CW: This article contains discussion about sexual assault and abuse.
With Du Meizhu’s accusations against Kris Wu, there has been intensified discussion around sexual abuse and the #MeToo movement in China.
The Global #MeToo movement began in earnest around the 2017 case of Harvey Weinstein, though the term was first used by activist and sexual abuse survivor, Tarana Burke. Though, as I’m sure all people who have the slightest knowledge of history know this is not when the ideas central of the #MeToo Movement began, these ideas and push for justice for victims, and a desire to make sure we end this abuse has been around forever, it’s just that many people don’t know about it. As a quick example, did you know that Rosa Parks was deeply involved in helping to document and assist victims of abuse long before she refused to give up her seat on that bus? (Which is another thing that many people don’t fully understand, but that is a discussion for another time) It’s true and if you are interested in learning more about that and a lot of other horrible abuses of black women, often actually children, abused by men, mostly whites, that has been mostly erased from history, check out this book!
The #MeToo Movement in China specifically happened at around the same time, though as with the broader movement, this is not actually new, it is just finally receiving well-deserved attention. The hashtag #MeToo quickly began circulating in China, along with homegrown Mandarin variations. One of these examples was #WoYeShi (the romanization of 我也是 or me too), but others came about because of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) censorship.
For those not familiar with Beijing’s authoritarian censorship laws, their control of the internet is vast and essentially all encompassing. Users are not allowed to even open Twitter, where the site grew to prominence in many parts of the world. Along with this, phrases and groups are often quickly scrubbed off local CCP approved social media platforms, sometimes even for the slightest of perceived transgressions. Often this is because the government gets in their feelings about some perceived slight or because, like any good authoritarian state, they really hate to hear any constructive criticism, even from their citizens.
These include serious cases such as the recent removal of numerous LGBTQ groups from CCP spy in your pocket APP WeChat and their banning of LGBTQ content inside the Great Firewall in 2017. Other instances seem more banal, such as the cases of banning the letter N and our old favorite Whinnie the Pooh.
It is precisely because of this censorship that activists, and average citizens, must often get creative with their organizing and protest. One example of this is the current hashtag used by netizens in China, #米兔 or it’s literal meaning in English, #RiceBunny. This is because the word for rice in Mandarin, 米, is pronounced mǐ (me) and rabbit or bunny, 兔, is pronounced tù (too).
However, even before the #MeToo Movement found its way around the world, women in China were already fighting against abuse, a prime example of this and the backlash activist face in China is the Femenist 5.
This group of women had planned a protest to raise awareness and fight against sexual harassment on public transportation in China. The members of this prestigious group, including documentarians and scholars, were arrested and detained on International Women’s Day, very fitting, for planning to hand out stickers on the subway. Now, you many be wondering how this could be. Does the CCP have strict anti-sticker laws or was this group planning to do a Aum Shinrikyo style attack wile passing out their pieces of sticky paper? Most people familiar with China will know their crime was, say it with me folks, “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” or “寻衅滋事.” This is a common charge for those making the Party uncomfortable, and yes this is a real law on the books in China and the CCP uses it all the time, especially for activists. It can also come with a prison term of up to ten years.
These brave sticker passers are still under house arrest and being detained as of the publishing of this article. While this is a clear human rights violation, it thankfully hasn’t stopped others from speaking out as well. Around the time of the #MeToo Movement’s explosion, many women in China came forward, often against very powerful people who they alleged had sexually abused them in some way. These include nuns propositioned by the former president of the Buddhist Association of China, Zhou Xiaoxuan’s accusations against one of China’s most famous TV hosts, a Beijing professor accused of harassing women, and a tech billionaire accused of rape just to name a few. While the women that spoke out in these cases received varying degrees of justice, all of them received vitriolic hate on the internet and feared reprisals either in their personal lives, careers, or even being locked up by the government like the Feminist 5.
The 2019 case of Huang Xueqin (黄雪琴) shows this in horrible detail. Huang was a journalist and activist in the #MeToo movement in China. She conducted a study of 416 female journalists, of this group 84% reported that they had experienced sexual harassment or assault in the workplace. Another online study found that 70% of college students and graduates, of 7000 respondents, reported that they had been sexually harassed in China, and yet another study showed that 80% of women had experienced sexual harassment there. It was due to this, and almost certainly her reporting on Hong Kong that Huang was eventually detained. She was later moved to a Chinese black site, though thankfully she is now out, though still likely under state surveillance. When she was released she issued a statement on Facebook that ended “I remember that one second of darkness will not make people blind.”
These cases are precisely why speaking up is so difficult and why movements like #MeToo are so important. While people living in the darkness of societies that do not take sexual assaults and harassment will certainly not blind the victims, it does make it harder for sections of the public that have not experienced it to understand. This in turn makes it much more difficult to deal with issues of sexual assault, abuse, etc in any way that will get results. Though thanks to the brave actions of these and countless women around the world and throughout history, we have seen great progress, even in reactionary authoritarian states like China.
The latest case, mentioned at the beginning of this article, of Du Meizhu may give some hope to the victims of sexual violence in China. Du, while of course receiving a massive amount of vitriolic hate, has also received quite a bit of support from her fellow Chinese people, and maybe even the government.
This is a start, however it is nowhere near enough. People and governments the world over must do all they can to prevent these horrible abuses, support victims, and ensure those that commit these crimes are punished and hopefully rehabilitated. People deserve better and should demand more from their governments and citizens.