Have you ever wondered what Chinese feminism looks like? Does it even exist? The answer is yes, it does exist. It’s social-media savvy, it’s bold and it’s pushing for a change.

“They can speak, make an outcry, but we can’t,” says Li Tingting, aka Li Maizi about rape victims in the United States. She expressed solidarity with the Stanford rape survivor but stated that in China “people prefer to hide their stories, and heal themselves alone.”

According to New York Times “in China today, women face widespread discrimination at work; many companies refuse to even hire women. Sexual harassment is commonplace. Domestic violence is pervasive. According to a 2013 multi-country study conducted by the United Nations, more than 50 percent of Chinese men have physically or sexually abused their partners.”

women's political rights around the globe

Feminism in China is facing backlash from the government, but it is also fighting back. The most prominent Chinese women’s rights advocates, aka “Feminist Five”, are Wei Tingting, Li Tingting (Li Maizi), Wu Rongrong, Wang Man and Zheng Churan (Datu).


Li Maizi and what she stands for

Li Maizi

Li Maizi (also known as Li Tingting) is a gay feminist activist. She grew up in a working class family on the outskirts of Beijing. According to Li, her parents had been forced into marriage when her mother became pregnant with her. Li left home to study public administration at Changan University in China’s northwestern Xian province.

Two days ahead of International Women’s Day in 2015 Li Maizi, along with four fellow activists, was arrested and detained for 37 days on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble”. The feminists were planning protests in multiple cities against sexual harassment on public transport. Since then, she has become a globally known activist calling attention to women rights issues.

Li openly spoke about her ordeal in detention saying that “…she was interrogated 49 times during her detention, under strong lights and for up to eight hours at a time, and that one police officer “spat” smoke into her face many times during the questioning, while several insulted her for being a lesbian and called her shameless. On one night, she was allowed only two hours sleep.”

According to Washington Post “before her release, police forced Li to sign a pledge not to talk to the news media, something her attorney, Wang Yu, said has no basis in Chinese law. Nevertheless, Li appears determined not to be silenced entirely.”

Since then, Li Maizi has traveled to multiple countries raising awareness about gender inequality in China. While in detention she even began to doubt herself and what she was fighting for. However, it was her time in jail that “cemented her plans to become the first openly lesbian lawyer in China”.

On March 11 she joined Million Women Rise demonstration in London “to call for an end to violence against women and girls”. In an interview with Quartz Li stated:

“… it’s important to let the world know about Chinese feminism, because China is a relatively closed country with its own communication tools. I feel like other people don’t care much about what’s happening in China. So I think doing some public education overseas can help people better understand Chinese feminism.”


Blood brides protest

blood bride protest

On Valentine’s Day in 2012 Li participated in a protest against domestic violence. Along with two fellow activists Li Maizi, dressed in red-stained wedding gowns, marched along one of Beijing’s busiest commercial streets. As stated in opendemocracy.net the activists “chanted slogans like „Hitting is not intimacy; verbal abuse is not love.“ They also distributed anti-domestic violence pamphlets and cards to passers­by. Many of the bystanders were sympathetic to their message and complimented them for their bravery.”


Occupy men’s toilets

Soon after the Blood brides protest some 20 young women, including Li Maizi, for a short period of time took over male public restrooms in Guangzhou and Beijing. The college students spoke against shortage of public restrooms for women, handed out fliers and held signs saying “Care for women, starting with toilets.”


Holding up half the sky

Li Maizi recently stated in an interview with Quartz:

“In general, I do believe our actions have brought about an awakening, but we have a long way to go in pushing independent thinking.”

Feminists from all over the world have a powerful tool to spread their ideas — social media. Chinese government, however, is closely monitoring and even silencing popular media platforms. Drawing international attention to women’s issues in China is not welcomed by the Communist Party. “Last month the Weibo account Feminist Voices was suspended for 30 days, because posts in support of the international women’s strike and opposition to Donald Trump were said to have broken the law” says Li Maizi.

feminists in china fields

With all the international media attention to women’s rights issues in China, Chinese feminists are still not able to speak freely on the streets of Beijing or Guangzhou. Alice C. Hu from Harvard International Review points out that thanks to social media and the solidarity of their fellow activist from around the globe, “their voices can be heard in the streets of São Paulo and Greenwich. For the first time in history, the term „global feminism“ may be close to a reality.”

No country can truly flourish if half of its population is being suppressed and silenced. Mao Zedong famously proclaimed that “women hold up half the sky”. Unfortunately, Chinese women are not quiet there yet, at least not when it comes to gender equality. At the same time, feminists in China are not willing to accept status quo. “The reason why I became a feminist is simple: I’m a woman and I found the world is unequal,” says Li . “It’s important for women to stand up for themselves because only they know their needs.”

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