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  • Patricia Thornton

Who’s Afraid of Chizuko Ueno? The Party’s Ongoing Counteroffensive against Feminism in the Xi Era

Patricia Thornton CLM Issue 78 December 2023
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The Feminist Five
The Feminist Five
The detention of young female activists who participated in the A4 anti-lockdown protests in November 2022 brought renewed attention to the party’s iterative efforts to suppress, and even eliminate, feminist groups in China. The latest crackdown appears motivated primarily by two concerns: first, the party’s preoccupation with “hostile foreign forces” allegedly seeking to destabilize Chinese society; and second, the party’s propagation of traditional family norms in response to the country’s recent demographic shift. Driving both is Xi’s pursuit of “comprehensive national security” (总体国家安全, zongti guojia anquan), which involves deflecting traditional and non-traditional threats from external forces and pre-empting potential challenges to internal social order. Mainstream women’s rights activists have adapted in a variety of ways, including by refashioning themselves as “pink feminists” (粉红女权, fenhong nüquan), loyal to the party. However, the party-state’s pivot on gender equality in its attempt to arrest China’s demographic decline presages difficulties ahead.

The Beijing police appeared uncharacteristically restrained last November when a public vigil for the victims of the Ürümqi fire turned into a street protest. The mourners began by lighting candles and laying flowers in memory of the victims. A short time later, the crowd began calling for an end to “zero-COVID” policies, censorship, and even authoritarian rule, with dozens holding up blank sheets of paper “as a representation of everything protesters wish they could say but cannot.”[1] The Beijing police, for the most part, interfered minimally on the day. However, in the weeks that followed, some of those who attended the vigil reported being summoned by the authorities, who used mobile phone location data to track their participation in the event.[2] The participants were questioned and their digital devices confiscated before being released. In some cases, they were forced to sign blank arrest warrants before being allowed to return to their homes. But by mid-January 2023, the dynamics had changed dramatically again: over one-hundred people accused of participating in Beijing’s “A4 protests” had been detained, and more than thirty had been taken into custody.[3] Reporters for the Wall Street Journal who confirmed the names of more than twenty of those detained observed a surprising pattern: the majority of those formally arrested were young, single, professional women.[4] All were subjected to a similar, distinctive line of questioning by local security personnel: Were they feminists? Were they lesbians? Did they or the book clubs to which they belonged have any connections to foreign forces? And where had they been exposed to the work of the prominent feminist, Chizuko Ueno?[5]

Some attributed this peculiar line of questioning to the fact that “Chinese officials never considered women capable of acting on their own without male partners or leadership,”[6]prompting local police to engage in “a familiar effort to blame foreign powers” for the latest episode of domestic dissent.[7] One such “foreign influence,” Japanese sociologist Chizuko Ueno, had won millions of admirers in China when her frank 2019 Tokyo University matriculation speech detailing gender inequality in higher education and across Japanese society went viral on Chinese social media.[8] By September 2023, twenty-six of Ueno’s books were reportedly available in Chinese bookstores, which had sold more than half a million copies in the first half of 2023 alone.[9] Ueno earned additional fans in China for having handled herself with good grace during an interview for a popular video podcast hosted by three female Peking University alumnae. Her interlocutors showed up in their pajamas and demanded to know whether the author of Misogyny had chosen not to marry because her heart had been broken by a man.

Yet, despite her sterling credentials and devoted Chinese fan base, shortly after Women’s Day this year, Ueno became the target of what appears to be a semi-coordinated attack in certain circles across China’s social media for allegedly “white-washing the Nanjing Massacre,”[10] having covered up a secret traditional marriage in her past,[11] and declining to support compensation for former “comfort women” in Korea.[12] More moderate critiques suggested that her brand of feminism might not be “suitable” for China: “Ueno’s theory of feminism is in line with Japan’s national conditions under capitalism … but [in China], we have a socialist feminism that takes the working class as the core, as befitting our political system.”[13] For example, the influential blogger behind “New Thought Trends Meditations” concluded with a full-throated endorsement that “for those wishing to understand [China’s] homegrown feminism [as opposed to the forcibly grafted values espoused by Ueno’s Western liberal feminism], I recommended reading the books by [Peking University Professor] Dai Jinhua,”[14] who offers feminism “with Chinese characteristics.”

The women’s rights movement in mainland China has come under extraordinary pressure due to Xi Jinping’s pursuit of “comprehensive national security” (总体国家安全, zongti guojia anquan), which emphasizes the interpenetration of external and internal threats to stability and seeks to pre-empt potential challenges to internal social order.[15] Although not specifically named in the infamous April 2013 “Document No. 9,” feminism—derided in Chinese cyberspace with increasing frequency as a “feminist cancer” (女权癌, nüquan ai) —continues to be linked in Chinese official and social media with Western “universal values” that threaten to “supplant the core values of socialism” and women’s rights organizations are equated to forces seeking to build a civil society capable of protecting individual rights “immune to obstruction by the state.”[16] In October of this year, the Congress of the All-China Women’s Federation for the first time in history added specific language to its charter emphasizing the importance of its “ability to prevent and resolve risks” (防范化解风险本领, fangfan huajie fengxian benling).[17] A second source of pressure stems from the party-state’s increasingly vocal advocacy of “the traditional virtues of the Chinese nation” under Xi, who recently called upon the All-China Women’s Federation to “create a new culture of marriage and childbearing,” promote “fertility support policies,” and “strengthen its guidance of youth on matters of marriage, childbirth, and family”[18] as the country comes to terms with its first reported population decline in six decades alongside a new record-low birthrate.[19] The Xi era has thus overseen a narrowing of both the intellectual and discursive space within which feminism (女权主义, nüquan zhuyi) can develop as well as of the social and civic spaces in which women’s rights activists can organize and act collectively.

Mainstream women’s rights activists in China have responded to these challenges by taking the brunt of their activities online, with some redefining themselves as “pink feminists” (粉红女权, fenhong nüquan) loyal to the party, advocating for women’s rights “within the red line.” Contemporary “pink feminists” eschew street protests in favor of a form of “everyday feminism” (日常女权, richang nüquan) grounded in acts of service that strengthen existing structures of political power—doing “practical things” (做实事, zuo shishi) to benefit “female laborers” (女性劳动者, nüxing laogdongzhe). Unsurprisingly, the party-state’s selective cooptation and promotion of model “pink feminists” has generated new tensions within the movement by marginalizing those who insist that independence, separation, and individuation are critical to the further development of feminism in China under Xi Jinping.

China’s “Feminist Five” Although Leta Hong Fincher argues that the party under Xi sees “patriarchal authoritarianism” as critical to its survival, treating “the subordination of women [as] a fundamental element of the Communist Party’s dictatorship and its ‘stability maintenance’ system (维稳, weiwen),”[20] scarcely three years into his term as leader, Xi Jinping made a highly publicized appearance at the UN’s 2015 Global Women’s Summit in New York City. The event was timed to mark both the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations and the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing. At the New York Summit, Xi pledged US$10 million to support implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action to promote gender equality and protect women's rights as well as the Conference’s post-2015 development agenda, including support for "maternal and child health projects" and educational subsidies for economically disadvantaged young girls in developing countries. “We must take equality between men and women as fundamental and break the backward concepts and stereotypes that hinder the development of women,” Xi asserted. “I applaud Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for launching the ‘He for She’ initiative, and hope that many more men will participate.”[21]

Xi’s 2015 speech—publicly derided by then-U.S. presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton as utterly “shameless”[22]—was labeled a fig leaf to cover China’s recent jailing of women’s rights activists earlier that year.[23] Only months before, on the eve of International Women’s Day in March, Beijing police arrested five women’s rights activists who were planning to hand out stickers about sexual harassment in several major Chinese cities. The so-called “Feminist Five” (Wei Tingting, Li Tingting, Wu Rongrong, Wang Man, and Zheng Churan) were prominent members of Youth Feminist Action (YFA) (中国青年女权行动派, Zhongguo qingnian nüquan xindongpai), a provocative performance street art group that aimed to raise public awareness about women’s issues across China.[24] The YFA represented “a brand-new stage in China’s feminist movement” by recognizing that the party-state was not merely a power-broker but also the “initiator and creator” of gendered inequality in Chinese society. As Lü Pin acknowledges, “We were going to go out and identify the role of the state as the greatest loudspeaker of the patriarchy and [call out] its role in creating women’s problems.”[25]Relying chiefly on small-scale tactics and far-flung networks rather than official organizations and institutionalized political processes such as petitioning, “new wave” YFA members described themselves more as “women’s rights activists” (女权主义者, nüquan zhuyizhe ) than as “feminists” (女性主义者, nüxing zhuyizhe),[26] although over time some members came to use the terms more or less interchangeably.

#MeToo and the Rise of the “Rice Bunnies” Following the release of the “Feminist Five” thirty-seven days after their initial arrest, China’s mainstream women’s rights activists had mostly retreated from both street protests and formalized collective actions, taking the brunt of their work online. Internet-based informational hubs like Feminist Voices (女权之声, nüquan zhisheng) in Beijing, and New Media Women’s Network (新媒体女性网, xin meiti nüxing wang) in Guangzhou quickly evolved into platforms for online activism. However, the increased surveillance and intimidation of the original five activists and the YFA continued; upon their release, Beijing police lifted the bail conditions of the five but claimed that the charges against them for disturbing public order were still under investigation.[27] Within several months, most of the original “Feminist Five,” along with Lü Pin herself, had ended up either moving or staying abroad to escape the ongoing targeting and repression, or had ceased their activism; and one of the remaining women’s right organizations with which they had been associated, Weizhiming, was forced to shut down.[28]

China’s #MeToo movement, which started eighteen months after the release of the Feminist Five, began when Luo Qianqian published her detailed account of sexual harassment on New Year’s Day in 2018 on Weibo. Based in the U.S. and inspired by the #MeToo movement there, Luo not only described the harassment that she had suffered as a young Beihang University doctoral student but also named her harasser: Chen Xiaowu, her former PhD. supervisor at Beihang. Over 3 million netizens in China read her account in the first twenty-four hours after she posted it; several other Beihang University students and alumnae responded by appending their own stories of similar experiences with Chen.[29] Within weeks, waves of sexual harassment allegations flooded China’s social media, spreading throughout the higher education and voluntary sectors, the entertainment industry and mass media, and to other corners of Chinese society. One of the most publicized cases involved an accusation against Liu Qiangdong, the founder of, leveled by a student at the University of Minnesota who said she had been raped by Liu when he was attending the university’s week-long residency program at the Carlson School of Management.[30] Although U.S. prosecutors declined to press the criminal case due to "profound evidentiary problems," the founder eventually settled the subsequent civil case against him two days before the trial was set to begin in the U.S.[31] Another widely publicized #MeToo accusation was leveled by 28-year-old Zhou Xiaoxuan (also known as Xuanzi) against one of China’s most prominent CCTV anchors, Zhu Jun, whom she said had sexually harassed her when she had served as an intern at CCTV.[32] Then, in an extended Weibo post in November 2021, national tennis champion Peng Shuai famously accused retired Chinese vice premier and former member of the Politburo Standing Committee Zhang Gaoli of having coerced her into a sexual relationship ten years prior. Although she did not use the hashtag “#MeToo,” and despite the fact that Peng Shuai’s Weibo post remained uncensored for a mere 30 minutes before being expunged, it was searched for more than 6.7 million times after it was deleted. Zhang Gaoli’s name and that of his accuser, as well as their initials, were all swiftly blocked, initiating a “cat-and-mouse” game between netizens and China’s censors. Weibo users resorted to increasingly abstract homophones, allusions, alternate characters, and stand-ins in order to discuss the case; netizens wishing to refer to #MeToo accusations switched out the hashtag for the homophonous characters for “rice bunny,” which was also blocked, after which users switched to using emoticons in place of Chinese characters.[33]

With the explosion of #MeToo and “rice bunny” accusations across social media, China’s cyber-feminist movement became further fractured. The YFA-associated Feminist Voices, openly critical of the party-state as the originator of oppressive gendered social orders and practices, was the target of an alleged state-supported smear campaign that included allegations that, because it was Ford Foundation–funded, it was operating as a tool of “hostile foreign forces” and was even operating a vast prostitution ring that was supplying Chinese women to foreign men. Feminist Voices filed a lawsuit against the parent company of the blogger who initiated the allegations, but the platform’s Weibo and WeChat accounts were shut down one week before International Women’s Day in 2018, allegedly for “publishing sensitive and offensive information.” Feminist Voices objected and filed a complaint against the government, to no avail.[34]

China’s “Pink Feminists” The disappearance of the liberal-leaning Feminist Voices at the start of the #MeToo movement arguably contributed to the rise of so-called “pink feminism” (粉红女权主义), within online fan circles with mostly female members who moved to either attack or to defend various celebrities as #MeToo accusations proliferated. In 2018, authorities temporarily shuttered one of the largest entertainment gossip sites, which was well-known for hyping celebrity scandals and had been active on Douban since 2010, for “rectification.” When it reopened, the chat group that boasted over 700,000 members in April 2021 renamed itself the “Douban Goose Group.” The Goose Group’s mostly female members generally identified themselves as both ardent nationalists as well as feminists. Although the works and ideas of non-Chinese feminists like Chizuru Ueno and Simone de Beauvoir were mentioned in their discussions, Goose Group members generally gravitated toward pro-nationalist, pro-party “feminism with Chinese characteristics.”[35] The group observed a strict ban on “slut-shaming” (荡妇羞辱, dangfu xiuru) female Chinese celebrities: posts describing musical artists or actresses as "slutty" (骚货, saohuo), "promiscuous" (风尘, fengchen) or "dirty" (不干净, bu ganjing) were not tolerated. Users were warned: “Please maintain sufficient respect for women. You can hate them but be cautious in your choice of words.”[36] One of their forays into activism involved a boycott of Bilibili over its airing of the Japanese anime series, Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation (無職轉生: 到了異世界就拿出真本事), which contains a number of episodes that the Goose Group labeled “extremely antithetical to women” (对女性极其不友好, dui nüxing jiqi bu youhao). In particular, they objected to scenes depicting the male protagonist secretly filming his underaged niece in the shower, and an episode in which the father of the male protagonist raped a housemaid. The Goose Group subsequently accused Bilibili of “playing edgeball” (擦边球, ca bianqiu) with Chinese censors by broadcasting “soft porn” (软色情, ruan seqing) and not being sufficiently attentive to “suspected paedophilic” (疑似恋童, yisi liantong) content and themes. The chat group created a “I didn’t log on to Bilibili today” sub-thread, asked users to clock in, and forwarded the logs to the Bilibili CEO, a National People’s Congress delegate in Shanghai’s Yangpu District (home to Bilibili’s corporate headquarters), and to the local Discipline Inspection Commission.[37] However, despite being widely derided as “female boxers” (女拳 nüquan)—a double-entendre homophonous with “women’s rights”— the Goose Group members generally kept to more a moderate “pink feminist” agenda: attacking individual users and corporate sites for “mansplaining” (男性说教), reporting violent pornographic imagery to authorities, and criticizing cases of gender-based discrimination against women, signaling their collective obedience to the party-state.[38]

One oft-cited “pink feminist” overtly coopted by authorities is Liang Yu, who vaulted to public prominence in 2020 during the height of the pandemic. Initiator of the “Action for Sisters Fighting the Pandemic” (姐妹战疫行动, jiemei zhanyan anxin xingdong), the 25-year-old charity blogger targeted the shortage of sanitary products for female medical staff during the lockdown and launched the "Sisters Fight the Epidemic Peace of Mind Action" on Weibo. Within its first ten hours, the campaign raised a total of 2.532 million RMB and saw more than 1.1 million menstrual products donated to an estimated 85,000 female frontline medical workers in need. On the basis of that initial success, Liang founded the “Give Her a Hand” (予她同行, yu ta tongxing) charitable foundation, which aims to address “menstrual poverty” (月经贫困, yuejing pinkun), “reject menstrual shame” (拒绝月经羞耻, jujue yuejing xiuchi), and improve provision of sex education in rural and remote areas. In 2020, the foundation reportedly delivered 239,000 menstrual products to fourteen remote areas, provided basic sex education talks to 2,193 young girls in nine schools, and saw over 500 colleges and universities install “mutual aid” donation stations for the collection of menstrual products.[39] In March 2021, in a post visible only to her registered followers, Liang Yu announced that she had officially joined the Chinese Communist Party, news that was unsurprising to many. Not only had her foundation received both support and generous donations from state-owned enterprises but Liang Yu herself had cooperated so closely with Communist Youth League (CYL) branches in many universities that she delegated the logistics of the campaign in several schools directly to their CYL committees.[40] In other cases, it appears that the Women’s Federation may have attempted to take credit for organizing the activities.[41]

Some Chinese women’s rights activists have questioned whether a “pink feminist” movement of the sort that Liang Yu represents can be considered “feminist” at all. They argue that due to the blanket censorship and suppression of their predecessors, “pink feminists” are completely cut off from earlier generations of women’s rights activists, and they largely are unaware of the latter’s struggles and experiences. Their chiefly service-provision orientation largely excludes discussions of women’s rights. By overtly cooperating with the party-state, they are allowing themselves to be coopted and absorbed by the existing power structures, arguably collaborating with social reproduction of the gendered forms of repression and exploitation that they claim to oppose. When pressed to choose between being “pink” or “feminist,” the former of necessity wins out because absent their nationalist and pro-regime credentials, they lose their ability to operate safely within the system. Finally, the online promotion of “pink feminism” by party-state forces is arguably attenuating the already narrow political and social space for the development of a genuinely independent and critical feminism in China.[42] In competing for online attention and followers, “pink feminists” in Chinese cyberspace frequently stir controversy by accusing others of being “pseudo female boxers” (假女拳, nüquan), capable only of “shooting off their mouths” (嘴炮, zui pao) and “not doing real work” (不做实事, buzuo shishi) to advance “authentic women’s rights” (真女权, zhen nüquan), a practice that is actively silencing and likely stigmatizing genuine whistleblowers at the grassroots. In painting themselves first as supporters of the existing order of power and only secondarily as advocates of women’s rights, they have also broken with the majority of LGBTQ voices over the legalization of surrogacy, which remains a hot button issue in mainland China.[43]

“Female Boxing” Yet not all of China’s self-declared “pink feminists” and women’s rights activists at the grassroots have allowed themselves to be coopted. In September 2020, the government-backed television drama “Heroes in Harm’s Way” showed the manager of a Wuhan bus company calling for drivers to volunteer to make emergency runs. When only men volunteered, the manager is shown asking why no women were willing to help. One female driver excuses herself by saying she had planned to return home for the New Year holiday. Finally, after a long pause, another female driver reluctantly joins the all-male group.[44] However, as Chinese netizens readily pointed out online, in reality women made up two-thirds of the more than 40,000 medical workers who volunteered to travel to Hubei to fight the COVID-19 outbreak, and more than half of the doctors deployed to Wuhan from Shanghai were women. More than 90 percent of the nurses who staffed the hospitals were also women. Tens of thousands of angry viewers called for the show to be taken off the air;[45] by the time the third episode was aired, ratings for the series pilot on Douban and Zhihu were as low as 2.1 and 0.6 (out of 10) respectively, and both websites ended up suspending public ratings of the series. Calls continued circulating on social media for CCTV to apologize for its erasure of women’s role in fighting COVID-19 and for the series to be suspended for an entire week. On Weibo, the hashtag "#Please stop broadcasting Heroes in Harm’s Way immediately#" circulated widely until it was banned. In one poll asking whether the show should be canceled, more than 91,000 people voted that it "absolutely must be," as compared to 6,800 who felt that a ban was "not necessary."[46]

On April 2, 2022, the official Weibo account of the CYL Central Committee posted four images under the heading "Each generation’s youth is worthy of its times.” The accompanying six images included a depiction of Chinese soldiers crossing the Yalu River, PLA soldiers engaging in emergency flood prevention and protection in 1998, and soldiers dispensing humanitarian assistance following the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake.[47] Feminist critics pointed out that although "women have never been absent in the building of the [People’s] Republic, this grand narrative completely omits women.” The CYL Central Committee quickly responded by adding two more photos with distinctly female images, without further comment.[48] However, ten days later, on April 12, the editorial board of Beijing Evening News, a newspaper affiliated with the Beijing Municipal Party Committee Propaganda Department, issued a distinctly masculinist rebuke, accusing "female boxers” of “making trouble and spreading poison wantonly.” The statement concluded with a rallying cry: “As for those wielding the big cudgel and reaping the benefits of pseudo-feminism-- the real black hand—it’s time to seize back control!”[49] The next day, the Weibo account of the CYL Central Committee responded by saying that it had been attacked by “extreme” (极端, jiduan) feminists seeking to fan the flames of “gender antagonism” (性别对立, xingbie duili), which had become increasingly “rampant and toxic” (毒性越来越剧烈, duxing yuelai yue julie) online. The Weibo post called upon the “entire network to work together to remove the ‘cancer’ “ (毒瘤, duliu) of “extreme feminist” voices and to put an end to “female boxing” once and for all.[50] Two days later, the Douban Goose Group, along with at least nine other women’s groups, was deactivated permanently. All of the banned women’s groups contained a large number of posts condemning both marriage and childbirth as patriarchal forms of exploitation as were others calling for the formation of mutual aid and support teams among women choosing to remain single.[51] Some of these banned groups were linked to the so-called “6b4t” movement that had originated in South Korea.[52] Members of the shuttered groups took to social media to protest the closure by posting a series of Mao quotes and Mao-era propaganda posters calling for the liberation of women and circulating Xi’s October 2020 statement to the United Nations General Assembly that “protecting women's rights and interests must become the will of the nation.”[53] According to one commentator, the silencing of feminist voices in Chinese cyberspace has led to “the incelization of the nation and nationalization of the incel” under Xi.[54]

Understandably, as the political agenda of the leadership has once again shifted back to seek control over women’s bodies and sexual reproduction, the time to reverse demographic decline and the likelihood of friction between the ranks of contemporary cyber-feminists and the party-state will likely continue to rise. Xi for He? There is little question that under Xi Jinping, the party-state, and its propaganda apparatus appear to have become more overtly masculinist and heteronormative, policing gender conformity and promoting “traditional family values,” goals that have been pursued both discursively and institutionally. In September 2021, China’s State Administration of Radio and Television imposed a “resolute ban” on what it called “‘sissy men’ and other abnormal aesthetics” (“娘炮”等畸形审美, “niang pao” deng jixing shenmei),[55] which are said to have entered China via a popular Taiwanese drama in 2007.[56] The Zhejiang Propaganda Department helpfully linked the popularity of these “abnormal aesthetics” in China’s entertainment industry to Xi’s “comprehensive national security” concerns in an October 2023 article by postulating the existence of a broader CIA-driven plot of “cultural castration” (文化阉割, wenhua yange), using Japanese and South Korea talent agencies as “propellers” (推进器, tuijin qi) to promote non-binary (不男不女, bu nan bu nü) media stars in China in order to weaken Chinese masculinity. The unsurprising resolution to this problem, according to the Zhejiang Propaganda Department, is to maximally promote a combination of “tough guy culture” (硬汉文化, yinghan wenhua), “patriotic sentiments” (爱国情感, aiguo qinggan), and “positive energy” (正能量, zheng nengliang) across Chinese mediasphere in order to fight back.[57] In April 2022, the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference’s official WeChat account published an article by Li Huacheng, dean of Yangtze University Law School who also serves as a National People’s Congress delegate, proposing that the views of those who do not conform to mainstream values, like “independent women” and “double-income no children” couples, be kept out of the media altogether. Silencing such voices, Li claimed, would assist young people to form a consensus view that “not marrying and not bearing children is a misunderstanding, and that eugenics is a [social] responsibility.”[58]

The party-state under Xi is also realigning its organizational tools to dovetail with its new political agenda of increasing the marriage and birth rates in order to prevent continued demographic decline. In his meeting with the new leadership team of the All-China Women’s Federation at the end of October 2023, not only did Xi not once mention the status of women in the workplace or their professional status but he furthermore called upon the Federation for the first time to promote the development of “high-quality” (高质量, gao zhiliang) women’s causes, thereby exercising its capacity to “prevent and resolve risks in the women’s field” (防范化解妇女领域风险, fangfan huajie funü lingyu fengxian).[59] In his address, Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang likewise broke with the established protocol by omitting the phrase “the basic state policy of equality between men and women” (坚决贯彻男女平等基本国策, jianjue guanche nannü pingdeng jiben guoce),[60] which had served as a core principle mentioned in previous addresses to All-China Women’s Federation congresses going back thirty-five years.

Since the 20th Party Congress, provincial family planning associations—which once oversaw implementation of China’s draconian “one-child policy”—have been repurposed to optimize the nation’s new fertility policy. In Anhui, for example, this has meant carrying out mass publicity work around “advocating respect for the social value of childbearing,” and “vigorously promoting traditional Chinese virtues, such as family integrity, filial piety, and family harmony.”[61] At the Cuizhou Street-level Family Planning Station in Shenzhen’s Luohu District, implementing Xi Jinping’s important instructions on family planning has been interpreted as working through the mass organizations to directly contact ordinary citizens and to serve as a good “booster”(助推者, zhu tuizhe) for family development.[62] Accordingly, the announcement by the deputy director of the Department of Population and the Family at a National Health Commission press conference in 2022 that since China’s new “three-child policy” had failed to produce the desired result, the next step would involve “practical and tough measures” (出实招,出硬招, chu shizhao, chu yingzhao)[63] set off new waves of consternation and concern, especially among women. At least one female Weibo netizen reported being contacted by a grassroots “follow-up officer” (妇女随访员, funü suifang yuan) tasked with asking married women in the community to report the dates of their last menstruation. Others reported on the various inducements being offered by local governments to heterosexual married couples to reproduce. Given the shift in the party’s political agenda, it is likely that even China’s most compliant “pink feminists” will inevitably come into increasing conflict with the party’s new “fertility support policies.” As one Chinese feminist observed, “As long as women's reproductive capabilities are controlled by the party-state machine, regardless of whether they give birth or not or how many children they have, the cause of women's rights will not be advanced.”[64]

About the Contributor

Patricia M. Thornton is an associate professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations, the Dickson Poon China Centre, and a Fellow of Merton College, at the University of Oxford. She is the author of “Disciplining the State: Virtue, Violence, and State-Making in Modern China,” co-editor (with Vivienne Shue) of “To Govern China: Evolving Practices of Power,” and many peer-reviewed articles in scholarly journals. She is also the former Acting Editor-in-Chief of The China Quarterly. Her research focuses on the Chinese Communist Party, party-building, civil society, and popular protest in transnational China.


[1] Billy Perrigo, “Why a Blank Sheet of Paper Became a Protest Symbol in China,” Time, December 1, 2022,

[2] Nectar Gan and Yong Xiong, “Chinese Police Are Using Cellphone Data to Track Down Protesters,”, December 2, 2022, ; Paul Mozur, Claire Fu, and Amy Chang Chien, “How China’s Police Used Phones and Faces to Track Protesters,” New York Times, December 4, 2022,

[3] Chinese Human Rights Defenders, “China: Free All ‘Blank Paper’ Protestors,” January 20, 2023,

[4] Shen Lu and Liyan Qi, “In China, Young Women Become Accidental Symbols of Defiance,” Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2023,

[5] Vivian Wang and Zixu Wang, “In China’s Crackdown on Protesters, a Familiar Effort to Blame Foreign Powers,” New York Times, January 26, 2023,; Shen Lu and Liyan Qi, “In China, Young Women Become Accidental Symbols of Defiance,” Wall Street Journal, January 25, 2023,

[6] Chinese Human Rights Defenders, “’We Strip You Naked to Crush Your Spirit’! Gender-based State Violence & Reprisals against Women Human Rights Defenders in China,” July 31, 2023,

[7] Vivian Wang and Zixu Wang, “In China’s Crackdown on Protesters, a Familiar Effort to Blame Foreign Powers,” New York Times, January 26, 2023,

[8], “2019年东京大学入学典礼,上野千鹤子教授演讲全文(译文),” April 16, 2019,

[9] Kanis Leung, “As China Censors Homegrown Feminism, a Japanese Feminist Scholar Becomes a Bestseller,” Time, September 29, 2023,

[10] 快乐贩卖鸡, “上野千鹤子翻车,她被曝光给南京大屠杀洗白,” March 21, 2023, ;系台“上野千鹤子少来指指点点,对于南京大屠杀除了道歉,只能闭嘴,知道吗?” March 20, 2023,

[11] 南方窗, #上野千鹤子承认秘密结婚#, March 15, 2023,

[12] 乌鸦校尉, “北京中国女权的日本偶像,主要负责向中韩兜售 ‘反思券’?” February 27, 2023, ; 风闻社区, “男权社会对女性的伤害早已比日本侵华更加恶劣,” March 18, 2023,; Weibo user 激昂的斗者recently claimed that Ueno saw the work of conscripted “comfort women” as “voluntary,” October 31, 2023,

[13] 新潮沉思录, “上野千鹤子不一定适合中国,” 虎嗅, March 19, 2023,

[14] 新潮沉思录, “上野千鹤子不一定适合中国,” 虎嗅, March 19, 2023,

[15] Sheena Chestnut Greitens, “National Security after China’s 20th Party Congress: Trends in Discourse and Policy,” China Leadership Monitor, 29 August 2023,

[16] 关于当前意识形态领域情况的通报 中办发 (2013) 9号, ; “Communiqué on the Current State of the Ideological Sphere: A Notice from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China’s General Office,” A ChinaFile Translation, November 8, 2013,

[17] 丘也, “习近平调整妇联地位,提出 ‘防范妇女领域风险’”端媒体, November 1, 2023, ; 中华全国妇女和会, “中华全国妇女联合会章程”October 26, 2023,

[18] 新华网, “习近平在同全国妇联新一届领导班子成员集体谈话时强调 坚定不移走中国特色社会主义妇女发展道路 组织动员广大妇女为中国式现代化建设贡献巾帼力量,” October 30, 2023,

[19] Amy Hawkins, “China’s Fertility Rate Dropped to Record Low in 2022, Estimates Show,” The Guardian, August 16, 2023,

[20] Leta Hong Fincher, Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China (London: Verso, 2021), 162–63.

[21] 新华,“习近平在全球妇女峰会上的讲话(全文),” September 28, 2015,

[22] Aza Wee Sile, “Do Women Hold Up Half of China’s Sky? Clinton Disagrees,” CNBC, September 28, 2015,; Emily Rauhala, “Hillary Clinton Called Xi’s Speech ‘Shameless,’ and the Web Went Wild,” The Washington Post, March 28, 2015,

[23] Somini Sengupta, “Xi Jinping Vows to ‘Reaffirm’ China’s Commitment to Women’s Rights,” The New York Times, September 27, 2015,

[24] Qi Wang, “Young Feminist Activists in Present-Day China: A New Feminist Generation?” China Perspectives, March 2018,

[25] 米米亚娜, “我们要去指认国家是妇女问题的制造者: ‘妇女之声’与青年女权行动派的诞生,” 外脑, March 28, 2021,

[26] Dorothy Ko and Zheng Wang “Introduction: Translating Feminisms in China,” Gender & History 18, no. 3 (2016): 463-71,

[27] Didi Kirsten Tatlow, “Police Remove Bail Conditions on 5 Chinese Feminists Detained Last Year,” The New York Times, April 13, 2016,

[28] “Chinese Women's Rights Group Collapses Under Official Pressure,” The Guardian, June 5, 2015,

[29] 何桂蓝, “实名举报导师的北航女博士罗茜茜:我必须站出来,” BBC News 中文, January 2, 2018,

[30] 袁莉,“她指控劉強東強姦,然後成了中國互聯網的靶子,,紐約時報,December 13, 2019,

[31] Tessa Wong, “Liu Jingyao and Liu Qiangdong: Chinese Billionaire Sexual Assault Case Settled in US,” BBC News, October 2, 2022,

[32] “法庭外的12小時,弦子訴朱軍案開庭首日,” 端媒体, December 2, 2020,

[33] Alexander Boyd and Alex Yu, “Inside Peng Shuia’s Accusation Against Former Top Leader: #MeToo, Censorship, and Resistance Discourse,” China Digital Times, November 4, 2021,

[34] 郑楚然, “郑楚然首谈“女权组织跨国卖淫”诽谤案:一场注定败诉的官司,” 外脑, March 28, 2021,; 自由亚洲电台, “中国‘女权之声’微博、微信同时被封,” March 13, 2018,

[35] 啡卡, “豆瓣女权,夹缝中形成的‘中国特色女权,’” 端媒体, March 8, 2021,

[36] 豆瓣鹅组, wikiwand,; 郝继贵圈, “豆瓣娱乐小组的生与死,” 腾讯新闻 December 1, 2021,

[37] Angelica S, “与行动派断层,中国特色泛女权的 ‘极端、、’粉红、’’下沉’,” 歪脑, March 28, 2021,

[38] 郝继贵圈, “豆瓣娱乐小组的生与死,” 腾讯新闻, December 1, 2021,

[39] 佚名,“ ‘姐妹’ 梁钰:为女性发声,是一件自然而然的事,”, January 7, 2021,

[40] 城中村的鱼, “ ‘粉红女权’ 的崛起:国家力量如何收编性别议题,” 中国妇权, July 10, 2021,

[41] “如何看待微博梁钰stacey团队在抗疫期间为女性工作者捐赠安心裤等卫生用品,但成果被妇联强占一事?”知乎, March 19, 2020,

[42] 城中村的鱼, “ ‘粉红女权’ 的崛起:国家力量如何收编性别议题,” 中国妇权, July 10, 2021,

[43] 啡卡, “豆瓣女权,夹缝中形成的‘中国特色女权’,” 端媒体,March 8, 2021, ; there is also purportedly a “pink gay” (粉红gay) movement operating in Chinese cyberspace that some proponents claim exists with the tacit approval of the Party-state. See “我也来聊聊粉红gay,” October 28, 2022,

[44] 梁颖珊, “中国抗疫剧《最美逆行者》被指歧视女性,忽视女性在疫情中的付出,你怎么看?” 端媒体, September 23, 2020,

[45] Vivian Wang, “A TV Drama on China’s Fight With Covid-19 Draws Ire Over Its Depiction of Women,” The New York Times, September 20, 2020, 共青团中央, “#一代人有一代人的长征#,“ April 2, 2022,

[46] 梁颖珊, “中国抗疫剧《最美逆行者》被指歧视女性,忽视女性在疫情中的付出,你怎么看?” 端媒体, September 23, 2020,

[47] 共青团中央, “#一代人有一代人的长征#,” April 2, 2022,

[48] 贾素之, “作为 ‘国家意志’的两种厌女观:’极端女权’大战共青团中央揭示了什么问题?” 零博客, April 24,2022,

[49] 北京晚报,“ 任 ‘女拳’ 兴风作浪肆意播毒!#挥舞大棒的假女权是时候管管了,”April 12, 2022,

[50] 共青团中央, “声音:#极端女权已成网络毒瘤#!” April 12, 2022,

[51] 多数派Masses, “豆瓣激进女权的迷思与困境,”令博客 2021.Q2., April 28, 2021, ; “晚报:豆瓣封杀多个女权小组,指小组含极端主义、激进时政和意识形态内容,” 端媒体, April 13, 2021,

[52]The 4t movement originated in South Korea, where it originally referred to no husband, no children, no boyfriend(s), and no male sex partner(s); over time, the group’s aims expanded to include advocating no purchase of anti-woman products or brands and offering mutual support to and for single women, after which it became known as “6b4t” or “10b” in China. See Xiaoyi Cheng, “6B4T in China: A Case of Inter-Asian Feminist Knowledge Negotiation and Contestation Through Translation,” Asia Pacific Translation and Intercultural Studies, August 4, 2023,

[53] 中国数字时代, “被铁拳砸中后,自称 ‘女权主义者’的小粉红们如此抗议,”April 13, 2021, ; Angelica S, “与行动派断层,中国特色泛女权的 ‘极端’、’粉红’、’下沉’,” 歪脑, March 28, 2021,

[54] 贾素之, “作为 ‘国家意志’的两种厌女观:’ 极端女权’大战共青团中央揭示了什么问题?” 零博客April 24, 2022,

[55] “国家广播电视总局办公厅关于进一步加强文艺节目及其人员管理的通知,” 广电办发(2021), 267号, September 2, 2021,

[56] 澎湃新闻, “理论动态: ‘娘炮’与国家颓败,” September 9, 2021,

[57] 浙江宣传, “ 起底杰尼斯事务所,” October 5, 2023,

[58], “学者声称,对 ‘独立女性’等应减少报道或不予报道,”April 20, 2022,

[59] 新华网, 习近平在同全国妇联新一届领导班子成员集体谈话时强调 坚定不移走中国特色社会主义妇女发展道路 组织动员广大妇女为中国式现代化建设贡献巾帼力量, October 30, 2023,

[60] “丁薛祥:在中国妇女第十三次全国代表大会上的致词,”October 23, 2023, .By contrast, 赵乐际's speech to the same event five years ago referenced “resolutely implementing the basic state policy of equality between men and women” (坚决贯彻男女平等基本国策, jianjue guanche nannü pingdeng jiben guoce) , Wang Qishan’s 2013 speech invoked the same phrase, echoing He Guojia’s use of the phrase in his 2008. “赵乐际:在中国妇女第十二次全国代表大会上的致词,” October 30, 2018, ;“王岐山在中国妇女第十一次全国代表大会上的祝词,”October 28, 2013, ; “贺国强在中国妇女第十次全国代表大会上的祝词,”October 28, 2008 . Li Changchun in 2003, Hu Jintao in 1998, and again in 1993 each included the phrase “resolutely implementing the basic state policy of equality between men and women” (坚决贯彻男女平等基本国策). “在中国妇女第九次全国代表大会上的贺词 (2003年8月22日),” ; “在实现我国跨世纪发展的历史进程中充分发挥妇女的半边天作用”September 1, 1998, , 高举有中国特色社会主义的伟大旗帜 进一步开创妇女运动的新局面——在中国妇女第七次全国代表大会上的祝词,” September 2, 1993, Yang Shangkun’s address to the congress in 1988 did not specifically mention gender equality (男女平等, nannü pingdeng). “杨尚昆:中国妇女是建设和改革的一支伟大力量,” September 1, 1998, .

[61] 安徽省计划生育协会, “关于印发安徽省计生协2023年工作要点的通知,” March 6, 2023,

[62] 罗湖区卫生健康局, “罗湖区翠竹街道计生协第六次会员代表大会圆满完成计生协换届工作,” June 1, 2023,

[63] 国家卫生健康委员会2022年1月20日新闻发布会文字实录, January 20, 2022,

[64] 夏念梓 , “月经警察,”他们曾让这一代生出下一代,”外脑, May 26, 2022,

Photo credit: The Feminist Five, David Revoy, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


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