A feminist movement clashing with China’s authoritarian government. Featured in the Washington Post and Times Higher Education.
On the eve of International Women’s Day in 2015, the Chinese government arrested five feminist activists and jailed them for thirty-seven days. The Feminist Five became a global cause célèbre, with Hillary Clinton speaking out on their behalf and activists inundating social media with #FreetheFive messages. But the Five are only symbols of a much larger feminist movement of civil rights lawyers, labor activists, performance artists, and online warriors prompting an unprecedented awakening among China’s educated, urban women. In Betraying Big Brother, journalist and scholar Leta Hong Fincher argues that the popular, broad-based movement poses the greatest challenge to China’s authoritarian regime today.
Through interviews with the Feminist Five and other leading Chinese activists, Hong Fincher illuminates both the difficulties they face and their “joy of betraying Big Brother,” as one of the Feminist Five wrote of the defiance she felt during her detention. Tracing the rise of a new feminist consciousness now finding expression through the #MeToo movement, and describing how the Communist regime has suppressed the history of its own feminist struggles, Betraying Big Brother is a story of how the movement against patriarchy could reconfigure China and the world.
In this revealing history, journalist Hong Fincher (Leftover Women) documents the nascent feminist movement in mainland China and the threats to its existence, a peril brought to global attention in spring 2015 with the jailing of the women's rights activists known as the Feminist Five. Hong Fincher explores the riveting stories of these women, their histories, their work, the brutal treatment they received while imprisoned, and the ongoing harassment by security officials that exemplifies the Chinese government's increasing crackdown on feminist activism and social media. Feminism, she argues, presents a threat to the Communist Party's patriarchal and authoritarian vision, which rests on the subjugation of women in the home as wives, mothers, and caretakers of elders. Hong Fincher asserts that swarms of young educated women are becoming interested in feminism and recounts victories, such as an anti domestic violence law passed in 2016, but social and legal trends relating to economics and marriage a 30-year increase in the wage gap, social pressure to turn money over to boyfriends and husbands, and a 2011 court ruling that marital property will default to deed holders, nearly always men, in the event of a divorce suggest that on some fronts gender inequality is deepening in China. In Hong Fincher's estimation, the official hostility toward feminists in China as part of a global rise of authoritarianism and backsliding of democracy will affect not only China's women but its economic future and will have worldwide repercussions. This is a fascinating and earnest book.