China’s ‘MeToo’ movement evades censors with #RiceBunny

China’s ‘MeToo’ movement evades censors with #RiceBunny

August 9, 2018

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As China’s “MeToo” movement gathers steam, individuals and media platforms are pushing at the boundaries of what is allowed on the country’s tightly controlled internet by finding ways around censorship to allow activists to mobilise support. 

Over the past two weeks, dozens of people have taken to China’s Twitter-like platform, Weibo, to publish stories of sexual harassment by Beijing’s top literati and leaders of non-government organisations. Although no prominent officials have yet been publicly accused, regulators have taken a cautious approach, as with all public incidents that can spark mass expressions of discontent.

Two nuns published a 95-page document on July 1 accusing the president of China’s Buddhist Association, Shi Xuecheng, who is also the abbot of the famous Longquan monastery near Beijing, of sexual abuse. Within days the case had gained so much attention that “sexual abuse” became an auto-correct phrase suggested by the dominant search engine Baidu for searches on “Longquan monastery” — even though searches on the topic were blocked.

The abbot issued an official denial through a statement from the monastery, which said the allegations contained forged evidence and were false and malicious.

“The authorities have known from the beginning that the movement has shades of anti-authoritarianism, and they are afraid the allegations will spread to officials,” said Wu Qiang, a former Tsinghua University professor and commentator on social movements. “Private channels of communication can be explosive in spreading information quickly.”

The intermittent censorship of the MeToo hashtag and its variants on Weibo have led to many alternatives — most prominently “rice bunny”, which is pronounced “mi tu” in Mandarin. Users are now trying out the emoji for a bowl of rice and a rabbit, as well as various other homophones…

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