The public toilets issue in Guangzhou
"Guangzhou, with the letter BIG." This is how Japanese travelers discribe Guangzhou when they travel to China. Beijing and Shanghai are two of the most well known city of China, but Guangzhou is pretty famous city as well. Dim Sum are originally Cantonese cuisine, which is why they are called as "food Jae Guangzhou, meaning food is located in the Guangzhou." By the way, "Hangzhou with the letter PILE ", famouse for world heritage west lake, crowded with tourists, is near from Shanghai.
How many of Japanese out there who can name the city immediately with confidence when they asked what city is the next Shanghai and Beijing? Not a lot. Besides Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region, actually Guangzhou is the next Shanghai and Beijing. Facing the sea on the south, temperature vary little throughout the year.
High-rise city is always busy and crowded, but feels pretty good in a way. Laid-back atmosphere added some tropical flavor. Beijing and Shanghai has none of those.
This city with two open harbor , has accepted many of different ethnic groups from the old days of the Tang Dynasty, which makes Guangzhou an international city; like or unlike, Chinese essences were mixed in a gently way as you can see among today's society. Cantonese is the language most commonly spoken, and hard to discribe it as Chinese dialects anymore.
On the back side of accepting different things, there is a strength to stand up with pride as being different in this town. The big conference called "Protect Cantonese " was held in 2010, which aims to protect Cantonese against the new movement of decreasing Cantonese programming on Guangzhou Television's channels; Cantonese must be translats into standard language. In recent years , the number of children born in Guangzhou only can speak standard language are increasing which angered citizens in the province. Speaking of which , there was also the slogan of "One China ."
We all have "typical image of China," but Guangzhou has quite different surface. There are many unique historic sites to visit, but nevertheless, what we should have pay attention to is a public toilet. The public toilet of Guangzhou. Sounds like a joke , but I am being serious. In 2012, the movement called "Men's Toilet Occupied " happened in Guangzhou. Sounds funny and wired in a way, but some kind of emotional appeal provoked this movement. By Who? For What ?
The mistery of an "provoking uproar."
From March 6, 2015 to the next early morning, 5 women one after another were placed in custody by the Ministry of Public Security in various locations in China. They were detained on suspected "provoking uproar." The term of "provoking uproar" sounds unfamiliar, but people are oftenly placed in custody over "provoking uproar" in China. For example, some Chinese human rights lawyers expressed opinions in Sina Weibo, the Chinese microblogging website-sort of the "Chinese Twitter" since the access to REAL Twitter is limited in China-, or a Muslim who let the beard grew, were considered as "provoking uproar." I don't exactly know how those things provoked an uproar, nor if they actually did or not. However, those cases were considered as "provoking uproar," and came under heavy fire form all over the world which eventually provoked a REAL UPROAR.
Well, back to 5 women who were placed in custody, here is the story behind. They are well known human rights activists who had been planning something for March 8th, the International Women's Day. Their plan was to go against sexual harassment; they were trying to distribute the stickers and flyers on the street to help promote its movement. Good grief. So basically, the Ministry of Public Security defended "sexual harassment rights" from those activists.
In those 5 activists, there is this lady named Li Maizi. One of the reason why she became a well-known activist is that her women's right campaign called "Occupy Men's Toilet" in Guangzhou. This campaign began with a group of female university students, and Li Maizi was the campaign organizer.
They argue the number of women's public toilets is extremyly low-lower than men's for some reason- in this area in proportion to pedestrian traffic which makes every single public toilet to be crowded all the time. There is always a long line in a front of the women's toilet, none for men's. Obviously women tend to take more time to do their business compare to men. Why not increasing the number of women’s toilets? This is not only happening in this particular area, regards to most Chinese cities. However, men has the power to determine the public matters, and of course, men do not quite get how this an unfair ratio of male to female toilet is becoming major issue for women. So here they were, they had to occupy men’s toilet for their own sake.
There is not much of everyday problem many people can relate to in these days. I wonder how many people would say "Yes" when they ask if they love to get in a long line for public toilets when they have to do their business right away. Probably, none. This issue can be the eternal theme throughout the history of mankind. Even in Japan, you can easily find women waiting in a long line for public toilets at tourist spots or event venues. Not too much to say most of women in this whole world can relate to this problem.
People tend to hesitate to raise their voice to fight with this problem because it is almost too REAL that they can be ashamed of. However, not the case for Li Maizi and her women. They appealed in a very mature way with no violence; politely explained the situation and asked to every single man who walks into men's toilets with a quizzical face, if it is ok for women to use men's toilets preferentially who are waiting in a line for women's toilets.
This movementimmediately spread widely among the cities of China; the municipality for each city had to respond to this movement somehow. In few years, many improvements on public toilets have been made. The movement provoked by Li Maizi and her activists's is succeeded. At the same time, Li Maizi was locked on by police, perhaps.
What is the real deal here.
Transit from subway to subway widely spread throughout the city, get off " a little suburbs", a distance from the center. No matter how distinctive citiy it is, the landscape and its atmosphere of this " China's a little suburbs" seems all alike: hopeless, featureless and uniformed. Reminds me of a place where Toto ( URL ) used to live; thick road BANG, high-rise apartment BOOM, construction works are every where.
Going back and forth, round and round, finally made it to the right building. Typical apartment inside out. The office of Li Maizi and her activists is located in the inconspicuous building. Li Maizi greet me with calm and friendly smile, very far from " woman warrior," the image I had in my mind.
Most of stuff in the office look very realistic like a laboratory of the university of literature. Simple desks and chairs, full of books shoved into the bookshelf, equipment for thier work, and a rice cooker makes this room more realistic. Among such, the plants lined up in the water tank or goldfish look pathetic somehow.
By staring at the bookshelf, I have realize that all books shoved into the bookshelf are related to feminism. Well, I refuse to use a word of feminism until now since feminism is a pretty big word. Li Maizi and I can discuss about it all day long but our time here is very limited, so let me get straight to the point. When we use a word of faminism or feminist in Japan, people tend to have an image of stereotype. Feminist activism would be a great title for Li Maizi, but am still not sure and would hesitate to describe her as feminist activism.
Anyways, let's talk about Li Maizi here. She was born in the suburbs of Beijing, with very good neighborhoods. She grew up in a unwealthy family with some serious problems. Relationship between mother and father, nor father and Li Maizi are not any good; top of that, Li Maizi had to deal with violence.
Li Maizi has no siblings, so she eventually became the only one who was raised by two adults. A mother who raised Li Maizi, was being patient with various things, and a father who did not succeed in his career, was coming home exhausted all the time, used violence to release his stresses. Facing own parents, Li Maizi could not stop wandering what is women? what is men?
Another thing. In a process of growing up, she had realized that she apparently likes woman, generally categorized as lesbian. But unexpectedly-I should say-, she was not so alienated by being a lesbian. All the girls at school were very close friend and nothing worng with hanging out "playfully". What I want to get out of this is a deep and profound feeling can relate to a genuine friendship.
I am Li Maizi.
The words come out of Li Maizi are truly from her heart. While she is talking, she is also fixing her bangs keep falling off to the eye with barrette. By seeing ordinary and lovely appearance, it is hard to believe that she is " witnessing violence in her childhood, realizing own feeling towards to women in the middle of adolescence, eventually became a feminist activism." It is too hard to believe how she servives her life although this whole story is really about Li Maizi.
Li Maizi is a feminist, and also a lesbian, but from what I am seeing is that she does not like to be categorized; there is no such thing as "should of," which motivated by large ambiguous force, in her dictonary. Her argument is very down-to-earth, not conceptually blinded, such as "Let's change the current situation of women who must put up with the toilet issue" or "Let's eliminate domestic violence ." Snuggled naturally, by understanding from physical to mental illness and healing people's suffering. "Laurence Anyways" is her favorite movie recently, and seeing its movie, I am starting to see a little how she does that.
In the middle of our conversation, telephone rings. She says " Please wait a moment," she picks up the call. Her facial expression becomes immediately serious. The fact that she is getting a phone call means the other side of the phone, somewhere in China, woman is suffering from domestic violence and asking for some help since Li Maizi and her people help to solve those kind of problems by giving some advices. Li Maizi is holding a telephone with a serious look on her face, staring the other side of the dreary office, feeling someone's pain.
She hangs up the phone, cross back into the room. I can tell the conversation she had over the phone went well as her face is calm and says "Let me take up where we left off". Or she had been through quite a bit but she needs to snap out of it esepacially she works for people who suffer. Perhaps, it needs to be that way in order for her to save "You and I".
"What is your hobby?" As I come up with boring question, she starts to talk about the ukulele she has been practicing recently. The ukulele seems easy to play than the guitar, but actually this is quite difficult. So I say "Let's go out and take some pictures of you playing the ukulele". She is a very upbeat person, and of course she accepts the offering. In front of the apartment, on the stage of the streets, she starts to play ukulele, haltingly, and sing with a serious expression on her face. After she finish singing, she grins at me with a shy smile which is unforgettable.
I heard that she was placed in custody over unreasonable reasons after I got back to my country. (As I did a little resarch on this case, I found out she was released. )Among the interrogation, though there is nothing to interrogate, she had to gone through a rough time. However, the most important thing here is the fact that she is already released. While she was placed in custody, she decided to become a lawyer; studying hard to achieve her goal. She does not make any mistakes. Not in the fight for the fight . It's the battle to protect the person who are injured.
TRANSLATION BY Eri HOSOKAWA