Yue Xin, a #MeToo activist in China, has been missing for more than six weeks, after she was detained by state police at the end of August over her participation in a labor rights protest. It’s a grim reminder that activists in China can—and often do—face extreme repercussions for their organizing.
As reported by the South China Morning Post, no one has reported seeing Yue, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Peking University, since her detention, raising alarm over her whereabouts.
Yue has been one of the most vocal proponents of the #MeToo movement in China, which took off earlier this year after numerous students on college campuses began accusing their professors of sexual harassment and assault. In April, while still a student at Peking University, she demanded that school officials release information over its handling of a decades-long case in which a professor had been accused of raping one of his students; that student, Gao Yan, later died by suicide.
Her request clearly alarmed the university. In an open letter Yue published later that month—one that was quickly censored by authorities—she detailed the harassment she faced from university officials over her request:
Since April 9, I’ve been in constant discussion with the teachers and leadership at the university’s Office of Student Affairs, twice continuing till one or two in the morning. In the course of these talks, the Office has repeatedly brought up “whether you can successfully graduate,” “what must your mother and grandmother think,” and “we have the authority to contact parents directly, without going through you.” Moreover, I’ll soon be preparing my final thesis, and the frequent disruptions and ensuing psychological pressure have severely affected my work on that.
At about 11 in the evening on April 22, my adviser suddenly tried to call, but because it was already late, I missed it. At 1 a.m., my adviser abruptly came to my dormitory with my mother, woke me up, and demanded that I delete all data related to the freedom of information request from my phone and computer, and that I go to the Office of Student Affairs the next morning to guarantee in writing that I’d have no more to do with the matter. Other students on my floor can verify this. Soon afterwards, my parents took me home, and I still haven’t been able to return to school.
My mother and I didn’t sleep all night. When the school contacted her, they twisted the facts to scare her and break her spirits. Because of the school’s aggressive and unreasonable intervention, our relationship has nearly been wrecked. The school’s actions at this point had crossed a line. I was scared, but furious.
In August, Yue and dozens of other student activists traveled to the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen to support a group of factory workers at Jasic Technology who were demanding the right to form a union. But in the early morning hours on August 24, police dressed in riot gear stormed into the apartment where the students were staying and arrested Yue and about 50 others.
According to the SCMP:
Most of the protesters detained in August have since been released, but four have been placed under “residential surveillance at a designated location”—a form of secret detention—while four others are still in custody and could face prosecution, according to their friends and other activists.
But the whereabouts of Yue, as well as her mother, who has been out of contact since early September, remain unknown.
In a recent interview with Jezebel, Leta Hong Fincher, the author of Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China, described why government leaders are so alarmed by the activities of students like Yue: “All of these overlapping forms of movements, they are very destabilizing for the government. And we don’t know how stable the Communist Party is. And so this is another reason why the Party is so paranoid.”
Before her arrest, Yue explained her motivations for supporting the workers at Jasic Technology to the SCMP: “More than 30 innocent workers have been locked up already and treated inhumanely. I cannot just sit back and be OK with just voicing my support online—I have to go to the front line. I’m prepared to be arrested…but it’s not about being arrested or not.”
She added: “It’s about believing that what you are doing is about justice, then you will have no fear.”