Women singing feminist lyrics that denounce gender inequality and teenagers in sparkly dresses dancing to songs celebrating LGBTQ freedoms – this was the scene at a recent screening of the tour concert film Erase the Taylor Swift and Beijing. The American pop giant filled theaters throughout the Asian nation with a young female audience, providing a rare outlet for young women who reject increasingly strict social controls and the rigid expectations of the Communist Party.
The values celebrated in the program contrast sharply with President Xi Jinping’s increasingly conservative vision on women. Faced with a shrinking population, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Tse Tung has urged women to cultivate a “culture” of childbirth and take on a more domestic role. His administration crushed the country’s nascent #MeToo movement and in 2022 removed women from the Politburo for the first time in decades.
Alice Evans, a senior lecturer at King’s College London who researches gender equality, said Swift is “extremely emotionally expressive”, which resonates with a younger, more gender-aware generation in traditionally patriarchal China.
Swift, an American billionaire in her 30s, bypassed the world’s second-largest economy on the highest-grossing music tour in history, one that gave a $5.4 billion boost to the US economy. Its absence comes as China last month recorded the deepest rate of deflation since the global financial crisis amid a drop in consumer confidence.
Although Swift is not very political, she has her own ideas on important issues. She has found a welcoming audience in China, with the Shanghai stop of her 2024 tour selling out in a minute, making it the fastest ticket sales in Chinese history.
The film Erase has provided a rare outlet for Chinese feminists in a nation where the ruling party has stepped up censorship of concerts, movies and streaming content. Even though Swift comes from Beijing’s biggest political rival and is a symbol of an American society that is often ridiculed in Chinese state media, she has been welcomed in China, providing a sense of empowerment and identity to her fans.
As the movie Erase extends its run through March 1, Swift fans across the country are gearing up to attend shows during the Lunar New Year holiday that begins Saturday. The film has been a huge success, providing a platform for open and brave expression, especially for young women, in a historically patriarchal society.