Betraying Big Brother


Betraying Big Brother by Leta Hong Fincher is a study of contemporary feminist movement in China, focused around a group of activists known as the Feminist Five: Li Tingting (a.k.a. Li Maizi), Wu Rongrong, Wang Man, Wei Tingting and Zheng Churan, also known as Da Tu, or Big Rabbit. While describing the events which led to the arrest of the Feminist Five and other activists in March 2015, Leta Hong Fincher provides the reader with ample historical, social, economic and political context of the women’s rights and minority rights movements. As it turns out, China is similar to many other countries in the world in that the success of women’s rights movement is irreversibly bundled with the success of minority protection programs. The main reason behind it is that the same political, legal and economic tools which the state develops to control and silence women, are later used against those who oppose the state’s strive towards a perfectly hierarchical society and oppose the elimination of cultural and political diversity.

In subsequent chapters, Fincher brings to light different aspects of Chinese patriarchy and related control mechanisms. She also analyzes the widespread state surveillance which turned the Communist Party of China into a genuine Big Brother and point out the state sanctioned economic violence and control over women, realized through, e.g., limiting women’s right to ownership over their own houses or apartments. Finally, Fincher describes the campaigns aimed at shaming the Chinese women who decided to educate themselves and become independent into submission, marriage, and motherhood. The shaming campaigns reached the countries of the West as well, albeit only via headlines promoted by the mainstream Chinese media about the so-called leftover women (sheng nü). Similar strategies encouraging marriage and submission took place in Japan as well, as Karolina Bednarz wrote in her book Kwiaty w pudełku, with the minor exception in the choice of slurs to be used: leftover in China, and unsold goods (urenokori), or failed dogs (makeinu) in Japan.

Fincher deconstructs Chinese patriarchal authoritarianism swiftly and gracefully. Xi Jinping, like many leaders of non-democratic regimes before him, realized that patriarchy is necessary for maintaining authoritarian control and producing compliant human-machines, future workers without agency or will. Bullying the Chinese society into traditional gender roles is a mechanism aimed at training people in thinking that their fate is not a matter of individual choice, but rather that of birth and the decree of the CCP.

Sadly for the Communist Party, though, the development of technologies which help control women and ethnic minorities, like Uyghurs in Xinjiang for instance, also brought about better organization of political protests, the development of Chinese civil society and the opposition to rampant censorship. Aided with technology, the Chinese society underwent several waves of awakenings, starting from feminism, towards appreciating the cultural and political diversity of the country. But, most importantly, Betraying Big Brother shows us that political activism is not a task for martyrs. Quite the opposite, as Wei Tingting wrote in her „Prison Notes”, betraying Big Brother can become a source of great joy.

„Wei sang out loud, both to cheer herself up and to let the other detained women hear her voice and know that they were not alone—that she, too, was in there with them. Li Maizi also sang back “A Song for All Women,” the anthem of China’s feminist movement:

Protect my rights, don’t keep me down
Why must I lose my freedom?
Let’s break free from our heavy shackles

Her spirits buoyed, Wei Tingting writes, she recovered her sense of defiance: “Even as I heard two guards walking back and forth, making clanking noises outside, I felt a kind of joy in betraying Big Brother.”

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