Chinese became a source of encouragement for the Chinese feminists at home.

Feminist Voices, the NGO based in Beijing and one of the largest online blog in China, ended its article on the march with an optimistic note: “The time of solidarity and resistance has come. And it is extremely important that everyone believes that they can bring about changes.”

On some of the Chinese signs, emojis of a bowl of rice and a rabbit became recurring motifs – the Chinese characters of “rice” and “rabbit” are homonyms of the viral “MeToo” hashtag, which started gaining considerable attention on Weibo (China’s top social media platform) early January, but was banned by the platform only two weeks after its creation.

So the topic “rice rabbit in China” has emerged, indicating that the activists in China are not ready to give up, despite challenges posed by the Chinese government and legal system, and the largely patriarchal, traditional societal norms and values that have for too long kept Chinese women from becoming “silence breakers”

The movement started when Beihang University graduate, Luo Xixi, posted an article online, accusing her former professor, Chen Xiaowu, of sexual harassment of her among other seven women. More than three million people have read the post, and many more women responded to her cause, sharing their experiences.

With an authority that “frowns on citizen-led movements, has a poor record of promoting women’s rights and controls all news media” as described by the New York Times, Chinese feminist activists almost have no choice but to keep their efforts online. Yet while there are definitely posts that have somehow escaped the tentacles of censorship, not everyone shares the optimism.

Lokman Tsui, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told The Atlantic that the authorities are likely to be in a stage of preparing a response, and the “movement has space to grow,” before it at some point “hit[s] the radar.”

In an official news story uploaded on February 1 dedicated to the #MeToo movement in China, the anchor addressed the courage of Luo and others who followed her, as well as the harsh realities faced by female victims of sexual assault in China, where “very conservative attitudes towards sex” are still prevalent.

While acknowledging “the rise of feminist conciseness in China,” the four-minute clip also managed to draw attention to the vagueness of the term sexual harassment or assault, saying that there are “difficulties in defining and interpreting the term.” Similarly, the story said that one should realize that men too “are also prone to similar treatment”. When put in the Chinese context, however, both statements inevitably sounded like the state news outlets’ usual beating-around-the-bush way of work.

It is unclear whether the movement in China will keep gaining momentum with a censorship capable of making posts simply disappear. Yet before they do, the #RiceRabbitInChina on Weibo continues to be read and shared by thousands.

By: Yvette Shi

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