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China’s Feminists Are Betraying Big Brother – A Review of Leta Hong Fincher

By January 28, 2019June 28th, 2021No Comments

CIRA China analyst Emily Walz reviews Leta Hong Fincher’s Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China in the Los Angeles Review of Books:

Rewind to early 2015, Beijing. Groping on the crowded subway system has the city government considering women-only cars in an effort to prevent sexual harassment (a marginal improvement over its 2013 plan to fix the problem by telling women to cover up). A month and a half later, five young feminists are planning to distribute anti-sexual harassment stickers on public transit for International Women’s Day. They never get the chance. Instead, they are swept up and brought to a detention center in Beijing. The women’s names are Li Maizi, Zheng Churan, Wu Rongrong, Wei Tingting, and Wang Man, but when the state locks them up, they are reborn as the Feminist Five. The sudden crackdown marks a political tipping point: feminist activism in China has now crossed from the realm of the officially tolerated to the politically dangerous.

Authoritarian regimes make it challenging to offer accounts of individuals who protest in the face of repression, or to document social movements evolving in response to changing state demands. One of the few people managing this feat in China is sociologist and reporter Leta Hong Fincher, whose latest book draws on dozens of interviews with women the state has identified as threats for their feminist activism. In Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China, Hong Fincher sets their stories against the backdrop of the larger feminist movement in China, where women are staring down a party-state juggernaut increasingly intolerant of activism or dissent and increasingly invested in women performing their traditional gender roles by marrying and having children.

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