Womens’ Rights in China — Still a Long Way to Go

Source: WRICAuthor: JING ZHANG Pulsihed Time: 2009-12-14 email Print this article

Womens' Rights in China -- Still a Long Way to Go

Brief introduction:NY Premiere ofTHE VAGINA MONOLOGUES-STORIES FROM CHINA.This film integrates three different stories centering around a Chinese production of The Vagina Monologues at Sun Yat-sen University. Intercut presents explicit stories of abuse from Chinese students and their parents’ reaction. Also shown is a prominent case of mistreatment that went to trial in China. Women’s Rights’ founder Jing Zhang was invited to lecture at the premiere.
Ms Jing Zhang: I am very honoured to be invited here to share with you some background of the film “The Vagina Monologues – Stories from China”. Although the film lasts about one hour, such a production in China must have broken through many barriers. This is the result of many years’ struggling. It takes a lot of courage for the Chinese performers to speak the word “Vagina”, not to mention the sneers from the public and the resentment from the Chinese government.
In October this year, two scholars conducted a survey on how female
students responded to sexual violence. Questionswere given to students of top universities in Beijing such as Capital Normal University, Beijing
Foreign Studies University, China Agricultural University, Beijing Normal
University. The result was unthinkable. 51.5% of the female students said
they would only tell their friends about the sexual violence. Only 18.2% saidthey would report to the police.
Although the Chinese government has amended its “Women’s rights protection law” in 2005 to crack down on domestic violence and sexual harassment, 22% of the surveyed female students didn’t even about it. It is worthwhile to note that all the surveyed were educated young women. This situation can be far worst among the rural population concerning domestic violence and sexual harassment issues.
Traditional Chinese culture emphasizes the rights of emperors, fathers, and husbands. There are no such things as women’s rights. Women were treated as human reproduction machines and men’s sexual outlets. When women became victims of sexual harassments, they chose to tolerate. Many of the sensational news in China in recent years involved women being sexually harassed or raped to death. A 17-year-old teenager Li
Shu-feng was allegedly raped to death. Young woman Yen Xiao-ling in Fujian Province was gang-raped to death. Deng Yu-jiao was seriously harassed by Chinese officials. Many teenaged girls living in Beijing’s “Sun Village” were raped by the boy friend of the founder of that organization. Only Deng Yu-jiao’s life was spared because that case aroused national attention and public concern. However, the cases of other victims went unsolved, and they died in vain.
In China, women’s social status is extremely low. Women’s reproduction organ “vagina” is regarded as a social taboo. That term is used as a four-letter word. For a long, long time, only male writers enjoy the privilege to write about the joy of sex. However, the Chinese society prohibits female writers from writing topics about sex. A few years ago, several female writers began writing about their feelings about sex, women’s sexual desires and their views about enjoyable sex life. Such writers include “Baobei”, “Wei Huei”, and “Muzi Mei”. But they were relentlessly criticized, humiliated, and attacked. The most typical case was Muzi Mei’s humiliation. She chronicled her sex life and feelings. After her works were published on a website, she drew extreme criticism from government authorities, academics, web surfers, the working class, and family value advocates. She was demonized and became the target of the so called “fox hunt”. Her book was boycotted and removed from a large book fair in Beijing. She was fired by the newspaper she worked for. Her works were forced to be taken down from the sponsoring website. Her name: Muzi Mei was subsequently registered as the brand name of a condom and trade name of a poisonous rat bait. The rat poison company said, “Muzi Mei is a poison. We used the name because we want the whole country to be aware of its poisonous effects.”
Eve Ensler, the founder of Vagina Monologues, made the point that as more women speak the word “vagina”, it is no longer a taboo. It is part of our language and life. Our vagina becomes perfect, respectable, and dignified. It is part of our body, links to our mind, and rekindles our spirit. Shame disappears and violence stops, because the vagina is real and can be seen. It connects to wisdom for women who dare to speak the word vagina. “Vagina Monologues” attempts to break the myth that the world is only ruled by the male. It is against sexual violence. It boycotts and resists discrimination against women. It is against sexual abuse and claims women have the right to enjoy sex and to express their sex desires and experiences. Advocates of women’s rights should start from understanding ourselves, including our body. Only after thorough understanding, women can better protect and defend themselves, and lead to equality with men. Vagina Monologues’ Chinese version was staged in Shanghai starting in 2002. It has been staged many times in China and mostly in university campuses. But it is still difficult to let the general public to view it on a larger scale because of antipathy and resistance. All the Chinese production staff of the film including the director, actresses, actors, and Ai Xiao-ming, the prime movers of the film, still face resistance and hardship in their efforts.
In April this year, a group of female scholars and artists held an exhibition highlighting problems faced by women in China. The event was held in Beijing, and it was called “Social Investigation of Women’s Problems”. With visual arts, photos, and graphic arts, the exhibition exposed the discriminatory treatments suffered by Chinese women in various aspects of their life. The event was also held to raise social awareness and care about Chinese women struggling in a paternal-dominated world.
Shen Zichen, a female teacher of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, presented a report at that event. Titled “Dangers are Everywhere”, the report examined four key aspects of women’s issues in China: 1) the difficult realities faced by women during the preparation for the exhibition; 2) difficulties of female scholars working in academic institutions; 3) disadvantages of women in the Chinese male-dominated value system; 4) lack of decision-making power of Chinese women. She tells the truth about feminism and the pursuit of women’s rights in China, encountering extensive oppressions and resistance. In an authoritarian society, the pursuit of women’s rights is a difficult mission.
Although the future is full of challenges, we shall never give up hopes. Several women research and artists groups are sponsoring activities such as the “16-day Campaign for Eliminating Violence against Women”, the “Say-No-to-Violence”, and the “Speak Up Against Violence Signature Event”. These activities are planned to cover the period from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on Nov. 25 to the Human Rights Day on Dec. 10th. We sincerely hope Chinese women take good care of their vagina and say “No” to violence. We are confident we will bring about “Victory over Violence”, as known as the “Vagina Day”, so that Vagina Monologues can be viewed freely at every corner of China.
I express my heartfelt thanks to the organization sponsoring this event. I wish all of us having a wonderful and meaningful evening tonight.

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