'They Never Know When Someone's Going to Stand up And Speak Out'

Prominent feminist Xiong Jing talks about the spread of the #MeToo campaign among Chinese women.

Chinese women display the hashtag #metoo as the movement against sexual harassment catches on in China despite government efforts to suppress it, in file photograph

The Twitter account MeTooChina reported on Thursday that the #MeToo sexual harassment and sexual assault reporting campaign is gaining traction among China's army of migrant factory workers. It said workers at Foxconn, which assembles iPhones, had recently sent open letters to management demanding that it set up an anti-sexual harassment mechanism in partnership with female workers. It also noted a report that TooTopia, a Guangdong-based NGO that had been following the #MeTooChina campaign among female factory workers, had its account on the social media platform WeChat suspended after tweeting about the letters. Xiong Jing, social media editor of the Feminist Voices website, which was itself targeted by state censors earlier this year, said the movement continues to gather pace in China in spite of attempts by the ruling Chinese Communist Party to suppress it:

The complaints people are making reflect an universal problem, which is sexual harassment. The fact that so many people are making criminal complaints, and telling their stories, shows that this really is a very serious and widespread problem in China, and one that needs a resolution.

Telling one's story is only the first step, and I think it's definitely very important to do that openly and freely. So I don't think it's going to resolve this issue, for these stories to be shut down and for public opinion to be censored in that way.

The #MeToo movement in China has given people hope, and it just keeps coming, wave upon wave. It has never really stopped. Otherwise we wouldn't have so many people speaking out about their own stories. And those who are willing to tell their stories are only a small proportion of cases.

Students at higher education institutions have come under huge pressure from the authorities since the anti-sexual harassment campaign began in academia at the beginning of this year. This has included college officials and campus police talking to their parents, and having their posts deleted. The police probably think they will be able to find the instigators behind the scenes of this movement, but this movement is very decentralized. There are no "black hands" behind the scenes. Everyone is acting on their own initiative.

This is a case of a raising of collective awareness, including everyone's anger. So many of these incidents happened many years ago, but the conditions weren't right for them to be spoken about. So we can see how important [external] conditions are for the victims. And now the victims have a lot more issues to deal with that aren't just about the original abuse; when they do tell the truth, sometimes they aren't believed.

One of the characteristics of the #MeToo movement is its justice. Sexual harassment is against the law, so it's unreasonable to blame the victims of sexual harassment and abuse for speaking out, and the Chinese government wouldn't behave in an obviously politically incorrect way. And yet posts using the #MeToo hastag are being deleted on [social media platform] Weibo. I also heard there had been a directive to the media telling them not to report on it. But it's the fundamental legality of the #MeToo movement that lends it a little space to operate.

The #MeToo movement in China has been targeted for persecution, with students who wrote and signed open letters threatened by the authorities. They basically paid all of the people who signed those letters a visit, and threatened their families. That's why the movement has become much more low-key on university campuses now.

Some people have criticize the #MeToo movement, asking why the victims didn't report the incidents to the police, through legal channels. But what does reporting it to the police achieve? The five feminists [Wu Rongrong, Li Tingting, Wei Tingting, Wang Man, and Zheng Churan] were detained two years ago when they ran an anti-sexual harassment and domestic violence campaign. Things haven't improved since then. Our bank account has been frozen [at Feminist Voices]. I don't think the government has thought through its methods in dealing with such a huge issue as the #MeToo movement, which wasn't initiated by a single person. They never know when someone's going to stand up and speak out.

That's why I think the #MeToo movement will continue for as long as there are perpetrators and victims willing to stand up. This isn't the same as the feminist five, who were the deliberate instigators of a campaign. In the #MeToo campaign, everyone is an instigator. I don't think the government will be able to detain everyone, just to stop them from getting involved.

Reported by Han Qing for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lau Siu-fung for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.