From #MeToo to #RiceBunny: how social media users are campaigning in China

In Chinese, the phrase “rice bunny” is pronounced as “mi tu” and has become a nickname for the #MeToo campaign. Marcella Cheng/The Conversation NY-BD-CC

From #MeToo to #RiceBunny: how social media users are campaigning in China

Rice bunny says, “the only thing I want for the coming Lunar New Year is anti-sexual harassment rulings… You can take my plate away, but you cannot shut my mouth.”

So reads the opening line of a discussion page for the #MeToo campaign in China, posted on the Chinese social media platform Weibo.

“Rice bunny” (米兔), pronounced as “mi tu”, is a nickname given to the #MeToo campaign by Chinese social media users. The #RiceBunny hashtag, accompanied by emojis of rice bowls and bunny heads, is used by Chinese women to expose sexual harassment – often in conjunction with other Chinese hashtags, such as #IAmAlso (#我也是)and #MeTooInChina (#MeToo在中国).

Using emojis to circumvent censorship

A sign used to protest sexual harassment posted on Weibo.

The adoption of nicknames and emojis is not just a public relations strategy designed to increase the popularity of the campaign, it also serves as a tactical response to circumvent online censorship.

Similar practices of using homophones and images are widely used in China as a form of coded language to avoid censorship on social media.

“River crab” and “grass-mud horse” – both invented by internet users – are two cases in point. Because of their pronunciations in Chinese, the former is used to indicate censorship and the latter refers to a Chinese obscenity.

Internet censorship is a major challenge for the #MeToo campaign in China. Internet users have reported numerous instances of posts and chat pages relating to the topic being removed.

Around January 19, the primary hashtag of China’s #MeToo campaign – #MeTooInChina – was temporarily blocked. In response to this, Weibo users launched the alternative hashtag #RiceBunnyInChina to continue the campaign.

How #MeToo came to China

On January 1, Luo Xixi – a Chinese citizen who now resides in Silicon Valley – decided to bring the #MeToo campaign to social media in her home country. She began by publishing a 3000-word post on Weibo, revealing a secret she had kept to herself for 12 years. While studying for her PhD at Beihang University in Beijing she was harassed by Chen Xiaowu, a renowned professor and Luo’s former supervisor.

Luo’s post received millions of views, and was widely circulated through both state media and social media. The university and education authorities quickly responded to the scandal by sacking Chen Xiaowu.