Main­land fem­i­nist ac­tivist more determined af­ter lockup


The most prom­i­nent of five re­cently re­leased main­land Chi­nese women’s rights ac­tivists feels her ded­i­ca­tion to the cause has grown stronger af­ter spend­ing 37 days in detention with in­ter­roga­tors who blew smoke onto her face and in­sulted her sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, her girl­friend and her lawyer said.

Li Tingt­ing, 25, an openly les­bian cam­paigner for women’s is­sues, has been at the cen­ter of an in­ter­na­tional out­cry over the main­land’s detention of ac­tivists. Her girl­friend, who spoke to The As­so­ci­ated Press on con­di­tion she be iden­ti­fied only by her English name of Teresa, re­layed com­ments from Li for the first time since the ac­tivist’s con­di­tional re­lease from a Bei­jing jail last Mon­day. Teresa spoke in the pres­ence of Li’s lawyer Wang Yu, who also con­firmed Li’s com­ments.

“‘Fem­i­nism is my soul,’” Teresa quoted Li as say­ing. “‘I thought a lot and came to be­lieve what I do can­not be wrong. My be­lief is firmer. Fem­i­nism will surely be in­sep­a­ra­ble from me.’”

Li and four other women, rang­ing in age from 25 to 32, were de­tained in a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion for their plans to hand out stick­ers and fly­ers de­nounc­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment, in a case re­flect­ing the Chi­nese lead­er­ship’s deep dis­trust of any ef­forts to or­ga­nize civil ac­tion in a group out­side the main­land’s rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party’s con­trol.

Known for col­or­ful, high-pro­file protests — from “potty par­ity” sitins to street theater de­nounc­ing spousal abuse — the five women drew what has been, for re­cent years, an un­usual amount of at­ten­tion over­seas. For­eign gov­ern- ments, rights groups and lu­mi­nar­ies in­clud­ing U.S. pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton crit­i­cized the ar­rests as an over­re­ac­tion by a re­pres­sive main­land Chi­nese gov­ern­ment, and urged Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties to drop the in­ves­ti­ga­tions against the women.

China’s For­eign Min­istry has re­sponded by say­ing the de­ten­tions are an in­ter­nal af­fair be­ing han­dled ac­cord­ing to law, and urg­ing for­eign coun­tries not to in­ter­fere.

The five were re­leased, but re­main un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion and have been told not to travel out­side their home cities or meet jour­nal­ists.

AP re­porters trav­eled to Li’s home vil­lage of Hong­tongy­ing, a com­mu­nity of wheat fields and wil­low trees on Bei­jing’s out­skirts, but were trailed by uniden­ti­fied ve­hi­cles. In a nearby town cen­ter, the jour­nal­ists were able to see Li with Teresa as they walked arm-in-arm from a tea house to a hos­pi­tal, but could not in­ter­view Li. Her friend and the lawyer said Li would abide by state se­cu­rity of­fi­cials’ de­mands that she grant no in­ter­views. They also re­leased a writ­ten state­ment by Li, in which she pleaded in­no­cence.

“She is pro­mot­ing the law,”

“What I have done does not pro­voke trou­ble, but is mild ad­vo­cacy that does not amount to any crime,” Li wrote. “I de­mand po­lice dis­miss the case im­me­di­ately, re­move co­er­cive re­stric­tions on me and re­turn in­no­cence to me.”

The lawyer said the de­mand that Li hold no in­ter­views has no ba­sis un­der Chi­nese law.

“The ac­tivism by Li Tingt­ing not only com­plies with Chi­nese law, but should be lauded be­cause she is pro­mot­ing the law,” Wang said, re­fer­ring to China’s law, pol­icy and dec­la­ra­tions cham­pi­oning equal rights for women.

“She should not have been treated so il­le­gally by au­thor­i­ties. For a young woman who is able to do what she’s done, I think she should be con­sid­ered a hope for China,” Wang said.

Li will need some time to read­just but has been in good spir­its de­spite her or­deal, her friend and the lawyer said. In the state­ment, Li said she was de­prived of sleep and had cig­a­rette smoke blown onto her face while she was re­strained in an iron in­ter­ro­ga­tion chair.

“It made my nos­trils and eyes dry and un­com­fort­able,” Li wrote. “I could not move at all and felt my dig­nity was greatly in­sulted.”

In­ter­roga­tors shone strong light into her eyes and re­peat­edly called her ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity “sick­en­ing” and “shame­less,” Li wrote.

Her lawyer Wang said the acts by in­ter­roga­tors amounted to tor­ture.

Teresa, who also was briefly de­tained by po­lice but said she didn’t want to give her full name out of fear for her per­sonal safety, said Li was “de­lighted” to learn of the sup­port she re­ceived from Clin­ton and from one of her idols, Eve Ensler.

Au­thor of the “Vagina Mono­logues,” Ensler called for peo­ple around the world to protest in front of Chi­nese em­bassies and con­sulates in sup­port of Li and the four other Chi­nese women’s rights ac­tivists.

She and other rights ad­vo­cates have at­trib­uted the early re­lease of the five to the in­ter­na­tional pres­sure on the is­sue, which threat­ened to em­bar­rass China ahead of a key an­niver­sary in Septem­ber of a high-pro­file women’s rights con­fer­ence in 1995.

Per­for­mance Art

Born just weeks af­ter Chi­nese troops crushed stu­dent prodemoc­racy protests in the heart of Bei­jing, Li grew up in a work­ing­class house­hold. She came out early as a les­bian to her par­ents, who re­acted badly to the news. She found her tribe in col­lege where she joined other ac­tivists work­ing on HIV, gen­der equal­ity and gay and les­bian is­sues. With her at the helm, the ac­tivists be­gan stag­ing tongue- in- cheek, me­dia- friendly public protests, which she called per­for­mance art.

Li and other women once strolled down a busy Bei­jing shop­ping street wear­ing blood-stained wed­ding dresses and warn­ing pass­ing cou­ples about do­mes­tic abuse. In an­other ac­tion, sev­eral ac­tivists boarded a Shang­hai sub­way train in miniskirts and metal breast­plates af­ter fe­male pas­sen­gers re­ported they had been groped. She also helped or­ga­nize sit-ins at public re­strooms to de­mand more toi­lets for women.

Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties once tried to si­lence Li by of­fer­ing her a job on a gov­ern­men­tal women’s fed­er­a­tion if she would stop her protests and so­cial me­dia work. Li turned down the of­fer and later suspended her work in the face of grow­ing po­lice mon­i­tor­ing. Her lawyer Wang said Li had al­ways been cau­tious about her ac­tivism, seek­ing legal ad­vice be­fore she took ac­tion.

Li was de­tained just ahead of In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day, which Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties mark by tout­ing gen­der equal­ity un­der the lead­er­ship of the Com­mu­nist Party.

Teresa said that Li thought her group’s ac­tivism on be­half of women’s rights would carry lit­tle po­lit­i­cal risk, and was sur­prised the state came down on them with such force. Li be­lieves it shows that China’s civil so­ci­ety is fac­ing ex­treme dif­fi­culty, and that much “more needs to be done,” Teresa said.


In this Satur­day, April 18 photo, Chi­nese ac­tivist Li Tingt­ing, left, and her girl­friend, who wished to be iden­ti­fied only by her English name of Teresa, laugh as they walk along a street in sub­ur­ban Bei­jing.

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