[In the second half of 2016, an independent feminist theater group began meeting in New York with the aim of performing “Our Vaginas, Ourselves.” This was originally created by several young feminists in Beijing who were inspired by the American work “The Vagina Monologues” to make a similar examination of Chinese sex and gender issues. It’s been well received everywhere it’s been performed. A New York production would be an achievement on a whole new level.]
By Luo Siling
Chinese feminists who took part in the Women’s March on Washington last month.
They held signs in Chinese as well as in English in front of the Trump
International Hotel. Credit Mengwen Cao
The day after President Trump’s inauguration, hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets for the Women’s March on Washington. Among them were Lu Pin and more than 20 other Chinese feminists who live in the United States and belong to the Chinese Feminism Collective, a new nongovernmental organization to “support feminist activities that are facing sustained political pressure in China.” Using a WeChat account, they sent reports from the Washington march back to China.
Ms. Lu, 45, a former journalist at the state-run China Women’s News and founder of the influential online platform Women’s Voices, had come to New York from Beijing on March 5, 2015, to attend a meeting of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Back in China, over the following two days, five women who would become known as the Feminist Five — Wang Man, Wei Tingting, Zheng Churan, Li Tingting and Wu Rongrong — were detained as they planned a public awareness campaign about sexual harassment on public transportation.
Ms. Lu had worked closely with the women, and when she heard that the police had visited her Beijing apartment, she decided to stay in the United States.
She helped set up a Facebook page, Free Chinese Feminists. Its initial purpose was to publicize the case of the Feminist Five and enlist international support, but since the release of the five women, it has continued to be a place to share news and organize political action.
In an interview, Ms. Lu, who was appointed a visiting scholar at Columbia University and is working on a master’s degree in gender studies at the State University of New York at Albany, talked about opening a new front for Chinese feminism in the United States.
Why did Chinese feminists take part in the Women’s March on Washington?
In 2015, the case of the Feminist Five attracted the support of feminists around the world, which made me appreciate the importance of international solidarity. Participation in this march was another expression of this. If feminists in the U.S. need support, I’m willing to join them.
We also wanted to contribute to the march’s diversity. So my friends made posters, in both Chinese and English. This was meant not just as a response to American feminists, but also to show women in China that we were engaged in international issues. In fact, I think promoting this march in China was more important than supporting American feminists. That’s why we organized the interactive broadcast through WeChat.
How have Hillary Clinton’s loss and Donald J. Trump’s victory affected the women’s rights movement?
The election outcome signaled that the world is not ready to be headed by a woman and that insulting women in speech and actions does not prevent a man from taking power. On the internet in China now, some people are mocking feminism. Seeing that a sexual harasser can become president only encourages sexists. So the environment for Chinese feminism worsened after this election.
In addition, like many feminists in developing countries, we are concerned that Trump may cut off government funds to global women’s development programs. Such funding should be the duty of the United States as a major nation.
The most serious consequence would be if Trump rejects the duty of safeguarding global human rights. For the human rights movement in China, that would greatly reduce the room for maneuver.
How have you kept up your feminist activities in New York?
I hold online discussions with my colleagues in China and elsewhere nearly every day.
At first my work in the United States mainly concerned the Feminist Five. Even though they were soon released from detention, the case wasn’t resolved for another year. During that time, they weren’t completely free and were subjected to a lot of harassment and restrictions. We wanted the international community to pay attention to them.
We discovered that some people knew almost nothing about Chinese feminism and only learned something about it because of this case. We realized then that a lot of important information about Chinese feminism had not been communicated to the West. So I thought maybe we could carry on our work in the United States. Now we’ve registered the Chinese Feminism Collective.
What are Chinese feminists doing in New York?
In September 2015, when the Chinese government and the United Nations co-organized the Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in New York and President Xi Jinping made a state visit to the United States, we held a photography exhibit called Aboveground: 40 Moments of Transformation near the U.N. headquarters, documenting the performance art and other actions of Chinese feminists. It provided an alternative to the information put out by the Chinese government. Since then, the exhibition has toured the United States and generated discussions about Chinese feminism.
We’ve also worked with international feminists. For example, in December 2016 I was one of the speakers at the Bodies of Revolution conference at Columbia University along with women from the United States, Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and other countries. And the Facebook site Free Chinese Feminists has become a platform for Chinese feminists to participate in global issues.
In the second half of 2016, an independent feminist theater group began meeting in New York with the aim of performing “Our Vaginas, Ourselves.” This was originally created by several young feminists in Beijing who were inspired by the American work “The Vagina Monologues” to make a similar examination of Chinese sex and gender issues. It’s been well received everywhere it’s been performed. A New York production would be an achievement on a whole new level.
What about Chinese feminists in China?
The case of the Feminist Five was a major setback. From then on, the core group of Chinese feminists has been targeted by the government. Certainly the general deterioration of Chinese civil society in recent years has also taken its toll on feminism.
However, judging by public discourse, the number of feminists appears to have increased. The evidence of this is the tens of thousands of people who have participated in online debates and taken a clear stance in support of feminism. After a woman was attacked at the Yitel Hotel in Beijing in 2016, there were more than a billion views on a related Weibo page, generating widespread concern for women’s security. To me, this demonstrates the broad support for the feminist cause.