2 Chinese Activists Who Supported #MeToo Movement, Also Disappeared Like Peng Shuai

Following the disappearance and reappearance of tennis player Peng Shuai, other cases of Chinese #MeToo activists disappearing have come to light.

Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing, who helped women report their sexual assaults, were both arrested in September. No one has heard from either since.

In 2018, Huang helped a woman named Luo Xixi publicly accuse her professor at Beihang University of attempting to force her to have sex with him. Luo's story inspired dozens of other women to come forward. The university investigated, then fired the professor.

The Associated Press reported that when Huang helped spark the #MeToo movement in China, some aspects were successful, such as getting the civil code to define sexual harassment for the first time. However, it also began a series of crackdowns on #MeToo activists out of fear that the movement could destabilize the government.

"They're publicly excluding us from the legitimacy, from the legitimate public space," Lu Pin, a women's rights activist, said to the AP. "This society's middle ground is disappearing."

One of Huang and Wang's friends, who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity, said they were charged with subversion of state power, based on the notice police sent to Wang's family. According to the AP, this vague charge is usually used against political dissidents.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Huang Xueqin, MeToo, activist
Huang Xueqin, who publicly supported a woman when she accused a professor of sexual assault, was arrested in September. Above, in this photo released by #FreeXueBing, Huang holds up a #MeToo sign for a photo in Singapore on September 2017. #FreeXueBing via AP

In a sign of how threatening the #MeToo movement and activism on women's rights is to Chinese authorities, many activists have been dismissed as tools of foreign interference—a label used to discredit their concerns as fabrications by China's enemies meant to destabilize it.

The ongoing crackdown has mostly targeted activists with little fame or clout and who often worked with marginalized groups.

Luo's account inspired dozens of other women to come forward—all online. Thousands of students signed petitions and put pressure on their universities to address sexual violence. Women in other industries spoke up, leading to public discussions about the power imbalances between the sexes in many workplaces, the lack of justice for survivors of sexual violence, and the way gender can determine how one is treated in Chinese society.

While that national conversation was unsettling for authorities from the beginning, efforts to counter activism on women's issues have increased this year, including by nationalist, pro-government influencers, some of whom seem to have the blessing of authorities and have been praised by state media.

In a span of a few weeks in the spring, influencers with millions of followers launched a wave of attacks against women's rights activists on Weibo, one of China's leading social media platforms. They accused them of being anti-China and of being backed by foreign forces, without evidence. Such allegations have often been leveled at protest movements, including the pro-democracy one in Hong Kong that Beijing has relentlessly tried to stamp out.

By late April, roughly a dozen activists and nonprofits found their accounts restricted from posting temporarily or permanently suspended. It's not clear why in all cases, but one activist who had lost her account, Liang Xiaowen, shared a notice from Weibo that said her account had "shared illegal and harmful information."

Even Zhou Xiaoxuan, who accused well-known state TV host Zhu Jun of groping her when she was an intern and was once praised for her courage in speaking up, faced a campaign of harassment and can no longer post on her public-facing accounts.

On Weibo, users send her private messages such as, "Get out of China, I feel disgusting living with a type of person like you, on the same piece of land." Another called her a piece of "toilet paper" that "foreigners would use and then throw away."

Still, activists are hopeful that the #MeToo movement has opened a door that cannot be shut.

"This is not so simple that you find a few feminist bloggers and you shut down their accounts," said Zhou. "Becoming a feminist comes from discovering what kind of problems you face. And once you become a feminist, then it's very hard to give it up. And #MeToo's very important meaning is that it has inspired a broad feminist community."

Wang Jianbing, MeToo, activist
Wang Jianbing, who helped women report sexual harassment, has been detained since September. Above, Wang is seen in a photo taken in Lushan, China, in June 2017. #FreeXueBing via AP