The 17-year-old, who’s been labelled ‘China’s version of Greta Thunberg’, has been kicked out of school and interrogated by police for joining the School Strike for the Climate movement
It’s been two years since Greta Thunberg started striking from school in order to raise awareness about the climate crisis, and demand action from the Swedish government. Fast forward to 2020, and the activist’s movement has gone global, finally waking politicians up to the urgency of the crisis.
In many countries, hoardes of students have taken to the streets, bringing their governments to task, but in China, one figure seems to be fighting alone. 17-year-old Howey Ou says it’s her “life mission” to spark change before it’s too late.
“The climate emergency is the biggest threat to the survival of mankind,” Howey told The Japan Times in April. “I feel anxious every day about the climate and the extinction of animal species. I feel like we’re all on a sinking ship but everyone is still eating, drinking, and being merry.”
Below, Dazed outlines everything you need to know about the activist.
SHE’S OFTEN A LONE FIGURE IN THE FIGHT FOR THE CLIMATE
Despite the number of annual protests rising steadily in China since the early 90s – researchers estimate there were 180,000 demonstrations in 2010 alone – activism is known to be quickly quelled by authorities, who see it as disrupting social stability, and a challenge to their control. This might explain why Howey is often a lone figure at her protests, frequently photographed striking from school by herself.
In May 2019, Howey launched China’s first climate strike, standing in front of government offices in Guilin for several days – an action that led to Thunberg labelling her a “true hero”. After authorities told her she had to move on – owing to the fact she didn’t have a permit – Howey started planting trees in the surrounding areas in an attempt to continue drawing attention to the crisis.
Speaking to The Guardian in September last year, Howey said: “People in China don’t know the situation and think the Chinese government is doing a lot and is great. The point is that people here can’t petition to protest and do something about the climate. Even if people want to change (things), they think activism in China will fail and the cost is too (high).”
#FridaysForFuture I don’t have to stuck in the way of striking,I must do what I could do right now.If I keep‘preparing’,the time will lose.While the time is the most gracious thing to survive from climate crisis.Planted 6 trees in 13th,Sep.Starting #PlantforSurvive,This is WEEK1. pic.twitter.com/IFvFW0ypN8— Howey Ou (@howey_ou) September 14, 2019
SHE WAS KICKED OUT OF SCHOOL FOR HER ACTIVISM
In late 2018, Howey’s school said she would not be able to return to her studies until she ended her climate activism. According to The Independent, when Howey did attempt to return to school, she was told by authorities that she must cease doing interviews with the international press. Her school also said she would have to take a psychological test if she were ever to be readmitted.
Writing on Twitter earlier this summer, Howey referenced her ban from school, and said: “Chinese old saying, ‘天下兴亡，匹夫有责’, ‘teach me to take a stand when the world is in a crisis’, let alone (climate change) is the biggest crisis in human history. I can’t imagine China to (be) absent in this battle, even fear to see it as blank. If no one is really (doing) anything, then I have to.”
Chinese old saying " 天下兴亡，匹夫有责“ teach me to take a stand when the world is in a crisis, let alone cc is the biggest crisis in human history. I can't imagine China to absent in this battle, even fear to see it as blank. If no one is really do anything, then I have to. pic.twitter.com/0I9FMLurXf— Howey Ou (@howey_ou) July 20, 2020
SHE’S BEEN INTERROGATED BY THE POLICE
As reported by The Guardian, China is the world’s leading carbon emitter, generating 60 per cent of its electricity from coal-fired power. Despite this, the country is leading when it comes to renewable technology – a fact it would prefer to promote over the former. It may be unsurprising, then, that the police have taken umbrage with Howey, who’s attempting to bring China’s climate failures – rather than successes – to light.
“The police warned me not to demonstrate anymore,” Howey told Bright Green in June 2019, “but the law says that I can still demonstrate if I get permission. I definitely can’t leave this crisis to others because it is our future and our only planet. I have been depressed about this for a long time.” Howey has previously asserted that she isn’t “scared of the police”.
#FridaysforFutureChina is ONE YEAR OLD! Even while facing oppression and potential danger we carry on;our govt is not even showing willingness to be coal-free by 2050. RETWEET if you think China is important and you CARE us. #LetChinaStrikeforClimate— Howey Ou (@howey_ou) May 26, 2020
IG: https://t.co/Gh9hN9ajDs? pic.twitter.com/XHCeiAL2qe
SHE LEFT HOME TO KEEP HER FAMILY SAFE
Despite not being scared of the police herself, Howey is concerned about the safety of her family since her rise to fame. In order to protect them – and because she was fighting with them about her activism – Howey moved into a hostel in Guilin, where she now lives alone. “After I was interrogated by the police, my parents tried to stop me by all means, such as keeping me at home, not letting me accept interviews or take part in the climate movement, and searching my electronic devices,” she told The Japan Times. “One day I argued with them for eight hours. I found it very difficult and painful.”
Howey’s parents are worried about her safety and future prospects. “I don’t see a future for her if she says on this road,” her father added. “I warned her never to oppose the government and the party in her activism.”
YOU CAN FOLLOW HER ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Howey has thousands of followers on social media, where she shares updates of her strike action and encourages others to join her in the fight for the climate. “I feel like there aren’t many experienced climate campaigners to help guide my action in China,” Howey previously said. “I’m worried that politicians around the world aren’t going to make the right decisions on climate change to help balance the need for development with the needs of our planet. I hope my small action in Guilin will help China to take even more action to help our planet.”