Free Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing!

International solidarity for imprisoned feminist labor activists is critical.

Activists stage a protest in support of Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing
Photo: Free Xueqin & Jianbing Concern Group

You can follow developments on Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing’s case here and send Huang and Wang postcards here.

On 19 September 2021, feminist activist and journalist Sophia Huang Xueqin and her friend, labor activist Wang Jianbing were forcibly disappeared just as Huang was about to leave China for the United Kingdom, with Wang seeing her off. Huang was due to start a master’s program at the University of Sussex as a Chevening Scholar. They have both been charged with incitement to subvert state power, a nebulous charge which has long been used against activists and civil society members.

For months, the pair’s whereabouts remained unclear until 5 November 2021, when Wang’s family members received a letter stating that he was being held at Guangzhou No. 1 Detention Center. On 25 January 2022, it was revealed that Huang was being held at Guangzhou No. 2 Detention Center. However, it is impossible to confirm if the pair are being held at those detention centers because their friends and family have not been able to send them money via the prison’s system. 

Huang Xueqin and Wang Jianbing are only the two of the most recent examples of this heavy handed approach to policing civil society. Huang is an award-winning journalist and prominent #MeToo campaigner who used her journalistic talents to report on the movement. Huang reported on the first major #MeToo case in China but also took on an activist and promotional role by starting a fund for victims. Wang is a committee member of that fund.

As a freelance journalist, Huang has also been targeted by authorities for reporting on protests in Hong Kong’s 2019 Anti-Extradition Bill movement. In a prison note from 2019, when she was arrested for her reporting on Hong Kong, Huang wrote about her pride in being a journalist and her pride in her work reporting on protests in Hong Kong–news of which is swiftly buried on the mainland. Wang is a labor activist and NGO worker providing legal support to workers with occupational diseases who has also been a vocal supporter of the #MeToo movement and the marginalized in society

What does it mean to “subvert state power” today? The pair were charged with subversion presumably for hosting group gatherings in their homes, where concerned citizens could gather. It seems, therefore, that this has become a crime. One thing is clear: the pair’s detention has further underscored that the CCP today is no friend to feminists or independent labor organisers. Years before China’s #MeToo movement was censored and then co-opted by the state apparatus, the Chinese state jailed five feminist activists for protesting against sexual harassment on public transport. Morever, supporting internal migrant workers (nongminggong), who suffer under a discriminatory housing registration scheme (hukou) or marginalised groups like LGBTQ and disabled people, and even gig workers, is also taken as a threat to the status quo. Official union federations, which are not independent and are instead embedded into the party bureaucracy do not offer support to these groups, who are left with few options. Citizens, like Huang and Wang, who feel called to act to remedy the injustices they see–whether against women, LGBTQ people, disabled people or downtrodden workers–act bravely, risking the ire of a colossal state security apparatus. 

The space for criticism of prevailing anti-worker and anti-feminist attitudes in the PRC has narrowed greatly in the years since Xi Jinping’s presidency began in 2013. Public activism and awareness raising therefore happens often, though not exclusively, outside the mainland of the PRC. A group of friends of Huang and Wang have organised a letter of solidarity from 55 feminist scholars in the UK, calling for their release. Demonstrations have been held in Taipei, Hong Kong and London, and supporters have sent them postcards while they remain in detention. Given the mainland’s increasingly closed and precarious environment, international solidarity for activists like Huang and Wang takes on greater importance. They and other activists wrongfully imprisoned must be released–the future of the Chinese feminist and labor movements depends on it.