Journalist and #MeToo activist Sophia Huang Xueqin was arrested by Chinese police last week on charges of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after publishing an online essay about the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. The article was published on Chinese-language website Matters.news. However, it remains unclear whether her online activities contributed to her arrest. The New York Times’ Javier C. Hernández reports:
The activist, Huang Xueqin, was detained last week in the southern city of Guangzhou, according to friends who asked not to be identified by name. The authorities accused Ms. Huang, 31, of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a vague accusation that the government often uses to silence activists who challenge the status quo.
[…] In June Ms. Huang published an essay about her experience attending the first massive march in Hong Kong against a bill, now withdrawn, that would have allowed the extradition of the territory’s residents to mainland China.
She wrote that she was attending the rally “with the intention of giving voice to, participating, bearing witness and recording history” and criticized the mainland’s restrictions on free speech when she learned that her social media posts about the protest had been censored.
[…] “It only shows how fearful Chinese authorities are,” said Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, an advocacy organization. “They are afraid that protests in Hong Kong could inspire challenges to the government in the mainland, and that anyone expressing ideas of freedom of democracy is a threat to the Communist Party’s rule.”[Source]
The 30-year-old activist has been held at the Baiyun District Detention Centre, barred from visits from family and friends.
There were signs that the authorities have kept a close watch on Huang. Her passport was confiscated in August after she returned to China from a six-month academic trip in the United States, Hong Kong and Taiwan. She had originally planned to be in Hong Kong in September to study law but was not allowed to leave the mainland.
She was summoned to the Guangzhou Public Security Bureau on October 17 and formally arrested. [Source]
Huang Xueqin 黄雪琴，independent journalist and promoter of #MeToo in China was arrested one week ago and is currently in criminal detention in Guangzhou on charge of “pick a quarrel and make trouble”. Previously Huang got severe threats from the police due to her online writing. pic.twitter.com/N3hgEPJwZI
— FreeChineseFeminists (@FeministChina) October 24, 2019
As a leading figure in China’s #MeToo movement, Huang played an important role in raising awareness about sexual harassment in the Chinese workplace. By publicly voicing her experiences on social media, Huang encouraged others to come forward with their stories of sexual assault. From Jane Li at Quartz:
After working at popular Chinese news publications, including Guangdong-based Southern Metropolis Weekly and Xinkuaibao, Huang became active in voicing unfairness and fighting for women’s rights since 2017, when she revealed her own experience of encountering sexual harassment in the workplace. Huang conducted an online survey last year that drew responses from nearly 2,000 female journalists detailing their experiences of also being harassed sexually, with around 60% of the participants also said that they stayed silent, fearing the possible consequences of speaking up publicly.
“I used to ask people’s opinions about #MeToo on Facebook, and got lots of support for advocating for the movement…However I found in China, under the conservative social climate, Chinese females tend to be less willing to voice their opinions publicly on this issue. So I initiated this survey to know their thoughts using a mild way,” Huang said on aChinese TV program (link in Chinese) last year.
Speaking to Quartz earlier this year, Huang said that despite all the pressures from authorities, she still thought #MeToo, and earlier efforts against sexual harassment, have had an impact. “You have tossed a stone, even if you are not yet making waves [everywhere].” [Source]
Huang’s detention is the latest setback for the #MeToo movement in China. Despite gaining traction among those who support #MeToo and its causes, the campaign has continued to face cultural and political barriers in the country.
In March 2015, five prominent feminist activists were detained also on suspicion of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after planning a public awareness campaign about sexual harassment. They were released on bail a month later following an international outcry. Read more about feminist activism in China in a CDT interview with author Leta Hong Fincher.