Ye Haiyan, an advocate for the rights of sex workers, better known by her Internet handle ‘Hooligan Swallow’ (Liumang yan 流氓燕), first gained notoriety in 2005 by posting nude photos of herself on her blog. Her exhibitionism developed into activism, an ongoing campaign to publicise the conditions and problems faced by people at the bottom of China’s economic ladder. In 2012, she provided free sexual services to migrant workers and then microblogged about her experiences on Sina Weibo. In May 2013, she travelled to Wanning on Hainan Island and stood outside Wanning No. 2 Elementary School holding a sign protesting against the attempted cover-up of the rape of six sixth-grade students by the principal of the school. The sign read: ‘Mr Principal, get a room and call me; leave the students alone’ (Xiaozhang, kai fang zhao wo, fangguo xiao xuesheng 校长，开房找我，放过小学生).
When, at the end of the month, Ye returned to her home in Yulin prefecture, Guangxi province, her landlord, acting under pressure from local authorities, gave her notice that she and her daughter could not continue to live in their apartment. At around noon the same day, 30 May, eleven hired thugs surrounded and attacked Ye. When she fought back, local police promptly appeared and arrested her, accusing her of stabbing three women. A number of Ye’s supporters, including Ai Weiwei, have posted photos on the Internet of themselves either holding up similar signs to Ye’s original sign or with the words written on their bodies; some have substituted ‘Ye Haiyan’ for ‘students’.
Under pressure from an Internet firestorm of criticism, police freed Ye Haiyan only two weeks after her arrest. But on 6 July 2013, local authorities struck again, evicting her and her daughter from their new home in Zhongshan, Guangdong province, threatening to ‘break her legs’ if she ever returned.
Authorities in the rural Shandong Linyi prefecture arrested Chen Kegui, nephew of the exiled blind legal rights activist and ‘barefoot lawyer’ Chen Guangcheng, under similar circumstances. Six days after Chen Guangcheng took refuge in the US Embassy on 26 April 2012, the Shuanghou village headman Zhang Jian and a number of others burst into Chen Kegui’s home and assaulted his parents. In the ensuing scuffle, Chen stabbed a number of the intruders. The assailants then hauled Chen away. Two hours later, police charged Chen with attempted murder. On 30 November 2012, the Yi’nan County People’s Court sentenced Chen to three years and three months’ imprisonment for assault.