Feminism in China began in the 20th century in tandem with the Chinese Revolution. Feminism in China is closely linked with socialism and class issues. Some commentators[who?] believe that this close association is damaging to Chinese feminism and argue that the interests of party are placed before those of women.
Prior to the 20th century, women in China were considered essentially different from men. Despite the association of women with yin and men with yang, two qualities considered equally important by Daoism, women were believed to occupy a lower position than men in the hierarchical order of the universe. The I Ching stated that "'Great Righteousness is shown in that man and woman occupy their correct places; the relative positions of Heaven and Earth.'" Women were to be submissive and obedient to men. Women were not allowed to participate in government or community institutions. A number of women, and some men, spoke out against these conditions in the early 20th century, but of little avail.
The revolt of women has shaken China to its very depths.... In the women of China, the Communists possessed, almost ready-made, one of the greatest masses of disinherited human beings the world has ever seen. And because they found the keys to the heart of these women, they also found one of the keys to victory...
|J. Belden, 1946|
As a result of government approval following the Communist Revolution, women's rights groups became increasingly active in China: "One of the most striking manifestations of social change and awakening which has accompanied the Revolution in China has been the emergence of a vigorous and active Woman's Movement."
Beginning in the 70s and continuing in the 80s, however, many Chinese feminists began arguing that the Communist government had been "consistently willing to treat women's liberation as something to be achieved later, after class inequalities had been taken care of." Some feminists claim that part of the problem is a tendency on the government's part to interpret "equality" as sameness, and then to treat women according to an unexamined standard of male normalcy.
In 2001, China amended its marriage law, so that abuse was considered grounds for divorce.
In 2005, China added new provisions to the Law on Women's Right Protection to include sexual harassment. In 2006 "The Shanghai Supplement" was drafted to help further define sexual harassment in China.
In 2013, the first woman to bring a gender discrimination lawsuit in China, a 23-year-old who went by the pseudonym of Cao Ju, won a small settlement of 30,000 yuan and an official apology from the Juren Academy.
In 2015, China enacted its first nationwide law prohibiting domestic violence, although it excluded same-sex couples and did not address sexual violence. The law also defined domestic violence for the first time. Domestic violence had become a subject of much public debate in China in 2011, when Kim Lee posted pictures of her bruised face on Chinese social media and accused her husband Li Yang of domestic violence. She later stated in the New York Times that police had told her no crime had happened; Li admitted beating her but criticized her for discussing private things in public.
In 2017, the Weibo account of Feminist Voices (Nuquan Zhisheng, 女权之声), an important feminist organization in China, was suspended for thirty days after they posted an article about the planned women's strike in the United States on March 8 (International Women's Day). In 2018 March it was crashed down.
Chinese feminism differs from Western feminism in that Chinese feminism has no history of assuming that "man" and "woman" are natural categories. Rather, Chinese culture has always assumed that "man" and "woman" are socially constructed categories. What's more, most of the leaders in Chinese feminism movements are men not women, while in western countries, women are the main sponsors of movements for Woman's Rights.
Li Xiaojiang is often credited as the founder of women's studies in China. Her 1983 essay "Progress of Mankind and Women's Liberation" (Renlei jinbu yu funü jiefang) was the first women's studies publication in China; the Association of Women's Studies was founded two years later.
Contemporary Chinese feminist thinkers, activists, writers and lawyers include: Ai Xiongming, Wang Zheng, Lü Pin, and Zhao Sile.
On the eve of International Women's Day, March, 2015, five young Chinese feminists were arrested for “Disorderly Conduct” (寻衅滋事罪): Li Tingting (李婷婷), Wei Tingting (韦婷婷), Zheng Churan (郑楚然), Wu Rongrong (武嵘嵘), and Wang Man (王曼).
Known collectively as the "Feminist Five," the five feminists have been long-time advocates for legislation against domestic violence in China. They have engaged in protests against gender inequality in China and performance art actions for LGBT rights in China. Performance art forms an important part of their activism because public demonstrations are banned in China.
The Feminist Five were arrested for planning a demonstration against sexual harassment on public transportation. In April 2015, they were released on bail after both domestic outcry and international attention, including calls from Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power.