While China minimizes Tangshan attacks, women say their rights are under attack

Placeholder while article actions are loaded

When a mother was found chained in a winter hut in Fengxian, Jiangsu Province, authorities blamed her for mental illness. A few months later, when three women in Tianjin accused professors of forcing them to have sex, they were criticized for not owning their decisions as adults.

This month, a group of men beat four women who ate at a barbecue restaurant late at night in Tangshan, Hebei Province, after failing to respond to the progress of one of the men. Authorities blamed the attack, which took two of the women in hospital, on the spread of gangs in the area.

Activists have struggled for years to make visible the country’s haphazard attitudes towards violence against women, only to be told that gender has little to do with it. The grassroots advocate for women’s rights, including the #MeToo movement, has struggled in China, where it has clashed with Beijing’s intolerance of activism and been accused of being a Western import. But as events and outrage increase, it becomes increasingly difficult to suppress the debate.

The saga of the chained mother of eight continues to plague China, inspiring rare social activism

Several women refuse to be informed about the prevalence of sexism in Chinese society. From the woman in Fengxian to the violent beating in Tangshan, “she” in these situations are all vulnerable. Maybe next time it will be you, or me, or all of us, “wrote a blogger under the pen name Zhao Qiaoqiao in a popular comment about the incident.

“When a case becomes an event and when an event becomes a phenomenon, only then will society pay attention and try to solve this problem,” Zhao wrote.

In an article that was later censored, another blogger asked: “Why did the Tangshan incident not only become gender blind, but do everything to erase the gender dimension of this incident?”

Video recording of the attack In the early hours of June 10 in Tangshan, a man shows a man approaching a table with women and placing his hand on one of their backs. The woman pushes him away. After another exchange, he beats her. When her friends try to intervene, other men rush to the table and knock them, pull one outside and kick her repeatedly on the ground while other diners watch.

Authorities in Tangshan launched a public security campaign, promising to crack down on crime, with police stationed across the city and in restaurants. A prominent sociologist wrote in an essay that this was a “common occurrence” with threats to public order, claiming that it “originated from sexual harassment, but does not reflect gender discrimination in society.”

Articles about the incident and gender-based violence were deleted, including one asking the government and state media to stop talking about feminism. Weibo, the microblogging site, banned 265 accounts for “starting a gender conflict” in the discussion about the Tangshan violence.

The response is in line with other campaigns to limit the fallout from such episodes. Online support for a landmark #MeToo lawsuit in which a former intern accused a prominent TV host of sexual assault last year has been heavily censored. An activist trying to visit the woman who was found chained outside in Jiangsu, eastern China, was arrested by police in March.

Last year, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who on social media that a senior official had pressured her into sex, disappeared from the public eye for several weeks before retracting her comments in carefully managed interviews.

In April, the official Weibo account of the Chinese Communist Youth League published a post saying that “extreme feminism has become a malignant tumor on the Internet.”

Alibaba accusers face lawsuit as China’s #MeToo reaction builds

Wang Yu, a Beijing-based rights lawyer, said such a framework was in line with official reports on women’s rights in China.

“The government is concerned that people are talking about gender because any discussion of human rights is considered sensitive by officials, and that includes women’s rights,” she said.

Nevertheless, observers say the movement has gained some ground. The outrage over the case of the chained mother ignited Internet users, inciting forms of online and offline activism rarely seen as the room for Chinese debate has shrunk.

A recent case of #MeToo online activism, inspired by a Taiwanese writer, also undermined criticism that Chinese feminists have been brainwashed by Western ideology.

In May, a woman claimed in a post on Weibo that an associate professor at Nankai University in Tianjin had used her position to trick her into having a sexual relationship with him when she was a student. She quoted Taiwanese author Lin Yi-his 2017 novel about a young girl who was seduced by her teacher, based on Lin’s life story. Lin committed suicide shortly after the book was published.

“This case has tortured me for six years with several attempts to commit suicide,” the woman wrote. “If I die, I hope the world will know my story,” it said in the post, which could not be confirmed independently by The Washington Post. It attracted 1.4 million likes when internet users asked to prevent another tragedy like Lins.

In the wake of the post, two other Tianjin professors were accused of having affairs with students, and within a week, the school fired the accused professor for “having inappropriate relationships with women” and issued disciplinary action against the other two, according to a statement. from the university.

Lu Pin, the founder of Feminist Voices, a Chinese platform that was banned in 2018, said Lin’s book had become a symbol of women’s rights in China. The novel is eighth on a list of the 250 best books ranked by Douban, a popular review site. On a fan page for Lin with more than 22 million views, rape victims post messages about their experiences.

“[Lin] speaks for many Chinese women in a culture that places great emphasis on shame, Lu said.

The attack in the grill restaurant late at night has similarly affected women’s vulnerability. Despite the Tangshan authorities’ attempts to downplay the attack, the public continues to demand answers. On Monday, a popular topic on Weibo requesting an update on the victims received more than 1 billion views.

“The more you cover up the facts from the people, the more dissatisfied the audience will be. Then more speculation will follow, which has several negative effects “, it was stated in a widely circulated editorial from the National Business Daily.

Following the public outrage, Hebei’s Department of Public Safety issued a statement on Tuesday saying that the conditions of the two hospital victims had improved and that nine suspects had been arrested. Authorities also said the deputy head of the Tangshan police had been removed and that five other police officers were being investigated regarding their handling of the attack.

However, censorship has been rapid against any suspected activism over the incident. A woman from Shanghai had her account banned on Weibo after posting a picture of herself with a sign asking for information about the women’s situation. A hashtag, “I speak out for the Tangshan girls,” also appeared to have been censored.

Nevertheless, women’s rights activists say the feminist movement in China will persevere.

“The existence of the feminist movement is based on the needs of the hearts of the people,” Lu said. “People are always waiting for the next opportunity to speak for themselves. There is no way to eliminate this movement. “

Lyric Li of Seoul contributed to this report.