Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Attempted civil society in China

Independent civil society is an anathema to China's Communist Party. If the groups attempting to be independently active are feminist, they seem to be even more objectionable.

China's feminists undeterred by detentions
The detentions came right before International Women's Day.

Five women who all worked as activists for various feminist causes and had organised public events to raise awareness of a host of issues…

Few predicted the women would ever become targets of the authorities, since their causes seemed relatively unobjectionable.

That is, until last March, when the women were planning a multi-city protest to call for an end to sexual harassment on public transport.

The size of their networks and their determination to speak out in public appeared to unnerve the authorities. One by one, they were detained by police…

A global campaign to push for their release ensued, and there was an outpouring of relief on Twitter when the #FreetheFive group were released.

Months later, the women remain under police surveillance. The group are pushing for their case to be withdrawn…

Where does the wider women's movement stand after the Feminist Five detentions?

In some ways, this is a very dark time for anyone who wants to shape Chinese government policy, to change the way things work from outside of the Communist Party's machinations…

Chinese civil society has suffered under the rule of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Thousands of activists, dissidents and defence lawyers have been targeted by the authorities. Many non-governmental organisations have been forced to shut their doors, or dramatically scale back their activities…

The detentions and subsequent release of the Feminist Five have also resulted in positive changes for the women's movement in China.

According to Beijing based writer and commentator Zhang Lijia, the movement has become more cohesive since the Spring.

"Before there were different pockets of women activists. For example, those working on LGBT issues, or promoting gender equality.

There were some connections among the associations, of course, but that hadn't worked together. Now they have a common enemy in some sense," she explains…

On 19 November, for example, Li Tingting [one of the Feminst Five]joined activists from ten other cities to demand more women's toilets in China.
Li Tingting

Ms Li appears to be cautiously optimistic for the future.

"Before [the detentions], many outside China didn't know we had women's rights activists in China. It's a good thing in some ways," she says…

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