Chinese activists on Monday hit out at their president's speech at a United Nations summit on gender equality, citing a recent survey of Chinese women as showing that scant progress has been made since Beijing hosted a major women's conference 20 years ago.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, who co-hosted the meeting of global leaders with the U.N., promised that Beijing "would do more to enhance gender equality as a basic government policy."
Quoting late supreme leader Mao Zedong, Xi told the conference: "China will ... give play to women's important role as holding up half the sky, and support them in realizing their own dreams and aspirations in both career and life."
"Chinese women, through their own development, will also play a greater part in the global women's movement and make greater contributions to gender equality in the world," he said, pledging U.S. $10 million in funding for gender-related development work.
Xi's speech came amid a chorus of criticism of China's record on women's rights, with rights groups calling on the ruling Chinese Communist Party to drop all charges against five feminists detained earlier this year for planning an anti-sexual harassment campaign.
Xiong Jing, social media editor of the non-government group Gender in China, said Xi's speech was "pretty vague."
"I didn't see any particularly valuable commitments in it," Xiong said. "Some of the other leaders made some self-criticisms, but there was none of that in Xi's comments."
She added: "What people care about isn't how much money women [in your country] make ... it's what the government is doing back home in China to support women's rights and progress for women."
A recent online survey of 3,094 women carried out by Gender in China found that 73 percent of respondents said they were either dissatisfied or extremely dissatisfied with the status of women in China, Xiong said.
Xiong welcomed a tweet from U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton that was highly critical of China's record on women's rights.
"Xi hosting a meeting on women's rights at the UN while persecuting feminists? Shameless," Clinton tweeted on Friday.
Clinton added the hashtag #freethe20, which refers to 20 women prisoners of conscience around the world, including detained journalist Gao Yu, detained rights lawyer Wang Yu, and Liu Xia, wife of jailed Nobel peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who has been under solitary house arrest since 2010.
The tweet, which came two decades after Clinton gave the keynote address at the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women, had sent shockwaves through China's tightly-controlled official media.
The Global Times newspaper, which has close ties to the party, said Clinton was "degrading herself" by attacking China's co-hosting of the event.
"The Chinese will probably not be vexed by her angry words, but considering her status as the most likely hopeful among all the candidates, what she said is frustrating," the paper said.
Xiong said that many Chinese women agree with Clinton, however.
"It's not just Hillary Clinton saying it; a lot of Chinese women are saying they are unhappy with their situation," she said. "[This is] according to our survey ... which was carried out in August," she said.
Xiong said her organization wanted to gauge how China's women felt they were doing, 20 years after the Beijing conference.
"Actually I don't think there is much that is surprising in this survey," she said. "Twenty years on, none of those promises made by the government ... have actually been implemented."
Hong Kong-based women's rights activist Lau Ka-yee agreed.
"Female rights activists of all ages in China, including the Tiananmen Mothers, Liu Xiaobo's wife Liu Xia, and the five young feminists, have been detained, persecuted or held under the white terror of surveillance just for bringing up matters to do with the rights and well-being of women," Lau said.
"I hope that Xi Jinping will face these issues fair and squarely," she said. "Secondly, our observations show that China should get zero marks for implementing the [promises made in 1995]."
Wu Rongrong, Li Tingting, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, and Zheng Churan were detained on March 6, and have since been released on “bail."
They have written repeatedly to the United Nations in a bid to make their release unconditional after their detention prompted an international outcry.
The women say they have struggled to rebuild their lives amid ongoing harassment following their ordeal, which came amid a broader crackdown on the activities of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Beijing-based online commentator Xiang Li said the Global Times had reserved its highest grade of scorn for Clinton.
"The Global Times has reported this very prominently, which I think is very interesting," Xiang said. "This has to do with the high degree of persecution meted out to women's rights activists in China."
"It's a fact that they detained five feminists recently, and subjected them to mistreatment, and that they are still out on bail; it can't be edited out."
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Pan Jiaqing and Wei Ling for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.