After a scandalous wave of #MeToo accusations in the US,  other world corners couldn’t stay unbothered. Women of different origin, age, and religious beliefs were sharing their experience and stories on social media. However, in China, people in power still find it difficult to accept that sexual violence is a major problem and the majority continues to claim “inappropriate” behaviour of women who became victims.


What China Daily reports

In October China Daily, the Chinese newspaper in English published an article named “Weinstein case demonstrates cultural differences”. Written by the Canadian Egyptian the article caused a barrage of the controversy of the Chinese authority. The author shows undoubted confidence in total groundlessness of the discussions around #MeToo in China.

“It is a well-known fact that China is a traditional society based on commendable values and virtues that respect the dignity and humanity of its citizens, regardless of their gender. (…) Chinese men are taught to be protective of their women. Behaving inappropriately toward women, including harassing them sexually, contradicts every Chinese traditional value and custom”.

The optimistic point of view of the article leads to a stormy reaction in social media, and the newspaper directorate had had to remove the article from the output. People urged the author to check the statistics while the writer and filmmaker Christoph Rehage, who attended the Beijing Film Academy, also made a few comments on the bothering issue. “China is still patriarchal and sexual abuse is widespread. It’s only for a lack of transparency that the problem can be swept under the rug,” Rehage writes. “Western societies have systemic sexual abuse problems and discuss them. Chinese society has the same problems but doesn’t talk about them”.

Let’s move on to numbers and see the facts behind the story.

Documentary background for disputes

As the survey from 2005 says, the 4 from 5 Chinese women have ever experienced sexual harassment in their life. This shocking fact speaks volumes, however, it doesn’t stand alone in this battle of facts.

The journalists from SupChina came up with a list of facts in numbers illustrating the real situation behind the blown out scandal. It cites the research conducted in 2013, which clearly showed that around 22 percent male Chinese have ever raped a woman and around 50 percent of them admitted to abusing their partners either physically or sexually.

The numbers are shocking. The most surprising thing, however, is that everybody kept silence while on their sufferance humiliating tradition of sexual abuse has been fed. SupChina gives yet another fact that might partly answer the question “Why?”. This May there blew up a conflict between a former female student at the Beijing Film Academy who claimed that she was abused by the father of her class’s head teacher. The school administration reacted immediately – they have withheld her degree certificate.

But they fight

Amnesty International states that the first time the question of women rights was openly and actively discussed in 2012. At that time, the question bothered mostly the role of women’s clothes in causing sexual abuse cases. Is woman responsible for the harassment in case she wears provocative clothes?  Some of the participants announced the right of every woman to choose the clothes she likes without being afraid to be harassed. Massive debated made young girls and women speak more openly about their experience and more aware of their own rights.

In 2015 on the eve of the International Women’s Day activists from The “Feminist Five” were preparing the action dedicated to female rights abuse on public transport. However, the organizers were detained, and the action banned. This became a ground for mass discussions as it raised a reasonable question: Why the campaign against sexual harassment was banned?

Amnesty Internaional appeal for releasing The “Feminist Five”

The real-life activism was not approved by the government, which decided rather suppress the protest than to tackle they are concerned about. Despite that, public attention and support grew which formed a ground for shifting winds and passive interest to the issue of sexual harassment.


Human billboards

In May 2017 one Chinese female activist Leilei Zhang independently started a campaign calling for people all over the country be so-called “human billboards” dedicated to female rights and the problem of growing level of sexual harassment. Girls and women posted pictures of themselves standing in front of known landmarks with posters on their bodies waking up social awareness and made the idea of female activism popular and understandable for vast audiences.

Leilei Zhang auction

The successful action was abandoned by the government and voices were silenced. The government-funded media didn’t bother to cover recent happenings. This Chinese female activist Leilei Zhang had to bear sufferings for her brave initiative. She was harassed and kicked out of her home.

However, her attempts to draw attention were not in vain. More people became aware of the problem, and the government launched campaign with sponsored aids in public transport on sexual harassment and female rights. One of the posters in the subway repeated words from the abandoned campaign.

Official steps towards a substantive talk

Mentioned above government-funded auction is an important milestone in attracting more resources and attention to the issue. It became an official public sphere in China and a clear evidence of possible positive changes in the field of human rights.

Feminist activist with an anti-harassment ad in the subway

The progress clearly has been made, and the official media attempted to integrate feministic issues in their discourse. Thus, state media Global Times started speaking about “official feminism” and clearly mentioned, that the protection of human rights is a governmental prerogative and all the initiatives in this sphere can be carried out in practice with the usage of official institutions. In whole, the system of “official feminism” is usually a tool to attract more young people and make them more loyal to the general line of the Party. Nevertheless, according to the Global Gender Gap Report’s outcomes, China has sunk in the scale to 100th place, so we cannot describe the policy of “official feminism” as efficient and resultant. Tensions between the government and civil society led to the situation when even in cases of significant support, movements with younger followers cannot accumulate enough social influence, so it is essential to make activism more organic and less formalized and imitative. However, only strong ground support is able to determine the consequences of the future reforms aimed to fill the gap of gender inequality. Even though the steps forward are quite small and diffidence is high, for China, which experiences problems with respect to human rights, these steps have a strong sense.

In June 2017 Shenzhen introduced first “Priority Carriage for Women”

The anti-domestic violence law, the necessity of which was widely discussed throughout decades of years, was finally adopted in March 2016; at the same time, the sexual harassment issue is new, fresh and has been set into public agenda recently.

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