Feminism in China can be traced back to the early twentieth century during the Chinese Revolution. Although feminism movements in China are closely related to socialism, pundits indicate that the association is damaging the movements since women are not involved in the party or their interests considered.
Prior to the emergence of the feminist movements, there were clear distinctions between men and women. Even though gender is an issue of significant importance in the various philosophies practiced in China, women have been considered inferior. According to I Ching, a Chinese classic text, men, and women are different like heaven and the earth. Just like in most parts of the world, women in China are expected to become obedient and submissive to the man and not involved in any type of leadership, the military or government institutions. Although Chinese history is one of the oldest in the world, only a few women warriors have been recognized. Nonetheless, those recognized such as General Liang Honyu are believed to have strongly defended the preservation of patriarchal order in the Chinese traditions.
Following the communist revolution, women rights movements started to become vocal. One of the significant social changes in the Chinese revolution has been the emergence of women movements. However, in the seventies and eighties there emerged concern that the communist government is not regarding women interests. Most women claimed that part of the problem was in the way the government perceived women in general. On one hand, the government interpreted equality as sameness between men and women but on the other hand regard women according to the standard of male dominance.
All is not lost as the government has tried to enact certain laws that directly affect women. The marriage law enacted in 2001 where abuse was considered grounds for divorce was also a significant milestone in the fight for gender equality. In addition, in 2005, sexual harassment was added in the Law on Women’s Right Protection. Furthermore, in 2006, a law was drafted to shed more light on sexual harassment in China. The first gender discrimination lawsuit in China was brought by twenty-three years old woman. She won the case with an official apology and a settlement of thirty thousand yuan.
The Chinese government enacted the first law that prohibited domestic violence in 2015. However, the law did not consider same-sex couples. It was the first time domestic violence was exclusively defined in laws. The debate about gender violence in the country was fueled by Kim Lee’s case where she posted pictures of her bruised face on social media accusing her husband of domestic violence. In an interview with the New York Times, she indicated that the police had dismissed her although her husband had admitted beating her.
Weibo Account of Feminist Voices, a major feminist movement in China, was suspended for thirty days in 2017 when it emerged they were planning demonstrations on International Women’s Day. The plans were also thwarted in 2018 women’s day.
There are many differences between feminism in Chinese and the Western cultures. In the western culture, men and women are natural categories whereas, in the Chinese culture, men and women are social categories. Interestingly, most feminism movements in China are led by men while in the western countries, women movements are mainly led by women.
Unlike in the western countries, only a few feminist are recognized in China. Li Xiaojiang is acclaimed for establishing women studies in the country. She also published several women’s studies articles and played a significant role in the formation of Association of Women Studies in 1985. Anarchist He-Yin Zhen is also another celebrated feminist for her contribution to the establishment of Natural Justice, a concept in Chinese law that recognizes women rights.