Why The Chinese Communist Party Is Scared Of #MeToo

As the #MeToo movement finally spills into #China, officials scrambled to block the hashtags #MeToo and #MeTooInChina.

Just a few months ago, the #MeToo movement erupted, spreading across the globe and changing the face of feminism. Millions of women took their stories to the social media stage, calling for an end to silence on the discrimination and abuse they had suffered because of their gender. Women in the workplace, academia, and even in the media joined hands in sharing their narratives and airing their oppressions. It’s no wonder a movement of this scale seeped into even the most guarded countries.

But #MeToo wasn’t exactly welcome in China. In a communist state like the People’s Republic, social movements pose a threat to the Party’s domination of the narrative. A feminist social movement is something to be feared because it promotes western ideology while exposing the dark underbelly of misogyny in the country. Active censorship has in turn become the norm.

As a result, outspoken activists face threats of detainment, imprisonment, and violence against their families and loved ones. In March of 2015, the Chinese government suffered a global backlash for its arrest of five women who planned to hand out anti-harassment stickers in honor of International Women’s Day. As their story spread, they were dubbed the Feminist Five. Li Maizi, one of their number, states she was interrogated daily, shamed for being gay, accused of being a Western spy, and regularly woken at night to scrub floors. She was held in detention for thirty-seven days. She hadn’t passed out a single sticker.

Suppression of this kind is rooted in communist fear.

If you allow one voice to be heard, how many will listen? If you allow one feminist to highlight gendered injustice in the country, how many more will speak out about the deteriorating state of women’s rights under a communist regime?

So when word about #MeToo reached China, Chinese officials reacted by pointing fingers and ridiculing US culture for its flaws while praising their own. After all, it was Mao who once said that “women hold up half the sky.” Harassment was nowhere to be found, right? Wrong.

In fact, sexual harassment and gender discrimination are ubiquitous in Chinese society, particularly in academia, where bribery and blackmail are commonplace. A 2014 survey by the Women’s Media Monitoring Network found that 59 percent of Chinese universities dealt with issues of gender discrimination. A 2016 survey on gender in academic institutions found that only 25 percent of professors believed there was an even sex ratio in their classes while 67 percent reported that female students were less common than male ones. Of women who did attend university, 75 percent reported encountering sexual harassment.

But censorship and suppression can only do so much to mask these flaws, especially in the twenty-first century. Social media’s unique ability to reach millions while guaranteeing physical safety, and in some cases anonymity, makes it the perfect platform to circumvent this suppression. Through the online story of one woman, Luo Xixi, the #MeToo movement finally broke through.

Luo Xixi is a Chinese citizen living in America. She gained recent #MeToo notoriety from a post on Weibo, China’s primary social media site, in which she described her experiences as a student in China’s Beihang University. At the school, she was subject to abuse by her thesis advisor and former supervisor Chen Xiaowu.