As China Minimizes Tangshan Attack, Women Say Their Rights Are Under Attack

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When a mother was found chained up in a shed in Fengxian, Jiangsu province, over the winter, authorities blamed her mental illness. A few months later, when three women in Tianjin accused professors of pressuring them into sex, they were criticized for not taking ownership of their decisions as adults.

This month, a group of men beat four women eating at a late-night barbecue restaurant in Tangshan, Hebei province, after one of the men failed to respond to the advances of one of the men. Authorities blame the attack, in which two of the women were hospitalized, on the presence of gangs in the area.

For years, activists have struggled to bring out the country’s casual stance on violence against women, only to be told that gender has little to do with it. Grassroots advocate for women’s rights, including the #MeToo movement, are having a hard time in China, where it has clashed with Beijing’s intolerance of activism and has been accused of being a Western import. But as the incidents and outcry mount, it becomes increasingly difficult to quell the debate.

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More women are refusing to be gaslighted about the prevalence of sexism in Chinese society. “From the woman in Fengxian to the violent beating in Tangshan, the ‘she’ in those situations is all vulnerable. Maybe next time it’ll be you, or me, or all of us,” wrote a blogger under the pseudonym Zhao Qiaoqiao in a popular commentary about the incident.

“If one case becomes an incident and one incident becomes a phenomenon, then society will pay attention and try to solve this problem,” Zhao wrote.

In an article that was later censored, another blogger asked, “Why did the Tangshan incident not only make them gender-blind, but do everything they can to erase the gender dimension of this incident?”

Video footage of the attack in the early hours of June 10 in Tangshan, a man has a man approach a table of women and place his hand on one of their backs. The woman pushes him away. After a second exchange, he beats her. When her friends try to intervene, other men run to the table and beat them, dragging one out and repeatedly kicking her to the floor while other guests watch.

The authorities in Tangshan launched a public security campaign and pledged to crack down on the crime, with police posts all over the city and in restaurants. A leading sociologist wrote in: an essay that this was a “ordinary incident” of public order threats, arguing that it “resulted in sexual harassment, but does not reflect gender discrimination in society.”

Articles about the incident and gender-based violence have been removed, including: a that called on the government and state media to stop talking about feminism. Weibo, the microblogging website, banned 265 accounts for “inciting gender conflict” when discussing the Tangshan violence.

The response is in line with other campaigns to mitigate the impact of such episodes. Support online for a landmark #MeToo lawsuit in which a former intern accused a prominent TV host of sexual assault last year has been heavily censored. An activist who tried to visit the woman chained outside in Jiangsu, eastern China, was detained by police in March.

Last year, Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai, who claimed on social media that a senior official pressured her to have sex, disappeared from public view weeks earlier. retracting her comments in carefully curated interviews

In April, the official Weibo account of the Communist Youth League of China was published a post saying that “extreme feminism has become a malignant tumor on the internet.”

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Wang Yu, a Beijing-based rights lawyer, said such framing is consistent with official reports on women’s rights in China.

“The government is concerned about people talking about gender because any discussion of human rights is considered sensitive by officials, and that includes women’s rights,” she said.

Still, observers say the movement has made some gains. Outrage over the chained mother case sparked internet users, sparking forms of online and offline activism rarely seen as the space for Chinese debate has shrunk.

A recent case of online #MeToo activism inspired by a Taiwanese writer also undermined criticism that Chinese feminists have been brainwashed by Western ideology.

In May, a woman claimed in a Weibo post that an associate professor at Nankai University in Tianjin had used his position to trick her into having sexual relations with him while she was still a student. She quoted Taiwanese author Lin Yi-han’s 2017 novel about a young girl who is seduced by her teacher, based on Lin’s life story. Lin committed suicide shortly after the book’s release.

“This case has been haunting me for six years with several suicide attempts,” the woman wrote. “When I die, I hope the world will know my story,” read the post, which could not be independently verified by The Washington Post. It attracted 1.4 million likes when internet users called for another tragedy like Lin’s to be prevented.

In the wake of the post, two other professors in Tianjin were charged with affairs with students, and within a week the school fired the accused professor for “having inappropriate relationships with women” and issued disciplinary measures against the other two. a statement from the university.

Lu Pin, the founder of Feminist Voices, a Chinese platform that was banned in 2018, said Lin’s book had become a symbol of women’s rights in China. The novel is eighth on a list of the top 250 books ranked by Douban, a popular review site. On a fan page for Lin with over 22 million views, rape victims leave messages about their experiences.

†[Lin] speaks for many Chinese women in a culture that values ​​shame,” said Lu.

The attack at the night barbecue restaurant similarly struck a chord about women’s vulnerability. Despite attempts by the Tangshan authorities to downplay the attack, the public continues to demand answers. On Monday, a trending topic on Weibo calling for an update on the victims gained more than 1 billion views.

“The more you obscure the facts from the people, the more disgruntled the public will be. Then there will be more speculation, which will have more negative effects,” reads a widely circulated National Business Daily editorial.

Following the public outcry, Hebei Public Security Department issued a… pronunciation Tuesday said the condition of the two hospitalized victims had improved and nine suspects had been arrested. Authorities also said the deputy chief of police of Tangshan had been removed and five other police officers were under investigation over their handling of the attack.

However, censorship has been swift against any perceived activism over the incident. A woman from Shanghai had her account banned from Weibo after posting a photo of herself with a sign informing about the women’s plight. A hash,,I speak out for the Tangshan girls”, it also turned out to be censored.

Still, women’s rights advocates say the feminist movement in China will persevere.

“The existence of the feminist movement is based on the needs in the hearts of the people,” Lu said. “People are always waiting for the next opportunity to stand up for themselves. There is no way to eliminate this movement.”

Lyric Li in Seoul contributed to this report.

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