#MeToo in China was hardly a hashtag popularized by celebrities; it was an expression of the post-Feminist Five generation1 finding new ways of organizing within the context of emerging social tensions across the country. Creatively reinterpreting “Me Too” in the face of online censorship with the similar sounding MiTu (米兔: literally “rice rabbit”), during 2018, ninety-four universities were petitioned by more than 9,000 people in total. This was enabled by years of secretive organizing on college and university campuses, in small community organisations and in some NGOs.

While most of the media attention on MeToo in China focused on students and alumni, this post highlights struggles among industrial workers that have also been going on in the industrial zones. As in other parts of the world, China’s MeToo moment is indicative of a developing language that describes and refutes gendered violence as something required by the present system to extract labor and shape the ways that people relate to each other.

At the beginning of 2018, a first-person account of sexual harassment written by a worker at the Shenzhen Foxconn plant2 was published on Chili Tribe (尖椒部落), an online platform oriented toward women workers. The article (see here for an English translation) called on other workers to protest.

Of course, it’s not like I don’t know how to resist. I’ll berate the male workers who drape their arms over my shoulders and grope me, and I’ll fire back at those who make dirty jokes at my expense. But can I solve any fundamental problems by doing this? Obviously not.

The piece shifts gears from personal account into collective action, proposing mechanisms to deal with grievances at Foxconn and announcing that a group of women workers would be delivering these in a letter to company management. References to the, then growing, MiTu moment are noted: to Luo Qianqian, a former Beihang University student, who had denounced her former professor’s attempts to push her into sex3 and also to the anti-sexual harassment campaign launched by a number of prominent Chinese feminists.4

Following MeToo’s peak in China, last August Tootopia5 & Xiao Meili6 simultaneously published “Let the fire against sexual harassment blaze in the industrial zones.” That essay, translated below, describes the organizing processes happening among industrial workers and small NGOs seeking to support them. Provocative, lucid and mundane, the article weaves anecdote through reflection on ways that gendered violence might be overturned. The authors conclude that gendered violence can’t be untangled from the exploitative social relations lived in capitalism, and to overturn these relations we must start to talk about the mundane violence that women experience.

Within a few hours of publication, the article was blocked and the two WeChat feeds that published it were suspended, but screenshots of the article continued to be widely reposted.7

Serious tensions: China’s reproductive labor regime in flux

China’s #MeToo moment took place at a time when the broader regime of reproductive labor has been in the spotlight. The policy crux of this is the implementation of the two-child policy in 2016. While ostensibly focused on household and familial relations, the policy shift is clearly bound up with concerns over the ageing population8 and forecast labor shortages.9 By some reports, China’s population could start to shrink as early as 2026.

Tellingly, the introduction of a two-child policy for the majority of the population has not resulted in the spike in births anticipated by the Party.10 Recently, the outspoken natalist National People’s Congress Representative, Huang Xihua, has spoken out against the Party’s population policy which outlaws single women from accessing IVF and other antenatal care, and taxes them heavily for having a child. But far from being pro-choice, Huang is critical of abortion and wants to lower the legal marriage age to 18 years. MiTu, as a movement refusing patriarchal power, therefore coincides with a refusal to bear the brunt of reconfiguring the regime of reproduction to shore up future accumulation in China.

But struggles over the division and control of reproductive labor shouldn’t be reduced to the issue of birth rates alone. Family values have been central to both ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ and Hu Jintao’s ‘Harmonious Society’. For fragmented and brief periods during the socialist developmental regime women were pushed into collective production and yet remained as the primary laborers for household reproduction: the fabric of the traditional welfare regime largely remained intact.11 Today, as in most of the world, intergenerational property transference and therefore welfare is secured through the marriage contract. Marriage is the lever by which free labor, performed primarily by women, can be secured. If not for this, then there might be more pressure on the CCP to improve redistribution mechanisms to appease a deeper crisis of caring labor.

These conservative impulses from the CCP might be seen as an expression of its losing grip over Chinese society’s changing social composition. On one hand, the regime seeks growth in its service markets based in the commodification of aspects of reproduction, but on the other it needs to maintain the conditions by which some labor is extra-exploited. The tension is currently highlighted in at least two clear examples: the emerging care and surrogacy industries serving China’s wealthy, and also the contestation over urban space seen in the major cities.

For the relatively wealthy, the ability to outsource aspects of reproductive labor is a significant driver of the new service economies in the major cities. Responding to this, the CCP last year brokered a special visa class for 300,000 Filipino workers to work on the mainland.12 Like the Hong Kong model, targeted jobs are almost entirely those that serve and subsidize the costs of social reproduction, such as English-teaching nannies, nurses and eldercare workers. No doubt in the future we will see growing resistance from workers in these new wings of the service industry, as is already being seen among teachers (see also most recent protests by hundreds of teachers in Sichuan)13 and among workers in the new food delivery platforms.

For low-waged workers such as the women whose voices are captured in the following article, frictions over how reproductive labor is organized are currently expressed in efforts to settle infants and elderly parents with their kin in urban areas – something out of reach for the vast majority of migrant workers. Compared with earlier generations of migrant workers, today’s workers are more intent on making a life in the city.14 Yet in the first-tier cities with spikes in evictions and demolitions, affordable housing stock is shrinking. While the hukou (China’s national household registration system) still rules out longer-term urban resettlement for the vast majority of migrant workers, this too is showing signs of changing in order to support regional development.

Because the double burden of labor remains firmly squared on women’s shoulders, when living conditions for migrant workers who make up significant proportion of the urban population are subject to various constraints, there are particular ways that women are affected. One pointed affect is sexual violence, and this seems to be one of the reasons why Chinese feminists have particularly focused on sexual harassment in recent years. The corresponding strategies that people develop to deal with gendered violence, as the authors argue below, need to be shared openly as a broader strategy of feminist movement building.

The response from the censors to this article shows how serious the tensions over reproduction and population growth are for capital accumulation in China. But it also points to the challenges faced by workers struggles as they seek to articulate themselves. As in other recent repression of workers and labor activists has shown, as soon as links between students and workers appear publicly, repression has been swift.

Women Workers and MeToo:

Let the fire against sexual harassment blaze in the industrial zones

By the “Group for Giving Voice to Women Workers” (女工发声助力小组)

Tootopia, 6 August 201815

The time has come for MeToo to move into all those spaces where the oppressed have yet to make their voices heard.

Today, sexual harassment and other gendered problems faced by women workers (女工)* are as thorny as ever. These workers are subject to an astonishing degree of sexual harassment, yet the opportunities for recourse are extremely limited.

In 2013, two Guangdong-based service organizations for women workers each published the findings of their respective investigations into sexual harassment among female factory workers. They found that the portion of female workers who had suffered sexual harassment was as high as 69.7% and 71.2% respectively.  Despite roughly 70% of those who were harassed expressing disgust with the treatment, nearly half (46.6%) of those who spoke up received no meaningful resolution.  Only 10% reported that the harassment stopped after they raised objections, and merely 1% reported that their harasser was dismissed from the factory as a result.

Even more unfortunate, women workers in China are in a role that is often hidden from view. Facing sexual harassment at any time, they are denied both effective means of resisting and channels for speaking up.

Their stories aren’t there to be read: Between overtime work and the household labor required of them after clocking out from the job, women workers don’t have time to write their own First Love Paradise.16

Neither are their stories there to be heard: Their disparate social circles and class positioning means that women workers aren’t able to jump on Weibo or Wechat to add their voices to the chorus of MeToo’s.

Nor are they given the least consideration: Though factory management is willing to install endless surveillance cameras to monitor worker productivity, it is beyond the pale for them to consider arrangements to protect the rights and interests of their female employees.

But it’s the softest of murmurs that most need to be heard. It’s the deepest, darkest corners that are most in need of light. With the fires of MeToo blazing brightly across academia, the media and NGO circles, now is the time when women workers who have also endured sexual harassment must be paid attention to. Now is when their experiences must be understood. It is our belief that the time has come for MeToo to move into broader and wider spaces — into all those spaces where the oppressed have yet to make their voices heard.

Recently we had a conversation about sexual harassment, MeToo and other issues with four women workers’ service organizations. Over the course of our long-term work, we’ve built up intimate relationships with women workers, developing a deep understanding and analysis of the gender-based struggles that they face. Their stories are presented here in two parts. We hope these stories can be taken as a primer that will drive more people to overcome class barriers and understand the gender issues and conditions that women workers face on the job.

The reason we speak out is not to simply make a sound, but to forge links. We believe that voicing these experiences can breathe new meaning into MeToo. As a movement, MeToo’s importance does not simply lie in awakening womenkind by airing the experiences of those who have been harmed. Rather, it lies in appealing to women as victims of society’s structural injustices to become a conscious whole and in opening a new window onto solidarity and unified action. 

Chili Tribe: Using Media to Shatter the Invisible Fortress

Photo: Female Foxconn worker delivers an open letter demanding the establishment of a mechanism for the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. Photo source: Chili Tribe

In January this year, several female Foxconn workers in Shenzhen presented factory management with an open letter demanding the establishment of a mechanism to combat sexual harassment. It called for providing managers with relevant training, adding such training into the orientation process for new hires, setting up a special purpose channel for receiving reports of sexual harassment, and so on.

Their demands were posted on the women workers’ information platform Chili Tribe (尖椒部落), as well as on Weibo under the hashtag “Women Workers’ MeToo” (女工MeToo), where it received nearly 600,000 views, along with thousands of re-posts.

In terms of online viewership, these might not sound like particularly shocking numbers. But in the eyes of Chili Tribe this represents a massive breakthrough among workers: The shattering of invisible social barriers through action and advocacy.  

Through our efforts, Chili Tribe has come to understand that the issue of sexual harassment is both one that innumerable women workers are faced with, and also one that is extremely concealed.

We are a web platform concerned with and in touch with women workers of various ages, in various cities. In our offline activities, we deal mostly with female factory workers between the ages of 18 and 30.

Beginning in 2016, we started providing free online legal consultations. The majority of inquiries we received had to do with domestic violence and labor law, with relatively few requests for help with issues of sexual assault or harassment. Sometimes we would get one or two, but even then, the reports were more often than not made “on behalf of a friend.” And because the reports were so vague, it was difficult to give appropriate advice.

But in our day-to-day contact with women workers, we came to realize that the issue was more widespread than we had ever imagined.

From time to time, a woman worker would contribute a piece of writing to our platform, with accounts of her experiences with sexual harassment. Some described being followed home after getting off the nightshift, sometimes to the point that they were grabbed from behind and only able to break free after crying out loudly for help. Others described being subjected to extended periods of verbal harassment until finally breaking down and reporting the abuse, only to be criticized by those around them for “doing harm to others by making them lose their job.” Still others described finding themselves in workshops full of the crass vulgarities so-often excused as part of “male  culture” and choosing to object, explaining on the spot that such language constituted a form of sexual harassment, only to earn the mocking nickname of “Ms. Sexual Harassment” as a result…

One case in particular left a profound impact on us. A women worker who suffered sexual harassment at the hands of her male colleague decided to complain to her superiors. But the management’s response leaves us unsure whether to laugh or cry. The factory decided to post a notice in the workshop: “Putting arms around each other’s shoulders (勾肩搭背17) is forbidden.”This empty slogan could be seen as a small victory, but its vagueness in who it was directed towards and its lighthearted phrasing show that the management truly did not take the matter seriously. In place of an effective mechanism for combatting sexual harassment, there was only a blank void.

These workplace experiences reflect the inescapable quandary faced by women workers in the face of sexual harassment. On the one hand, they may try all kinds of methods of redress, like reporting their harasser to factory management or to the police, but the results are far from ideal. On the other hand, the pressure from the surrounding environment is enormous, and when the topic involves “sex” many women workers are too shy to speak up. Moreover, when the harassment comes from above, resistance becomes even more difficult.

What if the harassment takes place in their everyday lives? What if it comes from male friends, or takes the form of a sexual assault from a boyfriend? These are all problems that nearly every woman faces at some point. More often than not, when women workers try to speak up, they don’t have a sufficient support network.

But the power of “sisterly camaraderie” (姐妹情谊) can’t be ignored. While their outcry may be a soft one, women workers haven’t abandoned their bonds of unity or their voice.

Take for example the open letter from Foxconn’s women workers. Although the factory has yet to respond officially with any meaningful steps, this MeToo action on the part of women workers has managed to attract no shortage of reports and attention from the media. As a result, the community of women workers, who are so often silenced and smeared by mainstream voices, have demonstrated to society their enormous capacity for action. To a certain degree, they have brought the discussion of workers’ issues into the public eye.

Furthermore, away from the view of the public, women workers have never relented in their fight for spaces where women can exist. In small groups, women workers sit together to discuss how the patriarchal culture of the factory can be confronted and share advice. When women workers on the assembly line are harassed by male foremen (技术员), nearby workmates will speak up to help. There are even those who walk through the factory campus holding placards about sexual harassment in order to help spread their message, inviting male workmates to take photos in support.

Photo: A female Foxconn worker carrying a placard about sexual harassment. Photo source: Chili Tribe

We suspect that all this is merely the beginning.

Green Wild Rose: Confronting the Complex Predicament of Gender Head-on

There’s an “old pervert” known by everyone in the workshop. I remember that no matter what a woman worker would say, this man would always reply, “Yeah, and last night I touched your cunt, too.” This made everyone furious, but what could we do. If anyone tried to speak up, others would say, “You’re all grown and married women. Why put on airs? It’s not like your husband doesn’t see it every night.”

This was a story recounted to Green Wild Rose (绿色蔷薇) personnel by a woman worker. It’s one of many similar tales that they’ve heard more than their share of. Green Wild Rose is a women workers’ service organization rooted firmly in the community. Compared to Chili Tribe, the women they are in touch with are generally older. Many of them have already been married for years and have their own children. They’re the sort of women that workmates call “elder sister”.

This sort of women worker has the double duty of conducting herself as a “supermom” in the home and being seen as experienced and respected members of the community. But it is precisely these factors of age and family status that makes fighting sexual harassment such a difficult path for them to walk. 

The issue of gender-based oppression is one that Green Wild Rose has investigated carefully and is working hard to unravel.

In our community, one can find women workers from all walks of life. There are female employees in electronics factories. There are housekeepers working by the hour. There are also workers from the service sector. Our sisters who are employed as irregular workers are especially numerous. They watch over their children at home, all while sitting at the doorstep busying themselves with handicrafts: cutting flowers, assembling zippers, making toys, or stuffing cotton. The vast majority of these women have all encountered sexual harassment.

It is extremely common for men to tell dirty jokes on the assembly line. Especially when paired on the production line with older women, these male workers become particularly unrestrained.There’s also an unspoken rule in many factories: If a group leader or shift manager thinks a girl on his shift is pretty, she’s his to date. I myself have encountered this kind of scenario at a factory I used to work at.

One story left me with a particularly strong impression. There was a woman worker who became pregnant. The man involved made her promises but, in the end, he was only playing games. Before long he was ignoring her altogether. She grew despondent and lost her peace of mind.Later, she would often wait for him by the factory gates, sometimes all through the night. Other people had no way of getting through to her. Later, I saw that her belly had once again grown big. It turned out some guys had raped her, which got her pregnant again. After suffering so many repeated traumas, her psychological problems just became worse and worse.

Even outside of the factory setting, sexual harassment can happen at any time: at the hands of someone subletting them a rented room, on the streets at the hands of a flasher, or on public transit when hands and feet start to “wander.”

But despite having suffered sexual harassment, many women only mention it in passing. They don’t take the initiative to seek out help in these matters explicitly. Perhaps, in the eyes of women workers, the struggle to simply survive is a much more important one.  There are too many hardships in their lives. They give so much of themselves, both to their parents’ household and to their husband’s. They’re left with no personal space of their own and are constantly put down.  They carry the trauma of the sexual harassment they’ve faced. But since the endless tasks and concerns of their daily hustle and bustle are so great, they have no choice but to bury it deep inside, simply in order to survive.

After all, compared to domestic violence or intimate partner violence, sexual harassment appears almost “light.”  When spoken out about, few will take it seriously.  But that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. Simply that it’s been overshadowed and suppressed by even greater hardships.

Photo: Organizer Ding Li leads an activity with the children of women workers in the Green Wild Rose workshop.

So if a MeToo movement for women workers is to take shape, the path will not be easy. The key question will be, once the taboo topic itself is broached, how can real change be pushed forward?

In the MeToo movement as it stands, we see celebrities, students and various kinds of professionals all telling their stories. Their targets are clear. The men they accuse are of a certain social status—often to the point of being public figures. To one degree or another, the pressure of public opinion can have impact on their lives and careers.

But for women workers, who is the target? If their perpetrator is a male workmate, then there’s no social standing to speak of. The guilty party has no cause to fear the impact of public opinion. We’re left with no way to censure him and even fewer means to bring him to justice.

And if the company has no mechanism against sexual harassment, or if existing complaint channels prove ineffective, how are we to proceed? How can we establish a system to combat sexual harassment in the factory? When sexual harassment takes place in our communities, where does the responsibility to investigate lie? Can we simply chalk it up to the fact that our communities are “unsafe,” or should we instead be considering a system to change that fact?

Establishing a system for fighting sexual harassment will take time. So does that mean that giving an account of these matters is in and of itself a good thing for those who have experienced them? Not necessarily.

When sexual harassment occurs, it is often perceived as a personal problem –especially at sites of extreme gender inequity, like the factory. When a young woman has been harassed, people’s first thought is to wonder whether she was dressed too revealingly. And if an older married woman is harassed, or subjected to catcalls or vulgar language, people say she ought to take it as a compliment.

Women workers haven’t failed to recount their experiences, but they have failed to get the change and support they deserve. Instead, they are attacked by the world around them. Their families may look at their coming forward as a loss of face, while others repay their forthrightness with mockery and ridicule. These kinds of consequences are themselves a form of secondary trauma.

Clearly, adapting the MeToo movement to the realm of women workers is truly a difficult task. So, does that mean that there’s no point in them even trying to fight sexual harassment, and that we, as a social work organization, are equally powerless?

Of course not. We cannot give up our efforts simply because the challenges are many.

In our view, the MeToo movement is actually best seen by women workers as a kind of example. These cases help them realize that the sexual harassment they face is not simply a personal problem, and that things like this occur at every social stratum, in every sort of person’s life. It also lets us see that that many people actually harbor supportive attitudes when it comes to calling out sexual harassment. Instead of blaming the woman, they hold the perpetrator responsible, making him liable to full extent the law.

In the course of our work, we discuss these social issues with our fellow female workers and analyze the structural issues behind them. We also discuss the meaning of safe and equitable sex. Women workers are able to recount their past harms anonymously in the form of stories.  Even if – for the time being – they are unable to change anything, at least they are able to find a sense of strength and support from our community.

Photo: At Green Wild Rose, women workers enjoy the play They Say.18 Photo source: Green Wild Rose

In terms of our longer-term plans, we would like to spread these stories in the form of theater or music. We have in the past used theater to tell women workers’ stories of lifetime of gendered hardships, or the story of the woman worker Xiaoying from the Zhili Factory Fire.19  Everyone felt that, in music and on the stage, they could see and hear their own stories and voices.

These are things that can’t be seen in the cultural mainstream. If we can make them visible, turn them into something that can be discussed, then we are already making change. We must encourage these women to slowly make their voices heard and their stories known.

A MeToo for Women Workers: Our Proposal

When we discuss the gender question, we must be aware that it doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Rather, it is always interwoven with class, nationality (民族), race and other social categories.

It is precisely in this way that we are able to see the presence of the gender question in each of society’s different spheres, and how different female bodies express its impact in different ways. It is also why we can’t expect the gender question to be thoroughly resolved on its own, but rather as part of a comprehensive effort.

Therefore, we call for an all-out effort to shatter the class barriers and other obstacles that obstruct our horizons and block us from action, and to support women workers in their fight against sexual harassment and other gendered problems.

  1. Support women workers in their struggle for mechanisms against sexual harassment in the workplace, including explicit channels for reporting incidents and clearly defined punitive measures for perpetrators.
  2. Support women workers in their struggle for equal-pay-for-equal-work, a raise in base wages, sufficient overtime pay, maternity leave protections (including pre-natal, post-natal and breastfeeding phases), social insurance payments and other labor rights.
  3. Support women workers in establishing “women’s departments” within existing labor unions, to promote the principal of solidarity among women workers and safeguard their rights. Support women workers in their efforts to form unions at workplaces that lack them.
  4. Support women workers by speaking out and holding space for public discourse on the issues they have exposed in their work and private lives.
  5. Support women workers and other friends by establishing women workers’ service organizations in working-class communities, factory areas, etc. in order to provide women with help and support in the realms of law, culture and health, while also beginning to develop gender education geared towards men.
Photo: Beginning in 2015, Green Wild Rose has organized dances against violence.

We also call on the youth who are speaking out online to step up their actions, to build real world connections. We call on the intellectuals who are closeted away in their studies to step into the realm of practice, to become acquainted with society through experience, experimentation and cross-pollination. We call on feminists to reflect more broadly on how women of different social classes can all make immense contributions to the advancement of human civilization.

A comprehensive and thorough feminism requires the masses of women workers to carry out a process of self-liberation. History has already proven their power. And now, they are once again writing history anew. Indeed, it is only through the course of this process, that each of us can achieve our own liberation.

*Note [from the original Chinese text]:

Broadly speaking, ‘women workers’ are simply females who undertake employment. But it is used here in the narrow sense to mean low-level workers employed in secondary production (like industrial manufacturing and construction), and some sectors of tertiary production (like domestic labor, food service, and commodity transport). This definition does not include women of the managerial class, or what’s often called the ‘urban workforce’/white collar workers.

According to national statistics, China’s female workforce in 2016 was 334 million, accounting for 43.1% of all workers nationwide. 65.18 million of these women were employed at urban workplaces (城市单位). Female migrant workers numbered 97.19 million. Therefore, the number of women in the country who fit our aforementioned definition of ‘women workers’ is, by a conservative estimate, no less than 100 million.

So, women workers’ resistance concerns 100 million people, and it also concerns us all.

About the authors:

Chili Tribe (www.jianjiaobuluo.com) is an online platform geared towards ordinary women workers. It’s dedicated to providing fellow workers with information on their rights and interests, and daily lives. From a perspective at the intersections of gender and class, Chili Tribe presents theory in various interesting ways and strategically spreads knowledge about the situation that Chinese women workers face.

Shenzhen’s Green Wild Rose Social Work Service Center formally registered with the municipal government’s Civil Affairs Administration in July of 2015. It’s a social work center specially geared towards servicing migrant women and children. Green Wild Rose is concerned with migrant women’s health and improving the their communities. It includes an activity area for children, a free lending library and classes for various interests, like performing arts and sewing classes. The goal is to realize women’s self-empowerment and autonomy through building skills, promoting community engagement and arts performances. By combining our social forces we hope to facilitate migrant women and children in improving their living environment

Further information:

The complete report about sexual harassment of women workers can be downloaded here [Chinese only]: https://pan.baidu.com/s/1GT3saTV0mp4I1NqiY4sQEw

The video on the report can be viewed here [Chinese]: https://pan.baidu.com/s/1nxGg4O_KiFwyalUSl5jCZQ

Notes by the editors & translators at Chuang

  1. See our posts, “Free the Women’s Day Five! Statements from Chinese workers & students,” “Gender War & Social Stability in Xi’s China: Interview with a Friend of the Women’s Day Five”, How “feminism” became a household word this Spring Festival”, “Drinking Tea with China’s ‘National Treasure’: Five Questions” and “We should all be feminists”? Repression, recuperation and China’s new women-only metro carriages”.
  2. For a compilation on workers’ struggles at Foxconn see https://www.gongchao.org/en/islaves-struggles/
  3. One of the first professors to be fired for sexual assault was Chen Xiaowu, executive Vice Director of Beihang University. Luo Qianqian, mentioned here, was one of the students who the professor had tried to persuade into having sex with him. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-42659827. While some universities were forthcoming with statements against misconduct of their staff, very few undertook disciplinary action against known perpetrators.
  4. See “We should all be feminists”? Repression, recuperation and China’s new women-only metro carriages”.
  5. Tootopia (土逗公社), originally using the name Groundbreaking (破土), was probably the most widely read Chinese left platform (with a WeChat feed, website and Facebook page) active between 2014-2019, publishing on news, culture and history for a young audience. After being temporarily shut down and reopening under a new name upon the publication of the article translated here, it was finally shut down more permanently in June 2019, when one of its editors was arrested and charged with subversion in the most recent sweep of leftists amid the ongoing repression since the Jasic affair last summer.
  6. Xiao Meili’s image became internationally recognised as one of the brides in a protest against domestic violence in Beijing in 2012. In the following year, she walked from Beijing to Guangzhou to protest sexual abuse.
  7. Tootopia later reopened a new account which operated until June 2019, when it was shut down amidst the latest sweep of leftist and labor activists, when one of its editors was placed under detention. Chili Tribe, which contributed to the article as one of the two groups interviewed, also discontinued its online operations around the same time of Tootopia’s closure, but has since resumed publishing. Scroll down to “about the authors” for the groups’ self-descriptions.
  8. By 2040, a quarter of China’s population will be over 65. The rate China’s population is aging is a little faster than the USA, and twice as fast as India. https://www.bloomberg.com/quicktake/china-s-two-child-policy
  9. See also Molero-Simarro (2016) Is China reaching the Lewis Turning Point? Agricultural prices, urban immigration and the labor share’, in Journal of Australian Political Economy, which argues the China’s countryside is still likely to be able to provide cheap industrial labor for some time into the future.
  10. The Policy, during its existence, changed over time in its application to different ethnic groups and rural vs. urban populations. For most of its existence, it was only a “one child policy” regarding urbanites designated as members of the majority Han ethnic group, with rural Han allowed to have a second child if the first one was a girl, and other variations for different ethnic groups. In practice, moreover, many rural authorities treated the policy as simply another source of revenue: collecting fines for “excess” births.
  11. While the Marriage Law of 1950 abolished feudal marriage, enforcing age limits and allowing women to initiate divorce, it was barely promoted. It remained unchanged until the Second Marriage Law in 1981. Since the 80s, the divorce rate in China has quadrupled, though it is still much lower than Japan or the USA.
  12. It should be noted that this, at least in part, responds to there already being tens of thousands of undocumented Filipina domestic workers working in wealthy Chinese households.
  13. According to China Labour Bulletin’s Strike Map, 3.8% of strikes and protests in 2018 were in the education sector, which stands considering that only 2% of China’s total workforce work in education. In April of that year, 14% of activity recorded on the Map was by education workers.
  14. Various State policies such as the 2009 healthcare reforms have sought to reduce the urban-rural divide while ensuring the reserve army of labor remains available, freeing up rural land for agricultural-capital or real estate, while pulling the population towards third and fourth tier cities in the interior. See also Molero-Simero (2016).
  15. Despite censorship, the original Chinese article widely reposted and still be found, for example here and here, under the title: 女工米兔进行时:让反性骚扰这场大火,在工业区里越烧越旺
  16. Fang Si-chi’s First Love Paradise (房思琪的初恋乐园) has been an influential novel in the Chinese feminist scene, published in 2017 by the Taiwanese writer Lin Yi-han, shortly before the author’s suicide.
  17. 勾肩搭背 is a phrase that denotes informal intimacy between friends, sometimes implying a cheeky or conspiratorial level of physical closeness. Something like ‘jovial horseplay’. It certainly comes nowhere close to describing the hostility and non-consensual nature of sexual harassment, so this response from management can only be seen as minimizing and dismissive.
  18. They Say (她们说——with the feminine “they”) is a stage play written and produced by women workers at Green Wild Rose. It tells a dramatized version of events that these women have all experienced first-hand, covering themes of forced marriage, domestic violence and workplace exploitation.
  19. This refers to a fire at a toy factory in Shenzhen in 1993 that killed 87 workers and injured another 51. Xiaoying was one of the surviving workers whose story was widely publicized in the media. The fire was caused and made fatal by illegal cost-saving and disciplinary measures on the part of factory management, including storage of inflammable materials and the locking of exits. Xiaoying’s account of the experience alerted people throughout China, Hong Kong and the world of the horrendous conditions that predominated in China’s Special Economic Zones during that period of market experimentation and integration into global capitalism. Later labor activists have treated the event as a turning point in the emergence of the new working class among migrants from the countryside, or the moment when outsiders (academics, journalists, etc.) began to pay attention to the plight of these workers, laying the foundations for labor activism and NGOs to emerge a few years later. On Xiaoying see “Something more to Xiaoying’s pain,” Gender, Place and Culture, 20(7), 2013. On the Zhili Fire, “Factory Fire Wounds Refuse to Heal,” South China Morning Post, 1 May 2014.