The Feminist Five, China’s Pussy Riot, Released from Jail

Their lawyer says they're still under investigation.

Flyers in support of the Feminist Five.
Flyers in support of the Feminist Five.

China has released five detained female activists who call themselves the Feminist Five and identify as performance artists in order to skirt regulations against public protest.

The women had aimed to start a campaign against sexual harassment on public transportation, according to the New York Times. The police had asked prosecutors to bring charges against them for disturbing public order, and held the women in detention for over a month.

Free on bail are Li Tingting, 25; Wu Rongrong, 30; Zheng Churan, 25; Wei Tingting, 26; and Wang Man, 33. Hillary Clinton and Secretary of State John Kerry had criticized their detention and called for their release.

Their persecution by the authorities puts them in a class with Pussy Riot, the all-female Russian punk band whose members did prison time for an anti-Putin song (see Pussy Riot Sues Russia and Pussy Riot On Art, Activism, and Their Name’s Hilarious Russian Translation).

Eric Fisch, author of a forthcoming book on Chinese millennials, told NPR recently that the women refer to their planned activities—which include distributing stickers and calling on police to step up efforts against sexual harassment—as performance art.

Referring to Li Tingting, Fisch said:

The [protest] that made her the most famous was one in 2012 called Occupy Men’s Room where she and about 20 other activists would periodically, over the course of an hour, take over the men’s room to protest for having a greater ratio of toilets for women in public restrooms.

Another protest responded to a particularly outrageous blame-the-victim campaign by transit officials in Shanghai, Fish said:

Once in Shanghai the subway authority responded to a groping epidemic by saying that women should have some self-respect and cover themselves up more. So she and some of her activists boarded the trains and wore metal bras and held signs that say we can be provocative but you can’t be dirty.

Public demonstrations have been especially targeted, Fish said, since president Xi Jinping came to power. The women’s lawyer tells the Times that they are not allowed to travel without informing authorities and that they are still under investigation.

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