- Tens of millions of Chinese have expressed anger and disappointment at ‘marriage- focused’ nature of questions posed to feminist icon
- Japanese writer on women’s rights graciously deflects ‘backward’ approach to issue of feminism but backlash from social media commenters is fierce
A controversial online discussion about the nature of feminism in China with a prominent Japanese champion of women’s rights has sparked an unprecedented debate across mainland social media platforms.
The verbal wrangling – which has engaged the interest of tens of millions of online observers – began on February 17 when a Bilibili blogger named Quan Xixi posted a video of herself and two university roommates talking to Japanese feminist scholar Chizuko Ueno about marriage and feminism.
A key aspect of the interview’s dynamic is the fact that all three of the Chinese interviewers are married. Also significant, is that the trio all graduated from China’s elite Peking University.
Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.
In 2022, the trio became popular and have amassed hundreds of thousands of followers after they posted a video entitled “How much money do we have 10 years after graduating from Peking University?”
On Bilibili, the interview video has already surpassed two million views and 35,000 comments. It has received more than 10 million views and even made it to the top of Weibo’s hot search list.
Much of the massive online interest was laced with criticism and questions.
Many people pointed out that the questions the three roommates posed were related to the topic of marriage, were mostly based on their personal experiences and represented a “wasted” opportunity to talk to Ueno.
Quan’s first question to the 75-year-old sociology professor at Tokyo University – who is not married – caused the most public outrage: “Are you not married because you have been hurt by men? Or is it because of the influence of your family?”
Due to the amount of criticism it received, Quan removed the video from her Weibo account and issued an apology: “I was outdated in my questions, but Professor Ueno’s answers were worthwhile.”
Ueno, who is arguably Japan’s most famous feminist, is also considered an icon for the rights of women in China.
A search of her name on Douban, a Chinese film and book rating website, reveals that 11 of her books have been published in China from 2021 to date, with four more to come.
As a result, the video has sparked an unprecedented debate among young women in China, millions of whom have read Ueno’s books.
Coming at a time when public discussion on social issues in China is highly restricted due to censorship, the discussion of feminism has become an astonishing cultural phenomenon.
Zhou Xiaoxuan, a young Chinese feminist, told the Post: “From 2018 until now, our discussion of feminism has been suppressed and rarely points to systematical issues such as employment discrimination, the cooling-off period for divorce and sexual harassment.
“However, the enthusiasm for discussing gender issues has not diminished. On the contrary, it has continued to rise,” said Zhou.
“The younger generation of Chinese women, with their feminist enlightenment, are in great doubt about whether to marry or not and Ueno’s books rare among mainland publications in which you can read about the topic. So young women have high expectations of interviewing her,” she added.
In 2018, Zhou publicly accused the famous television host Zhu Jun of sexual harassment. It was the most high-profile incident in China’s Me Too movement.
However, in a setback for the feminist movement in China, a court eventually dismissed her allegations in the capital city of Beijing last year.
This came after another setback for the movement in 2021 when the government blocked the social media accounts of those it considered to be “radical feminists”.
LU Pin, a Chinese feminist activist currently in the US, told the Post: “In the late era of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao’s rule, there was room for the feminist movement in China. Now all actions that challenge the political structure have disappeared.”
Feminist Voices, China’s most prominent new media channel on women’s issues and feminism advocacy, which LU founded, was shut down by the authorities in 2018.
“Amid China’s population crisis, women not fulfilling their traditional marital responsibilities has become a tiny form of resistance to the state,” said LU.
Zhou and LU agree that this is why young feminists are so outraged by the interview. Others have focused on Ueno’s special status in China.
Wang Qing, a journalist with one million followers on Weibo, wrote an article about Ueno’s life and said: “Her life should be remembered by us in a more profound way. If our understanding of her is limited to ‘lifelong unmarried and childless women can live a good life’ or to the ‘feminist golden quotes’ circulating on social media, we fail their generation in their quest and struggle.”
At the end of the controversial video Ueno told the three interviewers: “Women before us have fought for more freedom. Since you are all about to become mothers, I hope you can continue your efforts to hand over a better world to the next generation. That would be a great comfort to me.”
In the heated discussion about the video, some feminist bloggers said that Chinese women should not only talk about marriage when discussing feminism.
They called attention to the year-old case of the Xuzhou chained woman incident that came to light in January 2022.
At the time, mainland Chinese society was outraged when it was discovered that a mentally challenged woman had been imprisoned and had given birth to eight children.
“It’s not a victory for China’s feminists that a video like this has become a window on feminism. It’s even a step backwards,” said one observer on Weibo.
More Articles from SCMP
Alibaba, NetEase fall with Hong Kong stocks in correction amid mixed earnings signals while Techtronic rebounds
Chinese University of Hong Kong researchers find ‘most complete’ genome profile for American cockroaches to improve treatment of allergy to insect
Hong Kong’s tax cuts for buyers of cheaper homes has boosted sentiment and sales, say property agents
This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
Copyright (c) 2023. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.