For Dissent Magazine, Leta Hong Fincher, author of “Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China” and an upcoming book about the feminist movement in China, profiles Li Tingting (also known as Li Maizi) and other feminist activists in China. Li tells Hong Fincher about the conditions of her 37-day detention in 2015, when she and other activists were rounded up after planning a public awareness campaign about sexual harassment:
Inside the Haidian Detention Center, Li Maizi was interrogated at least once a day. For the first week, she barely said anything during these sessions and smiled sarcastically when agents asked about the friends who collaborated with her. Faced with her stubborn refusal to cooperate, the security agents tried to humiliate her. They attacked her for being lala—a lesbian—and called her a whore. “You can yell at me all you want for being a dirty woman, a prostitute, a lesbian, it doesn’t hurt me in the slightest,” Li said. After being held for about a week, Li was regularly woken up at night to scrub floors and do other types of work in the detention center. Agents outside the center began threatening Li’s parents, especially her father. They ordered him to write a letter to his incarcerated daughter, urging her to give up her activism, but Li seemed impervious to the pressure.
Then the agents took her into a special interrogation room equipped with an intensely bright spotlight, which they shone into her eyes at close range, making it impossible for her to keep her eyes open and causing tears to stream down her face. With the spotlight forcing her eyes closed, the agents accused her of being a spy for “foreign forces” (a term generally used by the Chinese state media to refer to countries such as the United States).
“What? I work on gender equality—now you’re calling me a spy?” Li said.
“You’re a spy subverting state power!” the agents said, with the spotlight bearing down on her. [Source]
Amid an ongoing crackdown on activism and speech, authorities have accused activists, rights lawyers, journalists, and others of colluding with “foreign forces” while prosecuting them for subversion and other crimes. Foreign sources of funding and support have been a key feature of confessions by labor activists and rights lawyers who have been detained over the past year, even as such confessions are widely believed to have been coerced.
For more on the case of the “feminist five,” including Li Tingting, see previous CDT coverage and an earlier interview with Li by China Change’s Cao Yaxue. Read more by and about Leta Hong Fincher via CDT, including a 2014 interview about her book “Leftover Women.”