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China’s #MeToo movement has a surprisingly clever way of avoiding censorship

Chinese women have begun using the emojis for “rice” and “bunny” to discuss the #MeToo movement without fear of censorship.

Why? Because the Chinese words for “rice” and “bunny” are homophones with the English words “me” and “too”. In Pinyin, a popular system for writing Chinese characters in English, they are spelt “mi” and “tu” respectively.

Chinese women have begun using the emojis as a hashtag to raise awareness about sexual misconduct they have suffered.

Prior to #RiceBunny, other Chinese hashtags such as #我也是 (“I am also”) and #MeToo在中国 (“Me Too in China”) have been used.

According to commentary by Meg Jing Zeng in The Conversation, netizens began to abandon these hashtags after numerous cases of posts and chat pages on the topic were removed.

The catalyst for China’s #MeToo movement was a post made by a university graduate on New Year’s Day.

The graduate wrote a 3000-word post on Weibo detailing the sexual harassment she had suffered from a former professor while doing her PhD at Beihang University.

After the post went viral, others began to step forward with similar accounts of sexual misconduct in universities.

USA’s #MeToo movement began in Hollywood following the Harvey Weinstein scandal and focused on unequal power structures between those in charge and young, upcoming talent. In China, a similar thing is happening at universities.

“The institutional power structure of universities leads to a power imbalance between students and their advisors,” observes Jing Zeng. “That disparity is particularly problematic when the education system is opaque and corrupted.”

China is well known for taking a Big Brother approach to surveillance and censorship, so it isn’t surprising that it’s clamping down on the #MeToo hashtags. This is because any kind of social movement that gathers steam is perceived as a threat by the government.

With all the media attention #RiceBunny has been getting, an unfortunate side effect is that those two emojis may also soon find themselves on China’s blacklist.

The movement is about much more than a hashtag, so we hope Chinese women will continue challenging the system and improve conditions in their country.


About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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