Following The New York Times investigation that exposed Harvey Weinstein’s history of sexual harassment, the #MeToo movement exploded on social media and soon spread across the globe.
Women in China heard these “silence breakers,” and were inspired to post their own experiences and circulate petitions to bring accused sexual harassers from various industries to justice.
The Chinese government, however, has attempted to limit the presence of #WoYeShi (#MeToo) through recently implemented censorship on the Internet and various social media platforms.
Lawyer Guo Jianmei has been working on women's rights cases for 30 years. She says the social media powered #metoo #woyeshi anti-sexual assault campaign is the biggest women's rights movement she's seen in China. pic.twitter.com/mFnkvTaRUL
— Joanna Chiu 趙淇欣 (@joannachiu) January 23, 2018
According to an article published last week in The New York Times, the Chinese government blocked phrases including “anti-sexual harassment” on social media and deleted online petitions advocating for greater protections for women within the country. Officials have also reportedly warned some women against speaking out on social media, saying that they could be seen as traitors to their country.
The movement had started to gain strength in China after Luo Xixi, a former student of Beijing’s Beihang University, posted an article on social media accusing a professor of sexually harassing her in 2004 as well as three other women during his time at the university. According to SBS News, her post went viral, prompting an investigation by university officials. The professor was then stripped of his position at the university and was forced to pay back scholarship money.
As a result, the #WoYeShi movement was embraced by other women seeking to bring attention to their own experiences with sexual assault and harassment. But with the recent government censorship, it is uncertain whether their message will initiate much change in a country that already holds significant authority over the media.
Many women in China turned to social media because of the limited coverage of the issue among Chinese news outlets, many of which are state-controlled.
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) January 20, 2018
Freedom House labels China’s press as “not free,” with President Xi Jinping and the leading Chinese Communist Party (CCP) calling for all media to remain loyal to the government. While the Chinese constitution guarantees “freedoms of speech, assembly, association, and publication,” these rights are granted at the discretion of the CCP and usually cannot be used in court as a defense for individual rights. Additionally, vaguely worded provisions in the state penal code and state secrets legislation are often used to imprison citizens who express ideas not considered favorable by the government.
With this tight control over the media, stories of sexual assault and harassment are rarely reported, thus leading to an inaccurate picture of the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment within China.
In October, the state-owned newspaper China Daily took down a column after it received backlash for claiming that sexual assault in China was less prevalent than it was in the West. According to Time, the column’s writer, Sava Hassan, wrote in the piece that “one may wonder what causes these frequent occurrences of sexual harassment in the U.S,” going on to compare this to “its limited incidences in China.”
— Joanna Chiu 趙淇欣 (@joannachiu) January 25, 2018
Despite these claims, a 2011 study by the UN Population Fund in China revealed that 39 percent of Chinese women have experienced “physical or sexual violence,” with 52 percent of men admitting to having committed “domestic or sexual violence.”
In regards to sexual harassment, a 2009 study by professors at City University in Hong Kong found that 80 percent of working women in China reported experiencing sexual harassment during their working lives.
According to Freedom House, the Chinese government manages telecommunications services throughout the country, often blocking websites, removing various phone applications, as well as deleting posts and other Internet content that “touch on banned political, social, economic, and religious topics.”
Despite the tightened control over the media, Chinese women remain committed to sharing the stories of those who have experienced sexual abuse and harassment. According to The Guardian, Huang Xueqin, a Guangzhou-based journalist and sexual assault survivor, is currently conducting a survey to expose the sexual misconduct that she claims occurs within the journalism industry in China.
With the global exposure of the #MeToo movement, it seems as though Chinese women are determined to spread their message and hold those accused accountable despite attempts by their government to silence them.