Leta Hong Fincher traces the rise of China’s feminist consciousness in her new novel Betraying Big Brother

China’s Feminist Five were arrested on the eve of International Women’s Day in 2015. Li Maizi, Wu Rongrong, Zheng Churan, Wei Tingting and Wang Man became international symbols for political resistance. Authorities jailed the activists for handing out stickers against sexual harassment on subways and buses. Condemned in their homeland, the group were celebrated worldwide for their bravery.

The arrest sparked international outcry; the group’s jailing happened to coincide with preparations for Chinese prime minister Xi Jinping to co-host the United Nations summit on the rights of women in New York, marking the twentieth anniversary of Beijing’s World Conference on Women. Disturbingly ironic, the world responded in disgust. State and government representatives worldwide called on China to release the activists.

Thirty-seven days later the group was begrudgingly released from detention. Their fight, however, was far from over. Leta Hong Fincher’s account of China’s Feminist Five has been explicitly detailed in Verso Press’s latest release Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China.

Li Maizi (left) and Wei Tingting (right) of the Feminist Five, with activist Xiao Meili, taking part in a 2012 protest in Beijing. Photo courtesy of Media Monitor for Women Network.

In her latest release Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China, journalist and academic scholar Leta Hong Fincher traces the rise of a new feminist consciousness in a country still ravaged by archaic gender and political doctrines.

Feminism, argues Fincher, poses the greatest challenge to China’s authoritarian regime today. Communist rule in The People’s Republic of China has continued much past the dismantlement of the USSR; whilst many former Soviet countries are moving on from a history of oppressive and economically unviable rule, China is still attempting to hold on to an ideology deemed unfit by the rest of the world. Feminism has not been a taboo topic in the country for long, not because the Chinese are politically regressive, but because it’s a notion that has only recently been introduced and understood outside of academia.

The internet exists differently in China. Instead of Facebook and Twitter, the Chinese live on Weibo and WeChat, both of which are subject to stringent levels of censorship. Campaigns resembling #MeToo have been sporadically appearing online but seem to be dismantled before they get a chance to develop viral traction. The hashtag itself was outlawed; Chinese men and women took to using the emojis for “rice” (mi) and “rabbit” (tu) instead, in a bold attempt to evade internet censors.

Both Weibo and WeChat banned feminism from their searches, and a number of leading journals and famed personalities on the topic had their accounts suspended and even deleted for no apparent reason. President Jinping’s government is seemingly afraid that the rise of feminism and gender equality in China will cause the inevitable downfall of the Communist regime, one which has built its foundations on the patriarchy.

Verso Press’s latest release provides an easy-to-follow understanding of China’s feminist activities and the hardships women have experienced in their attempt to bring gender equality to the masses. The resurgence of gender inequality in China is confronting; it is almost hard to believe such archaism exists in a country so powerful and, geographically, so close to ours. Fincher helps navigate what how China’s communist regime has suppressed the country’s feminist history and argues that the movement against the patriarchy could recalibrate China and, in turn, the rest of the world.

Betraying Big Brother is accessible for even the topic’s most unknowledgeable. It is presented with indignation; its chapters are short and punchy, its language ubiquitous. Fincher’s articulation is both poignant and assertive; she knows the potential consequences of exposing the primitivity of China’s gender dichotomies to the rest of the world but doesn’t seem to care. Or rather, prioritises the importance of revealing such a crisis in humanitarianism so the world can act accordingly.


Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China
Verso Books, 2018
RRP: $26.95