Misogynistic trolls band together to dunk on dance-loving young women at Tsinghua University

Society & Culture

A video of students at Tsinghua doing dancing to celebrate their university’s 110th birthday went viral. Then the haters arrived. Guess why.

Misogynistic trolls band together to dunk on dance-loving young women at Tsinghua University

Here’s another daily reminder that internet misogynists are horrible creatures and that women face harassment and vitriol on a daily basis just for wanting to have some fun by themselves. A group of female college students in China have found themselves confronting a barrage of obscenities and hateful comments online after a mobile phone video of them dancing in public went viral. 

In the video, an all-girls dance troupe at the prestigious Tsinghua University delivers a nearly two-minute dance routine in celebration of the 110th anniversary of the school. With a marching band playing trumpets in the background, the nine students — wearing tight, gold mini dresses decorated with tassels — pull off a choreographed performance featuring body rolls, formation changes, and synchronized moves.

The dance was undoubtedly amateurish, but it was intended to be performed for a small audience on the Tsinghua campus, not for an enormous internet audience, and nothing about it was offensive. However, soon after the footage appeared on social media, commenters jumped on the video, saying the dance was an “inappropriate exhibit” at a birthday event. 

“The arrangement was sloppy. The performance was clumsy. The music was awkward. If the video hadn’t shown the school’s name and its grand auditorium, I would totally think it was an entertaining gig at rural markets or for the opening of a bathhouse. I’m so disappointed that my alma mater allowed this to happen,” wrote (in Chinese) Qiáo Mù 乔木, a Tsinghua alumnus who is now a writer based in the U.S. His scathing post has so far received nearly 100,000 likes on Weibo.

A Weibo user said (in Chinese): “Good for those young ladies for getting out there, but being half-clothed outside a Tsinghua building is probably inappropriate on that occasion.” Another person declared (in Chinese): “This is bloody awful! Tsinghua should feel embarrassed.”

But criticism of Tsinghua’s choice of entertainment for a ceremony soon also spilled into shaming and sexualization of the students, with woman-hating internet lurkers cursing the girls as sluts and embarrassments for the university, among many other labels. 

“They don’t look like college students at all. They look like strippers to me,” a misogynist troll commented (in Chinese). Someone else wrote: “The way they moved reminded me of girls at nightclubs and bars overseas. Were they doing it to attract attention from foreign students at the school?”

In the wake of intense media interest surrounding the performance, the footage also made its way to YouTube, where a clip of it, titled, in English, “Tsinghua University girls shake their tits and twist their hips in the hot dance, so spontaneous,” has garnered over 47,000 views.

All of the negative feedback in turn sparked backlash over the policing of women’s bodies and women dancing. Some famous bloggers, news outlets, and feminist organizations came to the students’ defense, saying that the sexist trolling that they endured was unjustified and harmful. 

On April 25, Zhāng Xīn 张辛, a popular novelist and TV writer best known for her pseudonym Liùliù 六六, shared to her 12 million followers on Weibo about how she felt about the controversy. “You nasty trolls need to get a life. These girls can dance and are smart. It’s possible that some of them will become scholars in the future. But you opinionated losers will have nothing going on in your life other than square dancing,” she wrote (in Chinese). 

Blogger Yìjǐn yèxíng de yàngōngzǐ @衣锦夜行的燕公子, who has about 5 million followers on Weibo, said while the dance was far from perfection, she appreciated it for showing the girls’ young, happy energy. “It’s pretty good. They are not professional dancers after all,” the blogger remarked (in Chinese).

An editorial published by The Paper (in Chinese) urged bad-faith trolls to stop their misogynistic abuse: “Some comments have clearly crossed the line and entered the territory of violence against women. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but making personal attacks against these girls is outright rude and unacceptable.”

For Chinese women on the internet, violent misogyny is an unexceptional occurrence. Last month, a woman in Chengdu found herself on the receiving end of women-hating rants after a viral video depicted a man hurling hotpot broth at her after she asked him to put out his cigarette. Weibo later suspended her account after receiving mass complaints from her haters. 

Those who dare to hit back at misogyny are often met with greater resistance. For example, in March, Yáng Lì 杨笠, a stand-up comedian known for her feminist rants, lost an advertisement deal with Intel after a cohort of “men’s rights” activists and anti-feminists staged a boycott of the company online.