Chinese feminists face crackdown, online account closures
The Chinese feminist movement has faced yet another wave of repression, with dozens of social media accounts run by feminist activists abruptly shut down in recent weeks.
The accounts were deleted from the popular microblogging site Weibo, as well as the online platform Douban, which claim that the suspended accounts contain “extreme and ideological content.”
It all started with a post shared by prominent Chinese feminist activist Xiao Meili on Weibo in March. In the post, Xiao recounted how she tried to stop a customer from smoking at a hotpot store, but the man stirred and threw a mug of hot liquid at her and her friends.
She uploaded the videos and wrote about the incident. As she comes to a private agreement with the client, she begins to receive threatening messages on Weibo, many of which include personal attacks.
She has even been accused of supporting “Hong Kong independence”, which she has openly denied. However, Weibo still decided to delete his account and his online channel.
No more deleted feminist accounts
Following the deletion of Xiao’s account, several Chinese feminists came to his defense on Weibo, and soon their accounts were removed from the social media platform as well.
On April 13, activist Liang Xiaowen released a public statement detailing how she received hundreds of messages on Weibo containing “vicious and anti-female” personal attacks.
“Although I did not post any content that violated Weibo’s community rules, my account was deleted after other users harassed and reported my account,” Liang wrote in the public statement.
Liang revealed that she has since filed a civil action against Weibo, demanding that the company re-establish its account on the platform.
“Over 20 feminist Weibo accounts have been deleted and their number continues to grow,” she wrote in an open letter.
“Douban has also closed several feminist groups. The online space that Chinese women have worked hard to create has been ruthlessly shut down. “
In a statement, Weibo claimed that the accounts of Liang Xiaowen and other Chinese feminists were deleted after the platform received complaints from users about posts containing “illegal and harmful information.”
Weibo reiterated that this is an open platform, which tolerates different opinions. However, he stressed that users should not incite antagonism between groups or promote a culture of boycott.
‘No feminist-friendly social media platforms in China’
Lu Pin, a prominent Chinese feminist, has also been the target of the latest crackdown.
She said while it is difficult to determine whether their accounts have been deleted due to orders from Beijing, it is clear that there are no feminist-friendly social media platforms in China.
“Even though the operations and revenues of these social media platforms depend heavily on female users, they continue to crack down on feminist perspectives and discussions,” Lu told DW.
“While feminists will not just disappear after the latest crackdown, I believe the purpose of this campaign is to make it harder for feminists to come together online,” she added.
She admits that it will now become more difficult for women to be heard when they experience difficulties or injustice.
“This is one of the frightening aspects of blocking feminist social media accounts,” Lu said. “Even though most feminists know how to use the internet, this move will further weaken the momentum of the feminist movement in China. “
Wang Yaqiu, China researcher at Human Rights Watch, points out that the attack on feminism in recent weeks shows “that there are no enclaves of any kind of civil society activism” in China.
“Until very recently, you could still see a heated discussion of women’s rights issues online in China,” Wang told DW.
“Now even that is gone. I think this really shows that there are no enclaves of any kind of civil society activism. It’s very sad.”
Lu Pin said social media platforms in China believe the Chinese government believes there is a need to remove the accounts of Chinese feminists.
“They are doing this because they need to survive in China, and they don’t have to pay a price for it,” she told DW. “Social media platforms are siding with those in power, which is why they are ready to launch the crackdown.”
“ The feminist movement is politically stigmatized ”
Unlike previous crackdowns, Lu Pin said the most frightening aspect of the latest one is the political stigmatization of feminists by Chinese netizens.
“Even if we recreate accounts, we no longer have the legitimacy we had because we have been politically stigmatized,” Lu told DW.
“Feminists in China want to create a safe online space for the community, but such a space no longer exists in China.”
Although surveillance and censorship is a common experience among Chinese internet users, feminists still attempt to seek new spaces to operate amid constant repression and censorship.
“Weibo has now deleted our accounts, but WeChat has not yet done so, so we will continue to share information related to feminism on WeChat,” Lu said, referring to the versatile app. “When WeChat starts deleting our accounts, we’ll find another platform. We must find our opportunities in the midst of censorship and chaos. “
Lu added that when feminists are politically stigmatized in China, the general public also avoids being associated with them, which creates a chilling effect. “If we run out of safe space, it will be difficult for feminists to stay in touch, and that has become a new reality for us,” she said.
By William Yang (Taipei)