75-year-old feminist scholar from Japan is an unlikely chart-topper in China

Fortune -- Sep 30

In the last few years, China’s government has promoted increasingly conservative social values, encouraging women to focus on raising children. It has cracked down on civil society movements and made laws to drive out foreign influence.

So a 75-year-old Japanese feminist scholar who’s not married and does not have children is an unlikely celebrity on the country’s tightly censored internet.

But Chizuko Ueno, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, is a phenomenon. She leapt to fame in China in 2019 with a speech that criticized social expectations for women to act cute and the pressure they face to hide their success.

Ueno’s popularity reflects a surge in interest in women’s rights, said Leta Hong Fincher, a research associate at the Weatherhead East Asian Institute who has written about gender discrimination and feminism in China.

About a decade ago, China had a rambunctious feminist movement that staged protests like occupying a men’s restroom to demand more toilets for women, or marching in wedding dresses spattered with fake blood to draw attention to domestic violence. But that movement has been silenced as President Xi Jinping’s administration has tightened controls on civil society and promoted conservative family values in a bid to boost childbirths.

In mainland China, Ueno’s books sold more than half a million copies in the first half of 2023, according to sales tracker Beijing OpenBook, and 26 were available in Chinese bookstores as of September. They cover topics ranging from “misogyny” in Japanese society to feminist approaches to elder care issues in an aging society. ...continue reading