Chinese feminists have been jailed in the past for advocacy
Last month's Women's March did not include events in China
Though China officially embraces gender equality, attempts by feminists to raise issues of inequality or injustice can sometimes be met with harassment and even prison time.
This week, some of the most prominent feminist accounts on Weibo – China’s answer to Twitter – were temporarily gagged.
“We suspect it has something to do with a post that criticized (Donald) Trump,” Xiong Jing, social media editor for NGO GenderWatch, told CNN.
The account she runs, Gender in China, received a notice prohibiting it from posting for 30 days after it translated an op-ed in support of calls for a general strike in the US on March 8, International Women’s Day.
That reaction demonstrates the yawning gap between the abilities of American feminists and their Chinese counterparts to put their politics into action.
Street protests or demonstrations are “absolutely impossible,” said Zheng Churan, one of five feminists detained in 2015 after campaigning against sexual harassment.
A Weibo spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Trump and ‘straight man cancer’
Chinese feminists used to be able to count on the support of the US government, with former secretaries of state Hilary Clinton and John Kerry both voicing their support for them.
But many feel that under Trump, things will be different. Some have accused the new President of exemplifying the type of behavior dubbed “straight man cancer” on the Chinese internet – stubbornly sexist and chauvinistic men.
“I sent Trump a letter laying out the top ‘straight man cancer’ behaviors, hoping he would examine himself,” said Zheng.
“Watch out, the feminists of the world are speaking, and we’re watching you,” the letter, addressed to Trump Tower, concludes.
From a survey she conducted of more than 10,000 Chinese internet users, Zheng identified behaviors including “judging women by a double standard,” “belittling a woman’s ability in science or creativity,” “victim blaming those who suffer sexual violence.”
She said she is worried Trump’s rise will encourage misogynist and sexist opinions by his supporters in China, who are surprisingly numerous and share the President’s disdain for political correctness.
“It feels like Trump fans believe if they copy his words, they’ll be as rich and powerful as him,” she said.
Trump has repeatedly defended his respect for women in the face of widespread criticism for previous comments.
Silenced Chinese women?
The inability to stand in solidarity with women protesting around the world last month was a hard blow for many Chinese feminists.
“When I was scrolling through pictures of women from all over the world marching in solidarity with women in the United states, or one split second, I wished a picture of Beijing would pop up on the screen. I could only wish,” Shen Lu, a feminist and former CNN China producer, wrote at the time.
Nevertheless, Xiong said that she does feel encouraged by the messages of resistance by women in the US “facing great challenges.”
“Despite our many differences, women in both countries are advocating for a lot of the same ideas, such as ‘equal pay for equal work,’” she said.
Even as her organization faces increased censorship, she said the moment of “awakening” has already come for young Chinese women.
“We will strive to find alternative ways to make our voices heard,” she said.