In some pockets of the Chinese internet, a woman who gets married is a "marriage donkey" and giving birth means she's a "fertility tool". Meet China's "feminists fists" — a group of self-proclaimed extreme feminists who see men as the enemy. In Chinese language, women's fists and women's rights are pronounced the same way, and people use this as a way to satirise radical feminists for wielding their "fists" on social media platforms. They're also known as "rural" feminists — a term that in Chinese has a humiliating connotation, similar to the pejorative term "feminazi" in English. The group advocates for women's rights, but sometimes their targets are women themselves, from everyday married women to those who are taking a stand against sexual harassment. Feminists face trolling on two fronts One woman subjected to the online ire of the feminist fists is [Zhou Xiaoxuan, China's most famous #MeToo figure](/news/2020-12-17/china-metoo-movement-after-two-years-zhu-jun-xiaoxuan/12973998) . Zhou had accused a well-known TV presenter of sexually harassing her when she was an intern, but earlier this month she was told by a Beijing-based court that her lawsuit was dismissed for lack of evidence. Although she is recognised as a women's rights advocate, Zhou has made it clear that she doesn't call herself a feminist, saying she didn't want to ascribe to the label. This provoked some extreme feminists to launch an online campaign against her, claiming she was as guilty as the man who she alleged groped her. Chinese social media influencer Papi Jiangha is seen by many as an independent woman and has more than 30 million followers on Weibo. But when she posted a video and disclosed her new-born baby would take his father's surname, she was soon attacked by the feminist fists and called a "marriage donkey". The language used is often designed to humiliate women, and it can get nasty. The taunts might be dismissed as sarcasm, but ordinary women are getting trolled online. And it comes at a time when feminism and the women's equality movement is already under pressure from the Chinese state and censorship. In April this year, several feminists had their social media accounts removed, after torrents of angry men trolled them. Those trolls often espoused nationalistic views, saying that feminists and extreme feminists were trying to disrupt traditional Chinese society. Where does feminism fit in Chinese culture? Chinese society has developed gender stereotypes over thousands of years of its male-dominated history. Even today, women in some regions have not only become victims of a patriarchal society, but also its advocates. For example, in the less developed areas of Guangdong and Fujian, there is still a preference for sons over daughters. Traditionally, it's believed daughters cannot carry on the family line and therefore are not as valuable as sons — even in the eyes of their mothers. For many in China, the nuances of the feminist spectrum aren't well understood outside the online world. Like in the West, many might conflate feminism with man-hating, and paint those seeking equality with the same brush as those holding more radical views. While there is a perception that feminism is a Western import that is contrary to the Chinese culture, feminists argue that many women are genuinely demanding more gender equality. Chinese sexologist and sociologist Li Yinhe says the conflict between feminism and traditional Chinese society is twofold: one is a fictional conflict; the other is a real conflict. She goes on to explain that within feminism there are different schools of thought, including more radical elements. The real conflict, she writes, can be found in the everyday lives of Chinese people, where women are often expected to take on more of the family responsibilities and where politics are still dominated by men. Li says China had thousands of years of male-dominated rule, and the double standard between men and women still persists. For example, a successful man who has a mistress often attracts envy and approval from his male friends and colleagues, but this would not be seen as acceptable for a woman. Another important factor in China's feminist movement is the gender disparity within society. The controversial One Child policy, which has since been changed to a Three Child policy to encourage a baby boom, ultimately resulted in about 30 million more men than women in the country, due to preferences for a son. Li believes feminism is widely supported in Chinese society; she points out the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) made equality between men and women a national policy. Chairman Mao Zedong also famously said "women can hold up half the sky". Li says that in mainstream Chinese discourse, the term "rights" has always been sensitive and easily associated with trouble, whether it's human rights, women's rights or civil rights. "But among the various schools of feminism with different views and claims, there is one thing in common, and that is to advocate equality between men and women," she writes. In Beijing's eyes, the feminist groups' challenge to a male-dominated society is also a challenge to the male-dominated government run by the CCP. And in China, any movement that develops strength is likely to be the target of repression. Extreme feminism is big business Some marketing firms have been capitalising on the feminist fists approach. Among them is Ma Ling, who runs the WeChat and Weibo social media account Mimeng, which has become renowned for using this rhetoric to attract clicks for PR articles. In one post, she suggested men should pay for their female partner's online shopping carts, telling 16 million followers on Weibo that "a man who doesn't pay off your shopping cart doesn't love you". Its PR articles, which reportedly cost up to 680,000 yuan ($145,350) per post, are believed to have initially fuelled the conflict between netizens and feminazis online. CCP mouthpiece The People's Daily commented that Mimeng's posts were boiling "toxic chicken soup" and "manipulating public sentiment". In 2019, Chinese authorities not only censored Ma's presence on social media, but also considered her as a threat to China's social stability. Ma's articles were popular among young Chinese women, but many were also later turned off by some of the more radical campaigns and trolling activities. Beijing has used netizens' outrage against feminist fists to legitimise its crackdown on all feminists. But as the crackdown and censorship continues, it's also using the same argument about threats to Chinese social order to clamp down on those fighting for women's equality. Earlier this year, an unprecedented crackdown on feminists began, with dozens of feminist accounts censored on Weibo and Douban. But despite recent setbacks, feminists say the country's #MeToo movement hasn't been defeated. Last week, Huang Xueqin, a citizen journalist who has long followed the feminist movement in China, lost contact with her family and friends. Her last post on Facebook gave us a glimpse of her reflections on the #MeToo movement in China. "In the past three years, we have seen authorities' crackdown and censorship to extinguish the controversial nature of #MeToo in China, and to combat the collective voices and actions of women," Huang wrote. "In an authoritarian and patriarchal country, we never thought that women would easily get the respect, equality and power we want. "We have a clean conscience, we stand by our words, and we continue to move forward." Related Stories