Activist Ai Xiaoming makes naked plea against growing sexual abuse of minors

For Ai Xiaoming, the alleged rape of six schoolgirls in Hainan was a sign the country had sunk to new depths of depravity

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 12 June, 2013, 4:18am

When Ai Xiaoming bared her breasts in a plea for sexual predators to spare children, and for authorities to release a fellow activist, her actions sent a shock wave across the mainland, prompting many online supporters to praise what they considered a courageous act.

Unsurprisingly, Ai's actions did little to endear her to mainland authorities.

Within days of the May 31 post, the 60-year-old semi-retired professor at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou saw her phone and home internet connections cut off.

She was also barred from receiving friends at her home in Panyu district, and security guards were stationed outside her apartment.

Ai drew the ire of officials when she went topless with words written across her chest that spoke on behalf of China's growing legions of sexually assaulted children and called for the release of Ye Haiyan , another outspoken women's rights advocate who was detained on May 30 for 13 days.

Ye's lawyer Wang Yu said the activist was expected to be released today following her 13-day "administrative detention".

Speaking of her protest, Ai said: "My breasts belong to a 60-year-old. They are sagging and come with a surgical scar from when I was a teen.

"I am fully aware of my public identity: I'm a university professor, a feminist and a documentary filmmaker. On the other hand, I'm also a mother and an ageing woman. My look is not appealing, but … my breasts are my evidence as a mother.

"To all parents out there … when our children are abducted, poisoned, sexually assaulted, abused and murdered, what have adults in this nation done to protect them?"

Ai opted to speak out the best way she knew.

"In an era when we are forbidden even to use placards to express our views, I can make a statement only with my body," she said. "This is my body and I can do whatever I want with it."

Ai, whose academic interests include literacy and gender studies, divides her time between Guangzhou and Wuhan in Hubei province, where she cares for her frail father who is in his 90s, as well as her husband, a cancer survivor in remission who is trying to remain healthy.

In Guangzhou, Ai works with PhD students struggling with their theses, but is banned from giving lectures, especially to undergraduate students. She also cannot leave the country.

But all of the limitations placed on her have only added to her influence.

Ai is an award-winning activist who in her spare time produces self-funded documentaries that expose injustices. Her works include documenting a protest in Taishi village, Guangzhou, in 2005 and recording the plight of HIV/Aids patients in Henan and Hebei provinces in 2006-2007.

She produced another documentary in 2009 on the plight of petitioners who questioned the construction integrity of schools destroyed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

Ai remains outspoken on women's rights issues. One case in particular that has raised her ire is the alleged rape of six schoolgirls aged 12 or 13 in Hainan province by a school principal and a government official.

The six girls went missing on May 8 when they failed to show up for classes, and were found in a groggy state over the next two days - four in Haikou , the other two in Wanning . The two men were eventually charged with the offences.

The incident incited a public furore, which Ai attributed to a rush by authorities to silence victims without conducting a proper investigation.

Ye travelled to Wanning when the news broke and, standing outside the school of the principal, held a sign offering sex to deviant teachers on the condition they left pupils alone. She posted a photo from the protest online. The campaign went viral and drew overwhelming support.

However, Ye was arrested on May 30 when she returned home to Guangxi . While at home with her daughter, a group of about 10 women and a man came to her home and assaulted her. She was later summoned by police for questioning and was instead charged with assaulting her attackers with a knife, for which she was detained for 13 days.

Lawyers who came to her aid from across the country were also detained.

"Ye's campaign exposed barbaric violence and abuse," Ai said.

"It's obvious that children are being hurt, but even parents are pressured into not pressing charges. Is there any justice?"

On the whole, Ai said, mainland society does not oppose rape - loopholes allow sex offenders to receive lenient sentences, and there is a lack of sex education to protect children.

Ai said she was willing to make personal sacrifices for the greater good, and called upon society to adopt the "necessary attitude to tackle injustice".

"My body and privacy are nothing in the face of such evil," she said, adding that she hoped her picture would "freeze this moment" in time while encouraging society to "stand with the weeping parents and girls who are too afraid to lift their heads".