Two years since the #MeToo movement took off in China, Chinese feminists are battling headwinds in a political environment where the ruling Communist Party’s control over the Internet, media and independent activism is tighter than it has been in 30 years.
China’s party-state has zero tolerance for collective actions, so the country’s #MeToo movement has never been able to manifest in mass street protests. But individual victims have taken their cases to court, demonstrating extraordinary determination and resilience.
Facing intense “slut-shaming” on Chinese social media platforms and censorship of discussions of her case, University of Minnesota student Liu Jingyao — who is suing, in a Minnesota civil court, Chinese billionaire Liu Qiangdong for an alleged rape — vowed to never settle or sign a nondisclosure agreement (prosecutors declined to charge him in the case, and he maintains that the sex was consensual). Similarly, screenwriter Zhou Xiaoxuan — who is suing, in a Beijing court, famed state media anchor Zhu Jun for alleged sexual harassment and assault, which he denies — said, “Even giving me 100 million [yuan], I wouldn’t settle.”
Under pressure, the Chinese government has made limited improvements. In December 2018, the Supreme Court added sexual harassment to the list of “causes of action,” making it easier for #MeToo victims to seek redress. Yet China still lacks robust laws against sexual harassment.
Silenced in their home country, Chinese feminists have increasingly found footing overseas. Utilizing the relatively free and safe space in Western countries, #MeToo activists hold protests, discussions and trainings, and provide support to their counterparts inside China.
In late 2019, authorities detained Huang Xueqin, a journalist and leading figure in China’s #MeToo movement, for three months for unknown reasons. Upon release, Huang reportedly wrote: “This is Xueqin, and I’m back. … One second of darkness doesn’t make people blind.”
Amid the vast darkness, nevertheless, Chinese feminists persisted.