In 2018, the #MeToo movement erupted on Chinese social media, with women standing up to accuse prominent men in the media, academic, and entertainment spheres of sexual harassment and assault. However, Chinese advocates of greater transparency around these issues faced an additional barrier not shared by #MeToo activists in the West: censorship and threats from the Chinese government.
This nexus between the growing tide of feminism in China and the government’s heavy-handed attempts to thwart the movement is exactly the subject of Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China, the latest book by Leta Hong Fincher. Hong Fincher, who received her Ph.D. from Tsinghua University, has written extensively on Chinese feminism and gender issues, including in her previous book Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China.
Betraying Big Brother, which will be released in September 2018, outlines both the rise of feminism in China and the Chinese Communist Party’s continuing efforts to suppress it. In this interview, Hong Fincher discusses her book and the recent surge in China’s own #MeToo movement.
Though feminism and awareness of gender issues is on the rise, the patriarchy is still strong in China – not just in the government, but in society at large, as evidenced by the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault, domestic violence, and vicious online trolling of outspoken women on social media. How widespread is China’s “feminist awakening” against the backdrop of society at large?
We are witnessing an extraordinary moment in modern Chinese history, with what could potentially become the most transformative, ground-up mobilization of the public since the pro-democracy uprising of 1989. Even though most women don’t explicitly identify as “feminist,” just look at the numbers of young women joining China’s #MeToo movement against all odds – in an environment hostile to the freedom of information – over the past few months.
China has no press freedom, no freedom of assembly, no independent judiciary, and heavy internet censorship, but women continue to come forward courageously with their stories of sexual harassment and assault in spite of their extremely slight chance of ever finding justice. These women often face severe retaliation not just from employers and peers, but sometimes state security agents who warn that they might be charged with “subversion” for acting as a “tool” of “hostile foreign forces” who are trying to interfere in China’s affairs. Nonetheless, growing numbers of women are angry about the misogyny and injustice in their lives, and they are recoiling from the state’s relentless efforts to push them into heterosexual marriage and child rearing.