China’s women break silence on harassment as #MeToo becomes #WoYeShi

Beijings strict social control mean few have risked speaking out about misogyny but campaigners are beginning to make their voices heard

It has been 12 years since Luo Qianqian says she was pounced upon by her PhD supervisor while she was studying in Beijing.” Please don’t do that ,” she recollects protesting.” I’m still a virgin .”

Luo , now in her mid-3 0s, recollects exploding into tears at the unwanted advance; her educator, who denies the claims, withdrew but afterward touched her hand as he implored her to keep quiet.” I was too panicked to speak ,” she remembers.

Since accusations of sex misconduct against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein turbocharged the #MeToo hashtag campaign last October, there has been an outpouring of fury over misogyny and sexual violence suffered from Hollywood to Hanoi and Hong Kong.

But while the Weinstein effect has swept across the Americas, Europe and other parts of Asia, there has been near silence in China’s authoritarian mainland.

” Some girls have come out …[ but] what’s really striking is how few ,” says Leta Hong Fincher, an expert in China’s feminist movement, who argues Communist party censorship is the perpetrator.

Hong Fincher believes the party’s almost entirely male leadership feels “spooked” by the idea that members of a supposedly “untouchable” male elite could be toppled by a similar campaign here.

As a result, she suspects authorities have ordered China’s intensely controlled media to avoid aggressive, in-depth coverage.” There is a history of the Chinese government being really worried about political upheaval outside its borders affecting its own population and there is no question whatsoever that the #MeToo movement is insured by the authorities as potentially posing a threat ,” she says.

Slowly, however, females are violating the silence in a country where one analyze suggested 80% of women had experienced sexual harassment.

On 1 January Luo published an eloquent online denunciation of her alleged experience. “[ There’s] no longer any need to be afraid … we need to stand up bravely and say’ No !’,” she wrote, recommending others to speak out using the hashtag #Wo Ye Shi (# WoYeShi or #MeToo ).

Huang Xueqin, a Guangzhou-based journalist who was herself assaulted in 2012, is conducting a survey of her industry to uncover the prevalence of sex misconduct.

Huang said her activism was partly driven by a feeling of guilt that she had previously failed to confront perpetrators of workplace harassment:” I didn’t want to be a troublemaker- but silence is equal to connivance .”

Also inspired by the United States’ ” Silence Breakers “, Zheng Xi, a student from Hangzhou, recently launched a public anti-sexual harassment campaign.” I believed those performers were so brave ,” she said.

Hong Fincher, who is writing a volume called Betraying Big Brother: China’s Feminist Resistance, expects more voices will emerge. So far merely” the tiniest, tiniest tip of the iceberg” has been uncovered:” All the activists working on these issues- rape, sexual harassment and domestic violence cases- will tell you that .”

Despite their nervousness, Hong Fincher wagers authorities will not totally snuff out the debate, so long as it remains” manageable troublemaking “.

” It’s OK for an individual girl here and there to come out and talk about her experience … but if any of these women stimulated it a really big deal or started to get a lot of sustained attention on social media I have no doubt that the police or somebody would come and visit her .”

Challenging the party is a risky business. Since Xi Jinping became leader in 2012, a severe human rights crackdown has unfolded, landing even moderate activists in jail. In 2015 five leading feminists were detained after plotting to distribute stickers about sexual harassment on modes of public transport.

Even so, members of China’s nascent # MeToo movement said they would continue to protest.” If people like me don’t break the stillnes, how can you expect others to ?” said Huang.

” I need to be the whistleblower. Someone has to do something .”

Additional reporting by Wang Zhen and Wang Xueying .

Make sure to visit: