There were plenty of reasons to think the “Barbie” movie might have a hard time finding an audience in China. It’s an American film, when Chinese moviegoers’ interest in, and government approval of, Hollywood movies is falling. It’s been widely described as feminist, when women’s rights and political representation in China are backsliding.

But not only did the film screen in China — it has been something of a sleeper hit, precisely because of its unusual nature in the Chinese movie landscape.

“There aren’t many movies about women’s independence, or that have some flavors of feminism, in China,” said Mina Li, 36, who went alone to a recent screening in Beijing after several female friends recommended it. “So they thought it was worth seeing.”

Despite limited availability — the film, directed by Greta Gerwig, made up only 2.4 percent of screenings in China on its opening day — “Barbie” has quickly become widely discussed on Chinese social media, at one…