Essays, Translation

Gone But Not Forgotten5 min read

Why Feminist Voices will never die in China – Lü Pin

Read the original Chinese text of this article here: 女权不死


From the evening of March 8 until March 9, the public Weibo and Wechat accounts of [the Chinese women’s rights media platform] Feminist Voices were successively deleted for “violating regulations” and “spreading sensitive content,” without specifying what regulations were violated and what sensitive content was included.

Such vague and incontestable claims have been used as grounds for deleting tens of thousands of accounts from the Chinese internet. In comparison, the deletion of Feminist Voices, an account with only 250,000 followers, is too inconsiderable to mention. But this action sent an important message to the Chinese feminist community. Feminist Voices was the first public platform to use the word “feminism” in its name on Chinese social media, and moreover, it has played a leading role in feminist communities since 2011. Its disappearance suggests that feminism has become an unwelcome presence for Chinese internet censors, another set of banned characters marked in red.

Many people have a hard time understanding why there is anything sensitive about feminism. I used to think this way myself. Regardless of participants’ individual viewpoints, China’s feminist movement has no political agenda. From the very beginning, we have been concerned with economic, social and cultural rights rather than civil and political rights. The policies and cultural reforms that we have advocated for have nothing to do with the highest echelons of political power. But we are not in control of where the red line is drawn. Later, I gradually realized that there are three factors that we have to consider:

  1. Feminism is concerned with criticism and assigning blame.
  2. Any movement that demonstrates it can organize or mobilize will be banned, no matter what its demands are.
  3. As the public space collapses, feminism will be crushed along with it, and when other voices of dissent are eliminated, eventually the focus will fall on feminism.

Feminism is of course a broad concept, concerned with determining the cause and resolution of gender inequality. Feminist Voices stands for “civil vision, feminist positions and activist orientation,” with the goal of raising awareness, organizing communities and connecting movements. From 2012 to 2015, Feminist Voices supported many influential movements, witnessing the word “feminist” go from something that no one had heard of to becoming a part of mainstream social discourse.

But then, in 2015, five young feminist activists were arrested. Suddenly, feminist activism had become a criminal activity. Since reporting on this case was banned, many people did not know what was going on. Although Feminist Voices continued to operate, our ability to mobilize was limited by what we were allowed to say. Throughout the internet, public opinion on feminism began to foment, as a rising tide of anti-feminism sparked fierce debate. Given the situation, even though Feminist Voices kept a low profile, it still became a target. In February of 2017, Sina used the excuse of “distributing news of the feminist struggle” to silence Feminist Voices for a month. With the help of supporters both domestically and abroad, we were able to resume operations. But from that point onwards, there was a foreboding air around us: we knew that this account could be deleted at any time.

Actually, this would have been an easy way out. We could have abandoned our advocacy for social change and activism. We could have preserved our commitment to feminism in name only, and thereby avoided ideological illegality. But for us, there was never any choice. At the beginning of 2018, the time was right and we joined the #MeToo campaign, echoing the voices from America and around the world. The anti-sexual harassment movement made great headway in China, with over eight thousand participants in jointly signed initiatives at colleges and universities across the country. Feminist Voices supported these initiatives and is said to have been a behind-the-scenes organizer.

Perhaps this indicated the strength of Feminist Voices, and in doing so sealed our fate two months later. The Chinese internet has since been flooded with violent nationalist sentiment, with anti-feminist groups feeling like they have protection. Now that female voices have disappeared, these groups are taking the opportunity to hit us while we are down. Feminist Voices may be gone, but the debate over feminism has exploded in the last two weeks, with an obvious power disparity between the two sides. Because feminists have had the vast majority of their posts deleted, absurd and slanderous charges such as Feminist Voices being  “organized prostitution” committed to “dividing the nation” have received countless likes and reposts.

On March 11th, the editorial team at Feminist Voices announced that they would pursue all legal means to have the account restored. Not on behalf of the editorial team, but for the Chinese feminist community. If we are to weather this storm, we cannot abandon our community for our own safety. In this conflict, the odds are stacked against us and our detractors seem to have a common objective: to remove feminist thought from public view and to erode the legitimacy of the feminist movement. While we can continue to organize underground, we will be isolated, without being able to participate in public discussion and advocacy, and potential allies will have no way of reaching out to us. Faced with this prospect, we have no choice but to resist.

Our position is much more difficult than it was even in 2015. Civil society has greatly weakened, and our options are extremely limited. Sometimes, publishing a simple post is enough to drive a person to exhaustion. Every day I worry that someone might run into trouble for supporting us. With the cost of speaking out so high, in these frightening times I wish most of all that more will come to understand what the feminist struggle really means to this country. ∎


Translated by Kate Costello. Featured image courtesy Lü Pin.