Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Remembering the Feminist Five

The Feminist Five was the name given to the five women activists who were detained on March 7, 2015 on the eve of International Women's Day for planning an event in several cities to spread awareness about sexual harassment on public transit in China. Those five are Li Tingting (also known as Li Maizi), Wang Man, Wei Tingting, Wu Rongrong, and Zheng Churan.  They were eventually released after 37 days in detention but the charges against them have yet to be withdrawn.

On the first anniversary of their detention, a number of the Five made public statements about continuing the fight on Facebook and YouTube, accompanied by media articles and events about their cause and expressions of support from the international community. It's encouraging to see their defiant spirit in the face of the repression they've experienced. Below I've collated some of the postings, speeches, articles and events that have taken place in the last week in remembrance of the Feminist Five. I'm sure we'll be hearing more from them soon.

Here's a Facebook post from Li Tingting dressed as Rosie the Riveter, and her statement on the first anniversary of her detention and its significance for the women's movement in China. She notes rightly that the detention had the ironic but important effect of getting their work to a larger audience both in China and in the international community.

Today is a special day. It's one year anniversary of ‪#‎freethefive‬.

2015 boasts to be a significant for the development of the feminism movement. I’d like to express my gratitude again to our government for pushing the feminist movement in China to another peak. We five sisters suffered a lot in the past, but at last we are free.

What happened to us had enormous impacts in China and overseas. It was actually the first time that the international community knew that there are real feminists in China. Therefore, the connection between the feminists from China and the other countries was enhanced. As a matter of fact, the sisterhood of us five played a key role in the process of the action of anti-sexual harassment.

So why did the Young Feminism Activists emerged in China in 2012? It is because the strategy of the feminists in the academic circle to advocate gender equality in the mild way has been proved ineffective. We thus need a more intense way to break the stereotyped feministm movement. However, since such determination was deficient in the system and the academic circle, the young feminism activists finally stood out.

With the “occupation of the men’s room” as a start, the young feminists who are given the title of “feminism activists” have taken numerous high-profile actions: From the bloody bride, we appeal Chinese ppl to pay close attention to the domestic violence; from the occupation of men’s room, we appeal the public to pay attention to the inequality of the number of the toilet cubicles between the men’s and women’s lavatory. The women group in China thus is given more right of speech. Besides, changes have been taken place in the policies such as the extension of the women’s lavatory.
Surely, what we did was under the rigorous surveillance of the police. The feminists have been under various investigations frequently. On March 7, 2015, after the “Feminism Five Girls” were detained and then released, the street action of us have been forbidden. Now no one dares to appear in the public occasions. At present, the Young Feminism Activist are confronted with new challenges and new missions.

How far can we go in the future? We have made attempts to open up a new path, for example, cooperating with the market and proposing the anti-forced marriage topic. In China, patriarchal system, as one of the forms of paternity, strictly restrains the young people. Every time when the single young people return to their hometown, they would be forced to get married soon by their parents, which confuse them a lot. Aiming at the phenomenon, we initiated anti-forced marriage movement: we funded an advertisement position, promoting that single life could also be happy. We do not have to build up a family and make compromise to the mainstream family values to live a happy life.

Like all the social movements, the Chinese feminist movement has experienced climaxes and bottoms. Although it is greatly restrained at present, we believe that the feminism activists in China will promote it with our wisdom and brave heart.


YouTube statements by Li Tingting (in English), Wurongrong (in Chinese), and Zheng Churan (in English).


More postings about the Feminist Five can also be found on the Facebook page, Free Chinese Feminists.


A great article by Didi Kirsten Tatlow of The New York Times that puts it all in context.


An event held at Fordham University:

Crackdown on China's Feminist Five: One Year On
March 7, 2016 12:30 PM - 2:30PM
Location: Room 2-01A, Fordham Law School, 150 W. 62nd St. New York, NY 10023

The Leitner Center for International Law and Justice and the Committee to Support Chinese Lawyers are pleased to host a discussion with Chinese women’s rights advocates, U.S. academics and activists. One year after the detention of China’s Feminist Five right before International Women’s Day, join us over lunch for an update on the latest developments in women’s rights and the crackdown on feminist activists and female lawyers in China. The speakers' bios are below. RSVP is required, as space will be limited.


Lu Pin is a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for the Study of Human Rights at Columbia University and Chief Editor of Feminist Voices, the most popular social media account on feminism in Chin. She used to be a senior journalist on women's rights and has been working for NGOs focused in gender equality in China since 1999. She has worked with China's Feminist Five for four years.

Wang Zheng is a Professor of Women's Studies and History, and a Research Scientist at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan. Professor Wang's publications focus on feminism in China, both in terms of its historical development and its contemporary activism, as well as changing gender discourses in relation to China's socioeconomic, political and cultural transformations. Wang Zheng is the director of the U.S.-China Gender Studies program that collaborates with Chinese universities on developing women's and gender studies in China. She actively advocated for the Feminist Five’s release last March.

Sharon Hom is the Executive Director of Human Rights In China and Professor of Law Emerita at CUNY School of Law. A participant of Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, she was named one of the “50 Women to Watch” by the Wall Street Journal in 2007.

Lu Jun is a Visiting Scholar at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute at New York University School of Law, Co-founder and Executive Director of the Beijing-based anti-discrimination NGO Yirenping Center, and a winner of the Italian Pino Puglisi Prize. Lu Jun initiated Yirenping’s women’s rights program together with three of the Feminist Five.


Elisabeth Wickeri is the Executive Director of the Leitner Center for International Law and Justice.

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