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Dangerous Territory for China’s Female Activists

Liu Ping (photo: Gilles Sabrie for The International Herald Tribune)

A recent article in The New York Times highlights a grassroots movement among China’s women to seek government positions and generally assert a greater dialogue for women’s issues in China. Focusing on activist Liu Ping, a native of Xinyu, Jiangxi Province, and her attempted inroads to campaign for women’s rights, the article discusses Liu’s outspoken behavior in response to an ugly marginalization of gender and identity. In the article, which appeared in early March, reporter Didi Kirsten Tatlow quotes Liu as saying, “Women in China have no status.”

In a second article published last week, the Times reports that Liu has been missing since early this month. Again, Tatlow reports:

Ms. Liu has petitioned the government in the past and she has been detained before, she said in interviews last month. She campaigned last year as an independent candidate for a seat on Xinyu’s local congress but did not win. Her high-profile campaign helped inspire other independent candidacies around China, nearly all of which failed. A man who answered the telephone Monday at Xinyu Steel’s Beijing offices, when asked about Ms. Liu’s disappearance, said there was “no such thing.” Pressed, he said a caller had dialed the wrong number and hung up. People who answered the phones at the Xinyu Public Security Bureau and the city’s detention center said they could not help with inquiries into Ms. Liu’s whereabouts.

While the details of Liu’s detainment are still largely unknown, the general atmosphere for activists—especially, it seems, female activists—has been a rocky one of late.

Wang Songlian, a researcher at Chinese Human Rights Defenders, said Monday that Ms. Liu’s disappearance was most likely part of a wave of detentions tied to the meetings of China’s handpicked legislature… Although the crackdown is an annual event, “in general the feeling is that this year is more serious than previous years,” with China facing its biggest leadership transition in a decade later this year, Ms. Wang said.

While the detainment of activists has been an all-too-common component of China’s political landscape in recent years, Liu seems only the latest in a long line of Chinese women whose radical or progressive ideals have led to unfortunate circumstances. Lin Zhao, a young woman imprisoned nearly fifty years ago for daring to defend students and other “intellectual” figures during Mao’s Anti-Rightist movement, was executed in the late 1960s. The subject of Hu Jies 2004 documentary Searching for Lin Zhao’s Soul, Lin Zhao exists today as a symbol of the resilience and tenacity of activists amid dire opposition.

When it comes to enacting changes in China, the odds are so often stacked against these individuals who attempt to mold society. For women, it seems, the struggle may be even broader. Tatlow writes:

Over all, said Ms. Feng [Yuan], the feminist academic, “the transition period of gender patterns is very, very long.”

“It’s the longest revolution,” she said. “All other revolutions are pretty easy and short in comparison.”


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