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Feminist activist's request to man to stop smoking triggers violent reaction in China

·4-min read
Representative Image
Representative Image

Palo Alto [US], May 16 (ANI): A request by a feminist activist to a man to stop smoking at a restaurant in China's Chengdu triggered a violent reaction, death threats and later "patriotic social mobs" harassed her on the net.

Yifan Yu, writing in Asia Times said that when Xiao Meili, an activist asked a man to stop smoking, China's right wing went berserk.

On March 29, feminist and online retailer Xiao took some friends visiting from out of town to a popular Chengdu restaurant known for "hot pot," the spicy soup in which diners cook a variety of meat and vegetables.

Bothered by a man smoking, Xiao politely asked him to put out his cigarette as they were sharing a public space. The man not only refused, he unleashed a barrage of vitriol so caustic that Xiao pulled out her phone and started filming in case the situation escalated, reported Nikkei Asia.

"You infertile woman," the man can be seen shouting in the video recording, a common insult in China where a woman's value is often tied to her ability to have children.

Not satisfied with verbal abuse, the man then got up from his table and poured an oily liquid all over Xiao and her friends leaving them in such a state of shock that Xiao called the police, reported Yifan.

Taken to the nearest police station, the man refused Xiao's demands for an apology. The officer in charge that night refused to take sides, saying both parties must share the blame, despite Xiao and her friends feeling shaken as well as having their outfits smeared with oil.

Feeling frustrated and aggrieved, Xiao posted the video of the incident on her Weibo account -- the Chinese microblogging site that has over 500 million active users -- after first consulting with her lawyer friends who advised her that as the incident took place in public, she would not be violating his rights in any way, reported Nikkei Asia.

That was just the beginning of Xiao's troubles. At first, most comments were sympathetic to Xiao, within a few hours, the comments took a far more sinister turn after some Weibo users latched onto Xiao's forthright social media positions on women's rights.

"Your whole family should die, you feminist bitch," said one Weibo user, among thousands of comments attacking her appearance, health, family, friends, even issuing death threats.

After pushing women's rights for more than a decade -- ranked 58th on the World Economic Forum's annual Gender Equality Index in 2008, China fell to 107 out of 156 surveyed countries this year -- Xiao, 32, is no stranger to cyberbullies. What Xiao had never experienced was the wrath of an online mob of such a scale.

Things only got worse after one hyper-nationalist influencer ZiWu XiaShi with around 750,000 Weibo followers, whose mostly far-right comments focus on current affairs, branded Xiao and other Chinese feminists as "Western spies", wrote Yifan.

Online mobs not only flooded Xiao's Weibo account, but her retail one on Taobao -- the Chinese online shopping website owned by Alibaba Group Holding -- that she relies on to earn a living.

After some Weibo users filed claims alleging that Xiao's account contained "anti-government and gender-discriminatory content," Weibo banned her account. Taobao banned 20 feminism-themed products listed in Xiao's online store claiming they violated "platform guidelines", reported Nikkei Asia.

When it comes to Chinese feminists targeted by "patriotic social media mobs", Xiao is not alone.

According to Lu Pin, another activist who had her Weibo account taken down, said she was accused of being a foreign agent and that patriotism has become a "superweapon" for China's misogynists.

In April, more than two dozen accounts used by women's rights groups were deleted by Weibo and other Chinese social media platforms.

Among them was Liang Xiaowen's Weibo account, which was deleted earlier this month. Liang, a women's rights activist and an attorney based in New York, has filed a lawsuit against Weibo's owner Sina Corp at the Beijing Internet Court, claiming the social media giant violated her rights as a user. (ANI)

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