11122019What's Hot:

Postcard From China: Secret Video of a Women’s Rights Demonstration

In China, we’re always ahead — 12 or 13 hours ahead of New York, to be precise. So a request from editors for contributions to a global story about women’s day on the day itself promised to be a rush job.

The rush wasn’t the problem. Reporting is often last minute. The real problem was that I hadn’t heard of anything, and for good reason.


Chinese feminists gathered at their secret demonstration on March 6. Credit Tai Feng

Feminist activism blossomed here as recently as 2015, but today it is in a deep freeze, placed there by a Communist Party government that says it supports women’s rights yet is determined to enact a patriarchal, Confucian-inspired vision of “harmony” that is intolerant of dissent.

Second, reporting in China isn’t quite like reporting anywhere else in the world, though two of its hallmarks — opacity and control — exist elsewhere, too. Here, you need deep contacts and good language skills — including the ability to read Chinese — to penetrate a society where so much happens in secret. Patience, subtlety, and the humility to know that you can’t always get what you want immediately, help.

China has the most extensive and sophisticated internet censorship system in the world. It focuses not on the expression of discontent but on quashing every sign of collective action that could produce social mobilization, researchers at Harvard University say.

And with the high-profile detentions in 2015 of several feminists on the eve of International Women’s Day that year for their plans to distribute leaflets on public transportation warning about gropers, the authorities signaled that they see feminism as a force for collective action. The movement taps widespread anger at enduring abuse and discrimination.

Last last year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned me away from reporting on the feminists, saying, elliptically, that I must “obey the police.” (I do. I am less likely to obey unidentified men in civilian clothes who physically intimidate me but refuse to say who they are. That is what had happened in April, in the incident to which they were referring, as I waited with another reporter outside the detention center where five of the women had been held for weeks, to hear that their year-long bail conditions had been lifted.)

Some government departments didn’t like feminists who “organized,” said a ministry employee, in a one-on-one meeting that was devised to communicate a message from the government.

By now, intimidation of independent feminist activity is routine. Last November a small group of women abandoned a plan to walk in public wearing bruiselike makeup to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, after warnings from security officials.

So like a flock of birds sensing danger, Chinese feminists have taken off, leaving Beijing for provincial cities or other countries, while those who have stayed have kept a low profile.

This year on March 8 there were no independent street demonstrations, enactments of glass ceilings or strikes here, as there were in dozens of countries. The Times’s story did not have input from the vast, party-run mainland of China, home to about one in six women in the world.

Yet shortly after the story ran, I found what I was looking for, and now I can fill in that missing part of the report. It would go something like this:

On March 6, in a rare public demonstration, a group of Chinese women wearing the long gowns of students in 1924 met in People’s Park in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou to commemorate that year, when International Women’s Day was first marked by Chinese feminists.

Holding small pink banners, they discreetly chanted slogans: “We won’t retreat on the feminist road!” and “A hundred years ago they were awake, today you’re all asleep!”

Yet despite the deliberately low-key nature of the event, which the women said they held two days early to avoid the risk of detention, security guards repeatedly chased them away, saying that banners were not permitted in the park and that their dress was “strange,” said Jian Hu, a pseudonym given by one member of the group who asked that her real name not be used, for fear of detention.

The upshot of an environment where real public, political debate is banned is that the field is open to a paternalistic, state-run version of Women’s Day.

That arrived at my home on March 8 in the shape of a bouquet of flowers and a bar of soap, courtesy of my landlord, which is ultimately the Ministry of Foreign Affairs since we live in a diplomatic compound.

A card with a drawing of a delicate female with long, black locks and a pert, upturned nose enjoined me to enjoy “the essence of womanhood” — flowers and soap, I guess.

In Guangzhou, the city government whose employees chased away the feminists for their “strange clothes” offered free entry to public parks on March 8 to any woman wearing a figure-hugging qipao, a Chinese dress. The feminists’ practical gowns were too loose and did not qualify, Ms. Hu said.

And Global Times, a media outlet that is part of People’s Daily, tweeted this on March 8:

The paper did, however, apologize later that day:

Source: NYT > World

comments powered by HyperComments

More on the topic