12. Oktober 2020

Event Report | Feminism(s)| Part II: Feminism in China

Event report

Feminism(s)| Part II: Feminism in China


October 5, 7-8 pm

As part of our Feminism(s) series, the programs Gender and International Politics and connectingAsia organised an event on feminism in China. We were very happy to have had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Qi Wang from Syddansk University about ideas of feminism and feminist activism in the last few decades in China – a topic that often lacks representation in academic discourse and the German and English speaking media.

In the first half an hour of the event, Qi Wang gave a detailed overview of Chinese feminist activities since the foundation of the People´s Republic of China. She then introduced ideas and struggles underlying feminist activities in China, which have found expression in grassroots movements such as Young Feminist Activism (YFA, 青年女权行动派) or the arrest of five young feminists known as the “Feminist Five” who were held in custody for 37 days for organizing an event against sexual harassment on public transportation on the eve of International Women’s Day (March 7) in 2015.

Since its foundation, Communist China has officially promoted gender equality. Today, Chinese women have the same access to educational qualifications as men and make up 44 percent of the workforce. But still, young women in China are under immense societal and family pressure to conform to both conservative gender roles and new expectations of success, to marry early and not become “leftover women 剩女“ aka women post-30 who choose a career and personal and financial independence over the traditional expectations of being married with a child at that age.

In China, the #MeToo movement trended relatively late, at the beginning of 2018 and mainly centered on harassment in universities. In the few cases when women have publicly accused former co-workers, employers, or professors of sexual harassment, they faced the danger of defamation lawsuits from the accused. In 2019, at least six men parried allegations of sexual harassment with libel lawsuits. Adding to such pressure in court, there are also cultural stigmas, public shame and  political suppression. Feminist social media accounts were shut down, feminist activists were advised by the police to step back and search phrases related to #MeToo were banned, which is how the movement came to be referred to as Mi Tu 米兔 on Weibo and Wechat, a term that went viral (and is now banned as well).

Especially striking were the difference between ideas of “女权主义“ and „女性主义“, both words for feminism, but conveying different interpretations (the first translating to “female essence”, the second to “women’s rights and power”). They are opposed to the view of “western feminism” which is often referred to as a movement used by the West to destabilize the Chinese system.

The second half of the event consisted of a lively and engaged Q&A session. The majority of the questions centered on contemporary feminist struggles as well as individuals and movements, which are trying to ensure legal equality with regards to the one-child policy, protection from physical and verbal harrassment and political representation.

In response to questions from the audience, Qi Wang pointed out that abortion has become less stigmatized within Chinese society and especially more widely accepted in urban areas than a few decades ago due to its legal legitimization and the abolishment of the one-child policy.  Moreover, a reference was made to reports on forced sterilizations and abortions imposed on Uighur women in the Western Chinese province of Xinjiang.

Representation of women in leading political positions is still very rare. Out of its 25 members, the 19th Central Committee of the CCP Politburo has only one woman, Sun Chunlan; this might suggest why womens’ issues remain underrepresented in the government’s policy making. Until this year there was no uniform definition of sexual harassment in the Civil Code, making it nearly impossible for women to claim damages for sexual harassment (on May 28 the National People’s Congress finally approved of Art. 1010 in the new Civil Code 中华人民共和国民法典, which will be effective from January 1st, 2021).

In the last decade, there has been increased public awareness in civil, mostly urban society, due to debates on social media and movements like the Feminist Five, that have been a point of inspiration for more young people to raise their voices. At the same time, the current feminist movement mainly represents young, well-educated, urban women and is struggling with the question of how to integrate women from less privileged backgrounds.

During the talk, the following books, articles and podcasts were recommended:

This event was organized by Polis180’s programs Gender and International Politics and connectingAsia. It is part of the event series Feminism(s) that takes a look at feminist movements, ideas and actors around the world. Please join us on November 9th for our next event on Feminism in Turkey


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