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A supporter of Zhou Xiaoxuan stands outside the Beijing court where Zhou brought a case against a TV presenter who forcibly kissed her to support women, stand in solidarity with single women and reject idols, otaku culture, religion and clothing that highlights the female shape.

Prominent feminist activists such as Li Maizi were also banned from both WeChat and Weibo. Amajor target for Weibo trolls, Li is one of the ‘Feminist Five’, a group of young women detained in for planning an anti-sexual harassment demonstration. Li’s comments were deemed by Weibo to be ‘inciting hatred’. They have since been erased.

Antagonism between the sexes Official state commentary often refers to feminist discourse as ‘antagonism between the sexes’, implying that feminism is at fault for disrupting harmonies between men and women.

Indeed, ‘antagonism between the sexes’ arises from intense pressure on residents of contemporary China to conform to traditional gender roles. Beijing’s leading newspaper derided so-called ‘sissy boys’ in a controversial editorial article last year for the emergence of gender-neutral, pop-culture depictions of masculinity, which have had negative implications on queer culture and quash lingering feminist hopes of challenging traditional gender norms.

In a country with a bachelor surplus, the ideal candidate for marriage in China is colloquially referred to as gaofushuai, or tall, rich, and handsome – a standard that can spark depression and isolation in men.

A stated post-pandemic objective for Xi Jinping has been a national focus on women’s rights and gender equality, which some analysts see as evidence of the Chinese government’s struggle to encourage marriage as China’s national birthrate declines. With immense pressure to marry and little social flexibility on what constitutes an ideal partner, men feel as if they must conform to an unreachable ideal, compounding genderrelated frustration and further marginalizing feminist discourse in China.

The dogs are barking A popular Weibo comment when defending a Yang Li joke from trolls goes like this:

‘A stone was thrown at a group of dogs. If a dog barks, it must have been hit.’

Yang’s paradox of the average-confident man wasn’t just for laughs. It struck a chord with the mainstream Chinese viewer. While feminism is gaining ground subversively in China, it remains a relatively niche topic, with few viral exceptions like Yang’s, and i s of t en seen with negative connotations. China’s government sees social stability as taking precedence over all subversive activity, including feminism.

Chinese feminists must as a result use sarcasm and social media channels to share their views, since any social critique is by default political. Despite the efforts of selfproclaimed feminists, everyday women, performers and Weibo commentators, systemic misogyny and discrimination persist.

Expression through a post, a joke or a play-on-words, will remain the main medium of communication for feminists in China for now. Sophie Zinser is an Academy Associate at Chatham House

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