Luo Xixi’s case marks a turning point in China’s history. The allegations of sexual harassment made against one of Beihang University’s professors have cost him his job while simultaneously cementing him as the first person to face punishment for such crimes in China. As the western #MeToo movement spreads across the globe, more and more women are demanding that their voices be heard, no matter their social climates. And while #MeToo has been met with general support in the West – or at least, it hasn’t been censored – the same cannot be said for other parts of the world. The Chinese government in particular is averse to dissent of any sort within its nation, and the censors have cracked down on certain phrases and petitions across Chinese media.
“If you support these ideas, you might be suspected of foreign influence.” These are the words of warning that professors gave their students when some of them signed an open letter on sexual harassment. And these are the same types of words often used by the Chinese people in power in order to deflect ideas. There seems to be an incessant need for China to control its own country and its growth on its own terms, which is made increasingly more difficult as the Internet enables the expanse of an international community that allows its members to be interconnected with each other 24/7. “Foreign influence” is inevitable.
And the power of the Internet is proving to be something that the Chinese censors cannot completely suppress. As soon as the censors block one hashtag, a new one emerges into the online discourse. And it is the accessibility of the Internet coupled with support from the international community that is giving Chinese women the strength to speak out. Like it or not, activism is steadily rising in China.
But Chinese activism looks very different from activism in the West. In March of 2016, five women were arrested for planning to raise awareness about sexual harassment on International Women’s Day. Their cases spread across the globe as Li Maizi, Wang Man, Wei Tingting, Wu Rongrong, and Zheng Churan became known as the Feminist Five. After facing pressure from the international community both online and offline, the five women were released, but their case became incentive for Chinese activists to rethink their protest strategies. Large protests and other traditional Western methods of showing dissent are simply not possible, and as such the activists have learned to be creative. Where large gatherings of people in physical locations have failed, the community of activists and other like-minded people gathering online has proven to be a crucial part of the Chinese movement.
Social media was how the viral #MeToo reached China, it was how Luo Xixi opened up the discourse with her own recounting of being sexually harassed, and it will be the reason that the surrounding conversation stays alive. Currently the investigations of sexual harassment in China have been largely focused on its universities, and the support for these cases has been strong. As the Internet continues to become more accessible to all Chinese citizens – currently approximately half of China’s 1.4 billion people are Internet users – China’s activist movement seems to be entering a new age as they fight for change.