“They’re publicly excluding us from the legitimacy, from the legitimate public space,” said Lu Pin, an activist who now lives in the U.S. but is still active on women’s rights issues in China. “This society’s middle ground is disappearing.”

Huang Xueqin, who publicly supported a woman when she accused a professor of sexual assault, was arrested in September. Wang Jianbing, who helped women report sexual harassment, was detained along with her. Neither has been heard from since. Meanwhile, several other women’s rights activists have faced smear campaigns on social media and some have seen their accounts shuttered.

When tennis star Peng Shuai disappeared from public view this month after accusing a senior Chinese politician of sexual assault, it caused an international uproar. But back in China, Peng is just one of several people — activists and accusers alike — who have been hustled out of view, charged with crimes or trolled and silenced online for speaking out about the harassment, violence and discrimination women face every day.

When Huang helped spark a grassroots #MeToo movement in China in 2018, it gained fairly wide visibility and achieved some measure of success, including getting the civil code to define sexual harassment for the first time. But it was also met with stiff resistance from Chinese authorities, who are quick to counter any social movement they fear could challenge their hold on power. That crackdown has intensified this year, part of wider efforts to limit what’s acceptable in the public discourse.

“They’re publicly excluding us from the legitimacy, from the legitimate public space,” said Lu Pin, an activist who now lives in the U.S. but is still active on women’s rights issues in China. “This society’s middle ground is disappearing.”

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