WOMEN IN CHINA
Chinese men reportedly like demure "feminine" women and feel threatened by more aggressive, educated modern women. Beauty is probably less prized in China than it is in other cultures. A good bride is considered to be a woman who can "cook, look after her husband and give him sons" and be willing to "eat bitterness."
Traditional Chinese society was male-centered. Sons were preferred to daughters, and women were expected to be subordinate to fathers, husbands, and sons. A young woman had little voice in the decision on her marriage partner (neither did a young man). When married, it was she who left her natal family and community and went to live in a family and community of strangers where she was subordinate to her mother-in-law. Far fewer women were educated than men, and sketchy but consistent demographic evidence would seem to show that female infants and children had higher death rates and less chance of surviving to adulthood than males. In extreme cases, female infants were the victims of infanticide, and daughters were sold, as chattels, to brothels or to wealthy families. Bound feet, which were customary even for peasant women, symbolized the painful constraints of the female role. [Source: Library of Congress]
Women are generally taught to be quiet and discreet. Openly speaking one's mind is often frowned upon. One 33-year-old man told AP, he liked his wife because she "is simple and tender and never asks too much." ‘Tradition has come back strongly, but it’s not always a good thing,’a successful Chinese businesswoman told the New York Times. ‘With Chinese men, there is a line you cannot cross. They have ‘face’ that you have to respect. Anyway, most of them don’t find me feminine. They like young girls. They think a woman is beautiful when she’s ‘sweet.’’
According to a survey by the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF), one third of all male and female respondents feel that men are inherently more able than women. One third of respondents (with women responding more affirmatively than men) agreed with the saying "A promising career is no better than a good husband.” More than half answered that a woman’s place is in the home. Studies have also shown that women do 85 percent of all the housework.
Shanghai women are known as demanding wives and driven consumers. Many regard them as trouble. Sichuan women are regarded as the most beautiful in China. They are also thought of as temperamental and tempestuous.
Good Websites and Sources: All-China Women's Federation (ACWF) website: women.org.cn ; Directory of Sources on Women’s Issues in China /newton.uor.edu ; ; Bibliography /hua.umf.maine.edu ; Library of Congress loc.gov ; 1990s Sources Brooklyn College ; Women in China Sources fordham.edu/halsall ; Chinese Government Site on Women Women of China ; Village Womenwellesley.edu/DavisMuseum ; Marjorie Chan’s Bibliographycohums.ohio-state.edu
Human Trafficking Human Trafficking and Modern Slavery in China gvnet.com ;Human Trafficking.org humantrafficking.org; China Development Brief chinadevelopmentbrief.com ; International Labor Organization ilo.org/public Foot Binding Term Paper on Foot Binding brooklyn.cuny.edu ; San Francisco Museum sfmuseum.org ; NPR Footbinding Story npr.org ; Angelfire angelfire.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia
Links in this Website: WOMEN IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; PROBLEMS FACED BY WOMEN Factsanddetails.com/China ; FOOT BINDING Factsanddetails.com/China ; WORKING WOMEN IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; FAMILIES, MEN AND YOUNG ADULTS Factsanddetails.com/China ; CHILDREN AND YOUTH IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; MARRIAGE, LOVE AND DATING IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; WEDDINGS IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; CONCUBINES AND DIVORCE IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China ; BEAUTY IN CHINA Factsanddetails.com/China
Status of Women in China
Chinese girls in the 19th century Women have played key roles in Chinese history. Several women served as empress. The Dowager Empress Jixi was one of the world’s powerful and longest ruling leaders. Empress Wu Ze Tian, a 7th century ruler, changed the name of the Tang dynasty to Zhou, had her own harem of men. Tang Dynasty women held high government offices, played polo with men and wore men’s clothes. Mao’s wife was the leader of the Gang of Four and regarded by some as the mastermind behind the Cultural Revolution.
In the old days it wasn’t uncommon for village women to be kidnapped and made into concubines for warlords or wealthy people and never be heard from again.
The status of a Chinese woman is often determined by her success at being a wife and a mother, often measured by performance of her children in school. Many Chinese women seem shy, submissive, demure, innocent and sweet when they are young, and become rough, loud, and pushy after they get married.
Women have traditionally been expected to be loyal, faithful and modestly dressed. Many women regard themselves as soft on the outside but strong in their hearts. Some have said the traditional identify of a Chinese woman is defined in terms of two female archetypes—the “loving kind angel” and the “working warrior”—which are almost diametrically opposed and difficult to reconcile. In the cities woman often affect a certain amount of physical helplessness.
Traditionally, when women got married they were no longer considered part of the family in which they were born. Instead they became the possession of their husband’s family. Maggie Far of the Los Angeles Times wrote that many rural Chinese compare raising a daughter to "fattening a hog for someone else's banquet" and spending money on them as "scattering seeds to the wind."
Confucianism, Men and Women
In a traditional male-dominated Confucian family, the eldest son is held in the highest esteem and is responsible for carrying on the family name and lineage, keeping property in the family and presiding over ancestral rites.
The preference for boy babies over girls in Asian society is tied up in part in the Confucian belief that a male heir is necessary to carry on the family name, provide leadership for the family, and take care of the family ancestors. Chinese parents worry that if they don't produce a male heir no one will take care of them in their old age and no one will keep them company or look after them in the afterlife.
Confucius famously said that a good woman is an illiterate one. Women often suffered under the Confucian system. Not only are they ordered around by men, they are often ordered around by each other in very vicious or mean ways. Older sisters have traditionally pushed their younger sisters around with impunity, and mothers of sons are notorious for treating their daughters-in-law like servants.
Low Status of Women in China
In many parts of China women do not have the legal right to own land and are generally regarded as weaker, dumber and inferior to men. A Hong Kong feminist told AFP, "When we are born we have the status of scum. In villages, women have no right to talk about their basic rights. All we need to learn is how to put up with men." A Chinese village woman told the Washington Post, “Women are inferior from the time they’re born. You give birth to a girl people say you have a potatou, a worthless servant girl. When it’s a boy, they say you have a dapangxiaozi, a big fat boy.”
Up until the end of the 19th century, Chinese women were often called Daughter No. 1 or Daughter No. 2, etc. until the became Wife No 1. or Wife No. 2. For most of history, Chinese women viewed themselves in terms of the “three obediences”—servants to their father's first, then their husband's and finally their sons.
In villages women often do most of the work, and even then are ordered around by men and are only allowed to eat after the men have finished. Many such women say they don’t miss their husbands when they are away or even when they are dead and those that do miss their husbands only say they do because they sometimes help with the work.
Many young girls are virtually sold into their marriages, and are treated like servants in their households, pushed around by their husband and in laws, especially their mother in law. The tension between the wife and mother-in-law stems from the fact that mothers-in-law expect their daughters-in-law to be servants just as they were to their husband's mothers-in-law.
See Suicide, Poor and Social Problems
In the old days, women accused of adultery were sometimes subjected to horrible punishments such as "peeling the skin off the bones" until the victim died. Widows showed their loyalty by not remarrying. Many had no means of taking care of themselves and died from hunger. One Sung dynasty Confucian philosopher wrote, "It is trifling when a widow starved to death. But it is a very serious matter when she loses her chastity.”
History of the Status of Women in China
Roseann Lake wrote in Salon.com, Towards the decline of the Qing Dynasty at the end of the 19th century, Chinese women were considered a negative influence on their own children because they were uneducated and superstitious. In an attempt to strengthen the nation, Chinese intellectuals during the first half of the 20th century championed the idea that a stable home space meant a stable nation, and began a movement to train women for their jobs and responsibilities as household managers. The home came to be seen as a small-scale model of the imperial order of society, and its management became central to national concern. As Helen M. Schneider writes in “Keeping the Nation’s House, Domestic Management and the Making of Modern China,” “Managing the domestic space was an important responsibility; a wife who managed well and without complications enabled her husband to attend fully to public ‘outside’ affairs.” [Source: Roseann Lake, Salon.com, March 12, 2012]
Protests and concerted efforts to alter women's place in society began in China's coastal cities in the early years of the twentieth century. By the 1920s formal acceptance of female equality was common among urban intellectuals. Increasing numbers of girls attended schools, and young secondary school and college students approved of marriages based on free choice. Footbinding declined rapidly in the second decade of the century, the object of a nationwide campaign led by intellectuals who associated it with national backwardness. [Source: Library of Congress]
“After the Communists came to power party leaders condemned the oppression and subordination of women as one more aspect of the traditional society they were intent on changing but they did not accord feminist issues very high priority. In the villages, party members were interested in winning the loyalty and cooperation of poor and lower-middle-class male peasants, who could be expected to resist public criticism of their treatment of their wives and daughters. Many party members were poor and lower-middle-class peasants from the interior, and their attitudes toward women reflected their background. The party saw the liberation of women as depending, in a standard Marxist way, on their participation in the labor force outside the household. [Ibid]
“The position of women in contemporary society has changed from the past, and public verbal assent to propositions about the equality of the sexes and of sons and daughters seems universal. Women attend schools and universities, serve in the People's Liberation Army, and join the party. Almost all urban women and the majority of rural women work outside the home. But women remain disadvantaged in many ways, economic and social, and there seems no prospect for substantive change. [Ibid]
“The greatest change in women's status has been their movement into the paid labor force. The jobs they held in the 1980s, though, were generally lower paying and less desirable than those of men. Industries staffed largely by women, such as the textiles industry, paid lower wages than those staffed by men, such as the steel or mining industries. Women were disproportionately represented in collective enterprises, which paid lower wages and offered fewer benefits than state-owned industries. In the countryside, the work of males was consistently better rewarded than that of women, and most skilled and desirable jobs, such as driving trucks or repairing machines, were held by men. In addition, Chinese women suffered the familiar double burden of full-time wage work and most of the household chores as well. [Ibid]
“In the countryside, a disproportionate number of girls drop out of primary school because parents do not see the point of educating a daughter who will marry and leave the family and because they need her labor in the home. There are fewer female students in key rural and urban secondary schools and universities. [Ibid]
Women and Discrimination in China
Sometimes highly-educated women are prevented from working by their husbands. One physician told a hotline worker her husband "won't let me go out. I'm ready to kill myself. I feel like a high-class prisoner." [Source: Newsweek]
The incomes of working women have increased by a large margin but the gap with men has increased by an even larger margin. According to a survey by the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF), women made 62.7 percent of what men made in 2000. The gap between rural women and men is even greater. Rural women make 40.2 percent of what men made the same year.
Women are more likely to get lower-level jobs and be unemployed than men. The unemployment rate for women in 2000 was 13 percent compared to 6.4 for men.
In many places young single women are not allowed to live in their own apartments there are expected to live in dormitories with other young single women.
After the one-child policy was first adopted the menstrual cycles of women were monitored to make sure they weren’t pregnant. According to Chinese law pregnant women are exempt from arrest or fines. Some purposely engage in criminal activity.
Village Women in China
Three fourths of Chinese women—more than 450 million—still live in the countryside. While opportunities have increased for urban women, rural women often remain stuck in the same world and harsh life their mothers and female ancestors were stuck in.
Village women are generally uneducated and have few options in life. Their worth is measured by how hard they work and how many children they produce. At birth, they are often regarded as disappointments by families who want a son. After that they are regarded as property of their fathers, brothers or husbands. They often address the male's in their life as masters, and can't go anywhere without their permission. Some rural women are quite strong and tough.
Women traditionally have socialized with each other, laughing and telling stories, while doing chores. When they have some free time and the means they like to meet at friends' houses and try cosmetics and fingernail polish.
In rural areas rates of domestic abuse and suicide among women are high (See Suicides, Society, Life). By some estimates 80 percent of the murder deaths are the result of conflicts between husbands and wives.
It is unusual for rural women over the age of 35 to have children. Rural Chinese women on average enter menopause five years earlier than Western women because of lifestyle, genetic and dietary factors Wang Yijue of the Sichuan Reproductive Health Research Center told the Los Angeles Times.
Village Women and Work
Women cooking in the 19th century Among the daily chores performed by rural women are grooming and washing the children, preparing drinks for the men, making meals, cleaning the enclosures of animals, tending the family's crops, selling and buying stuff at the market, milking animals, making butter or cheese, collecting and processing dung, washing, pounding or winnowing rice or grain, spinning cloth, threshing, separating beans from their pods, hoeing and weeding the fields, carrying firewood, transporting the harvest, fetching water, housekeeping and looking after the children.
In many rural societies women do two-thirds of the farm labor. During the harvesting and planting season men and women work about equally but when those tasks are done women do much of the day to day farming chores while the men often goof around. Women often do so much of the farm work men are often encouraged not to come to agricultural meeting sponsored by aid workers.
Women in rural areas have few opportunities to make money other than selling stuff at the market or on the streets in a town or city or performing menial labor.
One of the primary responsibilities of village women and girls is making sure there is enough water for washing, cleaning, cooking and drinking. Women carry water from a communal well or stream to their homes everyday. Most of the time there is a well in the village. But not always. Sometimes women and girls walk several miles everyday fetching water. One male villager told National Geographic, "Our women spend half their lives going for water."
Village women seem to spend more time washing clothes by hand than doing anything else. From dawn to dusk the shores of lake and rivers are lined with women scrubbing, ringing and rinsing their families clothes. These women are also skilled at taking a baths in rivers and streams with their clothes on.
Rural Women in China in the 1930s, 40s and 50s
The Gender of Memory: Rural Women and China’s Collective Past by Gail Hershatter is the product of a decade spent conducting oral history interviews of 72 women—and a few surviving men—in rural Shaanxi province with the help of the Chinese scholar Gao Xiaoxian. The interviews focus on farming women’s experiences of political campaigns in the 1950s, ranging from land reform to the 1950 Marriage Law to agricultural collectives. The book adds individual women’s voices—often quoted at length—to the narrative of 1950s rural reform, illustrating the taffy pull between empowerment and continued discrimination that women experienced throughout the decade. [Source: Nicole Elizabeth Barnes, The China Beat, September 28, 2011, Nicole Elizabeth Barnes is a PhD candidate in modern Chinese history at the University of California, Irvine.]
Nicole Elizabeth Barnes wrote in The China Beat, “The Gender of Memory is incredibly thorough, emotionally powerful, beautifully written, theoretically innovative, and personally searching; it will have an earth-shattering effect on the study of Chinese history, calling scholars to new fields of inquiry for decades to come.”
In the book Hershatter discusses the differences in how women and men narrate their pasts, commenting that while women tend to mark their lives by personal and traumatic events such as marriage, childbirth, or death of a family member, men more commonly refer to “campaign time” and political events as the primary signposts. On this point of “gender of memory” she told China Beat, “ Men and women spent their time differently, though they certainly had many shared tasks. The gendered division of labor was a constant feature of rural life, even though its content changed all the time. Men went to more meetings; women did more unpaid crucial domestic work. They remember the tasks that they performed (which differed) and the languages of political change to which they were exposed (which varied by gender, generation, location, and a host of other factors).
On the importance of spinning yarn, weaving, making clothing, Hershatter said, “In one village, handloom weaving remained common for domestic consumption and has recently made a comeback in production for the market. In another village, local embroidery of old-style wedding pillows was an important art, though it was unclear whether it was going to die out or have a resurgence as folk craft. I was given some small handkerchiefs and embroidered shoe soles, and took pictures of more elaborate embroidery.
On the hardships women endured in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, Hershatter said, “These are everyday haunting stories. Whatever the terrible shortcomings of revolutionary change—and there are many—the kinds of catastrophe that were absolutely commonplace during these women’s younger years are no longer routine or even comprehensible to their grandchildren. That’s important.
On perceptions of gender inequality she said, “Some found it natural that women should be paid less than men, and had complicated reasons why. Others thought it was unjust, and had a lot to say about that. Some expressed their opinions in language provided by the state, though they used official terminology creatively. The term “feudalism,” for instance, was used by both men and women to describe behavior specific to women, which was not the way it had first been deployed. I didn’t import gender as a category of analysis—it’s a fundamental structuring device for rural Chinese. Everything I know about how gender worked in the rural Chinese 1950s, I learned through listening to stories that even an outsider could understand. What astonishes me is how anyone could think to give an account of the 1950s without attention to gender.
Women Under Communism in China
In the early 20th century the situation for women began improving in China as Western ideas began take hold. Foot binding was banned and there were efforts to improve the literacy of women. Under Communism, things improved further. Child marriages, prostitution, arranged marriages and concubines were banned.
The Communists are proud of their women's right record. Mao used to say, "Women hold up half the sky"---an ancient Chinese proverb. The Communists raised the status of women and made them useful members of the revolution. They did a lot to improve the health care and education of women, and helped them enter the work force as pilots, doctors, factory workers and farm machine operators and currently are trying to combat the cultural preference for boys.
Chinese women did their part fighting for the Communists against the Kuomintang. One unit was immortalized in the movie and ballet Red Detachment of Women, whose theme song featured the memorable lyrics: "March on, march on. A soldier's burden is heavy. A woman’s hatred is deep." The detachment emerged in 1930s from a group of women who helped the war effort by mending uniforms. They claimed the could carry weapons like men, teh story goes, and ended up participating in hundreds of bloody battles, sometimes fighting with their bare hands.
The Communist system empowered women to work outside the home which in the end, in many cases, just doubled their work load—because they were still expected to take care of the house and raise the children when they weren't working. A typical woman in the Maoist era rose at 5:00am in cramped apartment with her family and parents to fix breakfast for everyone and get her kids off to school. She then took a crowded bus to work. At 2:00pm she got off work and then rushed to the butcher shop with a ration card and queued for meat and after she was done rushed to another store to wait in another line for vegetables. After arriving at her apartment bloc she walked up the stairs because the elevator didn’t work, fixed dinner, washed the dishes and collapsed into bed exhausted only to have to wake again the next day and do it all over again.*
Under the Deng reforms, things improved. Women were able to chose their jobs and careers, improve their status and gain more freedom over their lives. Improved status meant that women no longer had to obediently follow the orders of their in laws. They could pick their boyfriends and husbands, chose where they wanted to live, and enjoy life in a way they would have never dreamed of in the past.
Growing up with an Absent Mother in the Mao Era
In Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love , Xinran wrote: As a child, I used to believe I was an orphan, because my mother gave me a life but had no time to love me, nor believed she should make any special effort to be with me. From the 1950s to the 1970s, most Chinese women like my mother closely followed the Communist Party's line concerning your "life order"— in other words, the political party came first, your motherland came second and helping others came third. Anyone who cared about their own family and children was considered a capitalist and could be punished — at the very least, you would be looked down upon by everyone, including your own family. So, exactly a month after I was born, I was sent away to live with my grandmothers, spending my time between Nanjing and Beijing. [Source: Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love by Xinran, The Guardian, April 24, 2011]
I wasn't the only one; for millions of Chinese children growing up in that Red period, life was lived without our mothers. Their busy careers as "liberated women" — part of the victimization of the Cultural Revolution — kept them away from us. And then, when I grew up, I moved away to university and we were living in different cities, different time zones — and, finally, different countries. [Ibid]
But I know how much I miss her, when I'm chatting to my family, writing — even when I'm on book tours around the world and in the night, I often dream of when I was a little girl. With one hand I hold the baby doll, which was taken from me by a female Red Guard on the first day the Cultural Revolution took place at my town; with the other hand I hold two of my mum's fingers. In the dream, she always wears the purple silk dress she had on in my first real-life memory of her, when I was five. [Ibid]
My grandmother took me to a railway station to meet her there — she was on a business trip. "This is your mother: say 'Mama', not 'Auntie'," my grandmother told me, embarrassed. Wide-eyed and silent, I stared at the woman in the purple dress. Her eyes filled with tears, but she forced her face into a sad, tired smile. My grandmother did not prompt me again; the two women stood frozen...This particular memory has haunted me again and again. I felt the pain of it most keenly after I became a mother myself and experienced the atavistic, inescapable bond between a mother and her child. What could my mother have said, faced with a daughter who was calling her "Auntie"? [Ibid]
Xinran and Messages from an Unknown Chinese Mother
Lesley Downer wrote in the New York Times: “ Xinran was a radio journalist in Nanjing until moving to Britain in 1997. Before her departure, her program for women, ‘Words on the Night Breeze,’ had millions of listeners: at that time, few Chinese owned televisions and many were illiterate, so radio journalists reached far more people than their colleagues on television or at newspapers. Xinran received hundreds of letters and phone calls, and told some of her correspondents’ harrowing stories on air.
Her program — and her 2010 book Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love —gave a voice to some of the poorest women in Chinese society, whose stories would otherwise never be heard. Among them are women like Kumei, a dishwasher who twice tried to kill herself because she’d been forced to drown her baby daughters. When a child is born, Kumei explains, the midwife prepares a bowl of warm water — called Killing Trouble water, for drowning the child if it’s a girl, or Watering the Roots bath, for washing him if it’s a boy.
Xinran also investigates Chinese orphanages, for many of which the word ‘Dickensian’ would be totally inadequate. The children abandoned there are almost always girls, and they regularly arrive with burns between their legs, marks made as the midwife holds the newborn under an oil lamp to check her sex. Mothers forced to abandon their babies often leave mementos in their clothing, hoping the children will be able to trace them later on, but the orphanages routinely throw these sad tokens away.
Separated from her mother by the Cultural Revolution, Xinran grew up with her grandparents and considered herself an orphan. Years later, she founded a charity called the Mothers’ Bridge of Love for Western families who adopt Chinese children. Downer wrote Message From an Unknown Chinese Mother is full of heart-rending tales. “They are raw and shocking, simply told and augmented with passages that provide information about matters like the one-child policy, the history of orphanages and Chinese adoption laws. “
Book: Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love by Xinran, translated by Nicky Harman Scribner in the U.S., Chatto and Windus on the U.K., 2010)
Women in Government in China
Wu Yi Women account for around 20 percent of the National People's Congress members and less than a fifth of Communist Party members. As of 2003, there were only five women in the high-ranking 198-member Central Committee and only one woman in the 24-member Politburo.
There are a fairly large number of female party officials but they generally don't have high-level jobs. In 1994, 32.6 percent of the Chinese officials were women but only 10.7 percent of the officials above the county level, just one of the country's 13 state councilors and three of its 40 ministers were female.
In August 2005 China promised to improve women’s representation in politics.
Vice Premier and Health Minister Wu Yi is the highest-ranking women official in China and the only female politburo member. Appointed health minister during the SARS crisis, she is very popular and has a reputation for carrying about people. Some think she is a reincarnation of the Buddhist goddess of Mercy, Kwan-yin
Wu Yi is an Oxford-educated economist and former petroleum engineer. She represented China during trade negotiations between China and the United States in 2006. One U.S. official described her as “an impressive interlocutor—very direct and very capable of getting things done.”
In 2007, Wu Yi was ranked as the second most powerful woman in the world for the second year in a row by Forbes magazine, placing behind German Chancellor Angela Merkel and ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Condolezza Rice.
Women Dance and Sing into the Chinese Military
Peng Liyuan, wife of
Xi Jinping, the next leader of China In some places women applying to be army officers have show off their ‘talents’ as well as make a favorable impression in a face-to-face interview. Meng Jing wrote in the China Daily: ‘Aspiring female officers were surprised to learn...that they are now required to perform a 'talent' as part of the country's current recruitment drive for the People's Liberation Army (PLA). The test of artistic ability was included for the first time as part of the standard face-to-face interview by recruiters on behalf of the PLA, which took place following stringent health screenings over’ recent weeks. [Source: Meng Jing, China Daily November 30, 2009]
“I was shocked by the new talent show test when I first heard about it,’ said Zhang Jing, a candidate from Beijing Union University who opted to read a piece of poetry told the China Daily. A law major from the Beijing Normal University called Zhang Wenbian said: ‘Ithought the talent show was a little unnecessary.” [Ibid]
“Lieutenant Colonel Ding Zhengquan from the Beijing recruitment office said they only want to choose the best eligible young women, Meng Jung wrote. ‘Ding confirmed there are limited vacancies for female applicants compared with their male counterparts, which is why standards have been raised.... Wang Bosheng, a judge in the Haidian district section and a member of the National People's Congress, believed the artistic element was essential. ‘It is amazing to see so many girls with such great gifts,’ Wang said. He added it would help them select the right people for the army.” [Ibid]
The army interview for women includes a 30-second self-introduction, a 150-second question and answer period, and a 2-minute talent show....Han Sheng, a student from Minzu University of China, displayed two of her paintings to the judges. Han admitted she was surprised by the talent show: It's only 2 minutes; some talents cannot be presented in such a short time.’... The face-to-face interview has a total mark of 30. The talent show counts for 8 marks with ‘expression’ and ‘impression’ providing another 12 and 10. In order to ensure interview fairness, mobile signals were blocked in all examination rooms and questions were picked randomly by applicants. “ [Ibid]
Wang Qian, a vice battalion commander in the Second Artillery Force, reviewed the female applicants in Haidian district on Saturday in the hope of finding suitable women for her battalion. Wang believed it was extremely necessary to include the talent shows, and told the China Daily, ‘Female soldiers are a special element of the army.’ She said the army did not only want someone who is intelligent. ‘We want to find those candidates who are great in every field,’ she said. “ [Ibid]
Working Urban Women in China
Young working women are becoming increasingly materialistic and egocentric. Some have framed pictures of themselves on their desks. In a marketing survey, one young woman wrote, “I am the center of the world...Draw a circle and you can find me. I’m quite realistic, but sometimes I daydream. I’m a little bit selfish, but I’m always there for my friends.”
A typical young urban woman lives with her parents and earns about $300 month at her job, She has given half of salary to her mother, which she regards as her savings plan, and spends the rest of it on living expenses and entertainment. Her biggest expense is eating out with friends.
Young working women are increasingly becoming major forces in the Chinese economy. Those with good salaries, by Chinese standards, of few a hundred dollars a month think nothing of plopping down $400 for a new cell phone with the latest 3G and MP3 features or $700 on a new snowboard and gear to go with it even though they have yet to tried the sport.
An economic advisor for MasterCard told Reuters, “Urban women consumers will be spending much of their hard-earned cash on personal travel and related cultural and recreational activities, dinning out, shopping, as well as buying cars and pursuing urban leisure lifestyles.”
Their spending habits, economists hope will offset the conservative spending habits of most Chinese and make the economy less reliant on investment. Favored brands by female consumers include LVMH, Christian Dior, Valentino, Swatch, Nokia and Coca-Cola.
Diet medicines are popular with middle class women. They are often amphetamines. There are stories women losing 10 kilograms in a month who look wired and dazed.
Women and Education in China
An estimated 70 percent of China's 140 million illiterates are female. In rural areas, girls are often so busy doing chores they don't have time for school. The New York Times reported on a a school in Youyan, a village in the poor Guizhou Province, and found only four of the 100 or so students were girls. "Girls at 5 to 6-years old begin a life of farm work," a teacher said.
It is not unusual for girls to be pulled out of school when they are ten or so to work in the fields. When they are 14 or 15 they are shipped off to work in factories far from their home towns. If a Chinese family only has enough money to educate one child, they almost always choose a son over a daughter. One Chinese feminist told Newsweek, "There is an attitude that 'girls are going to get married and won't be part of the family anyway, so why waste the money?'" One migrant worker woman told U.S. News and World Report, "In the countryside, even if you finish high school, you still end up doing the same work."
Discrimination continues through university. One Chinese feminist told AFP, "When I applied for university, I found women needed higher grades than men to be accepted and, when I graduated, government units and private enterprise made it very clear they didn't want women." Many men are reluctant to marry women with more education than them. Women with master’s degree who are looking for a husband or boyfriend often don’t mention their education when they visit matchmakers or dating services.
Women's Rights and Feminism in China
Feminist issues include discrimination in the work place, domestic violence, lack of education opportunities for rural girls and women kidnapping. The government promotes equality of the sexes but these ideas fail to reach very deep into the countryside.
Grassroots organizations are helping rural women with literacy training, micro-loans, advise on becoming more politically active, hotlines for those with abusive husbands and those contemplating suicide, and help escaping schemes that abduct and enslave women..
See Communism and Women
Feminism in China was given a boost when the International Conference on Women was held in Beijing in 1995. Some 40,000 women showed up for the event, but Western diplomats estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 delegates, including Jane Fonda and Sally Field, were not allowed to attend.
The conference exposed the fact that many antiquated ideas about women persist. Taxi drivers were warned not to pick up naked foreign women who might try to get them to reveal state secrets; some security guards were given bug spray for protection against insect-borne AIDS carried by lesbians; and women attending the conference were offered a special herbal medicine that reportedly shrunk their vaginal walls and made sex better.
In March 2010, the Women’s Law Studies and Legal Aid Center, which had won praise for its 15-year battle against domestic abuse and workplace discrimination, lost its sponsorship from Peking University because, it organizers think, its receives overseas funding and took a controversial ‘black jail’ case.
One-Child Policy a Surprising Boon for China’s Girls
Alexa Olesen of Associated Press wrote, “Tsinghua University freshman Mia Wang has confidence to spare. Asked what her home city of Benxi in China's far northeastern tip is famous for, she flashes a cool smile and says: "Producing excellence. Like me." A Communist Youth League member at one of China's top science universities, she boasts enviable skills in calligraphy, piano, flute and ping pong.” [Source: Alexa Olesen, Associated Press, August 31, 2011]
Such gifted young women are increasingly common in China's cities and make up the most educated generation of women in Chinese history. Never have so many been in college or graduate school, and never has their ratio to male students been more balanced. To thank for this, experts say, is three decades of steady Chinese economic growth, heavy government spending on education and a third, surprising, factor: the one-child policy.
In 1978, women made up only 24.2 percent of the student population at Chinese colleges and universities. By 2009, nearly half of China's full-time undergraduates were women and 47 percent of graduate students were female, according to the National Bureau of Statistics. In India, by comparison, women make up 37.6 percent of those enrolled at institutes of higher education, according to government statistics.
Many single-child families are made of two parents and one daughter. With no male heir competing for resources, parents have spent more on their daughters' education and well-being, a groundbreaking shift after centuries of discrimination. "They've basically gotten everything that used to only go to the boys," said Vanessa Fong, a Harvard University professor and expert on China's family planning policy.
Girls Growing Up in One-Child Policy Families
Alexa Olesen of Associated Press wrote, “Wang and many of her female classmates grew up with tutors and allowances, after-school classes and laptop computers. Though she is just one generation off the farm, she carries an iPad and a debit card, and shops for the latest fashions online. Her purchases arrive at Tsinghua, where Wang's all-girls dorm used to be jokingly called a "Panda House," because women were so rarely seen on campus. They now make up a third of the student body, up from one-fifth a decade ago. [Source: Alexa Olesen, Associated Press, August 31, 2011]
"In the past, girls were raised to be good wives and mothers," Fong said. "They were going to marry out anyway, so it wasn't a big deal if they didn't want to study." Not so anymore. Fong says today's urban Chinese parents "perceive their daughters as the family's sole hope for the future," and try to help them to outperform their classmates, regardless of gender.
Things have changed a lot since Wang was born. Wang's birth in the spring of 1992 triggered a family rift that persists to this day. She was a disappointment to her father's parents, who already had one granddaughter from their eldest son. They had hoped for a boy. "Everyone around us had this attitude that boys were valuable, girls were less," Gao Mingxiang, Wang's paternal grandmother, said by way of explanation — but not apology.
Her granddaughter, tall and graceful and dressed in Ugg boots and a sparkly blue top, sat next to her listening, a sour expression on her face. She wasn't shy about showing her lingering bitterness or her eagerness to leave. She agreed to the visit to please her father but refused to stay overnight — despite a four-hour drive each way.
Three-Generation One- Girl Families
women academy in Shandong Alexa Olesen of Associated Press wrote, “Fong, the Harvard researcher, says that many Chinese households are like this these days: a microcosm of third world and first world cultures clashing. The gulf between Wang and her grandmother seems particularly vast. [Source: Alexa Olesen, Associated Press, August 31, 2011]
The 77-year-old Gao grew up in Yixian, a poor corn- and wheat-growing county in southern Liaoning province. At 20, she moved less than a mile (about a kilometer) to her new husband's house. She had three children and never dared to dream what life was like outside the village. She remembers rain fell in the living room and a cherished pig was sold, because there wasn't enough money for repairs or feed. She relied on her daughter to help around the house so her two sons could study. "Our kids understood," said Gao, her gray hair pinned back with a bobby pin, her skin chapped by weather, work and age. "All families around here were like that."
But Wang's mother, Zheng Hong, did not understand. She grew up 300 kilometers (185 miles) away in the steel-factory town of Benxi with two elder sisters and went to vocational college for manufacturing. She lowers her voice to a whisper as she recalls the sting of her in-law's rejection when her daughter was born. "I sort of limited my contact with them after that," Zheng said. "I remember feeling very angry and wronged by them. I decided then that I was going to raise my daughter to be even more outstanding than the boys."
They named her Qihua, a pairing of the characters for chess and art — a constant reminder of her parents' hope that she be both clever and artistic. From the age of six, Wang was pushed hard, beginning with ping pong lessons. Competitions were coed, and she beat boys and girls alike, she said. She also learned classical piano and Chinese flute, practiced swimming and ice skating and had tutors for Chinese, English and math. During summer vacations, she competed in English speech contests and started using the name Mia.
In high school, Wang had cram sessions for China's college entrance exam that lasted until 10 p.m. Her mother delivered dinners to her at school. She routinely woke up at 6 a.m. to study before class. She had status and expectations her mother and grandmother never knew, a double-edged sword of pampering and pressure. If she'd had a sibling or even the possibility of a sibling one day, the stakes might not have been so high, her studies not so intense.
Some, like Wang, are already changing perceptions about what women can achieve. When she dropped by her grandmother's house this spring, the local village chief came by to see her. She was a local celebrity: the first village descendent in memory to make it into Tsinghua University. "Women today, they can go out and do anything," her grandmother said. "They can do big things."
Analysis of the One-Child Policy and China’s Girls
Alexa Olesen of Associated Press wrote, “Crediting the one-child policy with improving the lives of women is jarring, given its history and how it's harmed women in other ways. Facing pressure to stay under population quotas, overzealous family planning officials have resorted to forced sterilizations and late-term abortions, sometimes within weeks of delivery, although such practices are illegal. [Source: Alexa Olesen, Associated Press, August 31, 2011]
Beijing-based population expert Yang Juhua has studied enrollment figures and family size and determined that single children in China tend to be the best educated, while those with elder brothers get shortchanged. She was able to make comparisons because China has many loopholes to the one-child rule, including a few cities that have experimented with a two-child policy for decades.
"Definitely single children are better off, particularly girls,"said Yang, who works at the Center for Population and Development Studies at Renmin University. "If the girl has a brother then she will be disadvantaged. ... If a family has financial constraints, it's more likely that the educational input will go to the sons."
While her research shows clearly that it's better, education-wise, for girls to be single children, she favors allowing everyone two kids. "I do think the (one-child) policy has improved female well-being to a great extent, but most people want two children so their children can have somebody to play with while they're growing up," said Yang, who herself has a college-age daughter.
While strides have been made in reaching gender parity in education, other inequalities remain. Women remain woefully underrepresented in government, have higher suicide rates than males, often face domestic violence and workplace discrimination and by law must retire at a younger age than men. It remains to be seen whether the new generation of degree-wielding women can alter the balance outside the classroom.
The problem of sex-selected abortion and even female infanticide still exist. Yin Yin Nwe, UNICEF's representative to China, puts it bluntly: The one-child policy brings many benefits for girls "but they have to be born first."
Image Sources: 1) Historical photos, Lotte Moon and University of Washington; 2) Posters, Landsberger Posters http://www.iisg.nl/~landsberger/; 3) Village woman, Beifan http://www.beifan.com/; 4) Urban woman, cgstock.com http://www.cgstock.com/china ; Wiki Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated August 2012