Chinese-American author Geling Yan has long been known for her fiction that depicts the suffering and struggles of Chinese women. Now Yan is being censured for her outspokenness about a woman’s plight.
At the end of January, videos taken by a blogger of a woman chained to a wall in a cabin by the neck sparked widespread outrage in China, and raised questions about the circumstances of her marriage and motherhood. Local authorities initially sought to dispel fears that the woman might be a victim of human trafficking.
Amid silence on this issue from most Chinese public figures, Yan posted an article on the WeChat account of Poetry of survivorsa magazine of contemporary Chinese poetry, entitled “Mother, oh, motheron February 6, expressing her anger at the chained woman and the discrepancy between the respect displayed towards the idea of motherhood and the fate of women.
“Since I heard about this chained mother, I have been angry, sad, agitated and in a trance all day… I realized that maybe it was time to set aside time for anger, just to let it happen. Anger makes poets and anger fuels many of my novels,” Yan wrote. “You ask: why are you angry? I answer: Because you are not.
Different realities for grassroots and elite women
Authorities in the southern city of Xuzhou faced huge backlash for their failure to help the woman or investigate her situation, although there were numerous signs that something was wrong. The woman gave birth to eight children despite China’s one-child policy, which was lifted only in 2016. his last statement of February 10, the Xuzhou government backtracked and said it had arrested two human traffickers involved in the incident, as well as the woman’s husband. The husband had said the wife was mentally ill, raising questions about whether she had consented to the marriage in the first place.
The incident surfaced at a time when urban China is increasingly fascinated by the runaway success of Chinese-American freestyle skier Eileen Gu, who has become the face of the Beijing Winter Olympics for her choice of compete for China instead of the United States, leading many commentators to compare the situation of grassroots Chinese women and those of the elite classes.
“Gu and the chained woman whose name has not yet been confirmed represent the two extremes of what is possible for Chinese women. It is a heartbreaking moment for many Chinese who have grown accustomed to basking in nationalist glories,” tweeted Dali Yangprofessor of politics at the University of Chicago.
While Yan’s article refrained from criticizing the government, she made a bolder statement during a video chat with U.S.-based Chinese researcher Zhou Xiaozheng last week to talk about the chained woman for Zhou’s political commentary program on YouTube. She repeated Zhou’s remark that Chinese President Xi Jinping was a “human trafficker”, in reference to the costs for Western families to adopt children from China, which Zhou said was unfairly high.
Chinese censorship of feminist anger
Shortly after the interview made the rounds online, searches for Yan’s Chinese name yielded no results on China’s largest social media platform, Weibo, while his post about the mother chained has also disappeared from the WeChat messaging app. On the Chinese search engine Baidu, searches for Yan yielded no results regarding his comments on Xi or the misery of women in Xuzhou. On Baidu’s online encyclopedia, Baidu Baike, the page on Yan has been dismantled. For now, Yan’s works and author page can still be found on the Chinese book and movie review site Douban.
Yan’s partial, but swift, censorship comes as Beijing has stepped up its crackdown on feminists and platforms have moved to crack down on views that strongly reject traditional female roles, such as motherhood and marriage. These topics have become more sensitive amid concerns in China about falling birth and marriage rates. Weibo also shut down down several feminist accounts to “exaggerate the opposition between different groups”.