How to avoid the centre

The strategies of a small feminist workshop in rural China

Jonathan Benney*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The spectre of state intervention constantly looms above all activist organizations in China. In order to avoid the detention of activist leaders or group members, most organizations have adopted a strategy of partial appeasement of the party-state. This has often taken the form of the appropriation and use of state-sanctioned discourse and terms, together with attempts to develop or sustain corporatist links with the state apparatus. This article argues that it is possible, perhaps preferable, to develop activist strategies which avoid "the centre". The article uses the example of a "women's workshop" in rural Guangxi, which provides support to sex workers, homosexuals, and other sexual minorities, to justify this argument. Despite its small size and geographical isolation, this workshop has developed "glocalized" networks of activists, relying on the juxtaposition of a highly localized group of supporters with an international network of interested parties who provide funding and intellectual support. Furthermore, the style of discourse used by the group has very little in common with official state discourse. In promoting a form of "sex-positive" feminism uncommon in China, and through the partial framing of the work as an artistic project, a conscious attempt has been made not to engage with the language and style of public engagement of the party-state. Ultimately, these strategies play both an offensive and defensive role, allowing supporters of the workshop to make a substantial critique of the state while at the same time not attracting its immediate opprobrium.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)383-410
Number of pages28
JournalInternational Journal of China Studies
Volume3
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2012

Keywords

  • Activism
  • Rural China
  • Sex work
  • Social movements
  • The Chinese state

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