Women in China

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Women in China
Girl in Muyuan in Jiangxi.jpg
A woman in rural Jiangxi
General Statistics
Maternal mortality (per 100,000)37 (2010)
Women in parliament24.2% (2013)[1]
Women over 25 with secondary education54.8% (2010)
Women in labour force67.7% (2011)
Gender Inequality Index[2]
Value0.168 (2019)
Rank39th out of 162
Global Gender Gap Index[3]
Value0.682 (2021)
Rank107th

The lives of women in China have changed significantly due to the late Qing Dynasty reforms, the changes of the Republican period, the Chinese Civil War, and the rise of the People's Republic of China.

Achievement of women's liberation has been on the agenda of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) since the beginning of the PRC.[4] Mao Zedong famously said, "Women hold up half the sky."[5][6][7] In 1995, Chinese Communist Party general secretary Jiang Zemin made gender equality official state policy.[8][9] Although China has been tremendously successful in achieving greater gender parity, women still suffer a lower status compared with men.[4]

Historical background[edit]

Empress Wu Zetian

Pre-modern Chinese society was predominantly patriarchal and patrilineal from the 11th century B.C. onward.[10] The freedoms and opportunities available to women varied depending on the time period and regional situation. Women's status, like men's, was closely tied to the Chinese kinship system.[11] A prejudiced preference for sons has long existed in China, leading to high rates of female infanticide. There was also a strong tradition of restricting women's freedom of movement, particularly that of upper-class women, which manifested through the practice of foot binding. However, the legal and social status of women has greatly changed in the 20th century, especially in the 1970s, after the one-child and opening-up policies were enacted.[12]

Women and Family[edit]

Marriage and family planning[edit]

Mother carrying two children, 1917

Traditional marriage in pre-revolutionary China was a contract between families rather than between individuals.[13] The parents of the soon-to-be groom and bride arranged the marriage with an emphasis on alliance between the two families.[14] Spouse selection was based on family needs and the socioeconomic status of the potential mate, rather than love or attraction.[13] Although the woman's role varied slightly with the husband's social status, typically her main duty was to provide a son to continue the family name.[15]

Arranged marriages were accomplished by a matchmaker, who acted as a link between the two families.[16] The arrangement of a marriage involved the negotiation of a bride price, gifts to be bestowed to the bride's family, and occasionally a dowry of clothing, furniture, or jewelry from the bride's family for use in her new home.[13] Exchange of monetary compensation for a woman's hand in marriage was also used in purchase marriages.[citation needed]

During the 2020 National People's Congress, a civil code was adopted which contained a number of significant changes for China's laws on marriage and family.[17] A 30-day “cooling off period” was added to divorce proceedings. Before then, some divorces were finalized within hours of application, leading to concerns about impulsive divorces.[18]

In addition the new civil code continues to define marriage as only between a man and a woman. The state mouthpiece Xinhua described the new civil code as guarantying “a harmonious family and society.” This completes a transition from the women hold up half of the sky era in which, at least rhetorically, China was one of the most progressive nations in the world in terms of women's rights to the “strong family values for a harmonious society,” era where China is actively regressing.[17]

Chinese traditions and policies[edit]

Figurines of women, Tang dynasty
Polychrome bust of a woman, Tang dynasty

Older Chinese traditions surrounding marriage included many ritualistic steps. During the Han Dynasty, a marriage lacking a dowry or betrothal gift was seen as dishonorable. Only after gifts were exchanged would a marriage proceed; and the bride would be taken to live in the ancestral home of the new husband. Here, a wife was expected to live with the entirety of her husband's family and to follow all of their rules and beliefs. Many families followed the Confucian teachings regarding honoring their elders. These rituals were passed down from father to son. Official family lists were compiled, containing the names of all the sons and wives. Brides who did not produce a son were written out of family lists. When a husband died, the bride was seen as the property of her spouse's family. Ransoms were set by some brides' families to get their daughters back, though never with her children, who remained with her husband's family.[19]

John Engel, a professor of Family Resources at the University of Hawaii, argues that the People's Republic of China established the Marriage Law of 1950 to redistribute wealth and achieve a classless society. The law "was intended to cause ... fundamental changes ... aimed at family revolution by destroying all former patterns ... and building up new relationships on the basis of the new law and new ethics."[13] Xiaorong Li, a researcher at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland, asserts that the Marriage Law of 1950 not only banned the most extreme forms of female subordination and oppression, but gave women the right to make their own marital decisions.[20] The Marriage Law specifically prohibited concubinage and marriages when one party was sexually powerless, suffered from a venereal disease, leprosy, or a mental disorder.[13] Several decades after the implementation of the 1950 Marriage Law, China still faces serious issues, particularly in population control.[13]

In a continuing effort to control marriage and family life, a marriage law was passed in 1980 and enacted in 1981.[13] This New Marriage Law banned arranged and forced marriages and shifted the focus away from the dominance of men and onto the interests of children and women.[13] Article 2 of the 1980 Marriage Law directly states: "the lawful rights and interests of women, children and the aged are protected. Family planning is practiced."[13] Adults, both men and women, also gained the right to lawful divorce.[14]

To fight the tenacity of tradition, Article 3 of the 1980 Marriage Law continued to ban concubinage, polygamy, and bigamy.[13] The article forbade mercenary marriages in which a bride price or dowry is paid.[13] According to Li, the traditional business of selling women in exchange for marriage returned after the law gave women the right to select their husbands.[20] In 1990, 18,692 cases were investigated by Chinese authorities.[20]

Although the law generally prohibited the exaction of money or gifts in connection with marriage arrangements, bride price payments are still common in rural areas, though dowries have become smaller and less common.[21] In urban areas the dowry custom has nearly disappeared. The bride price custom has since transformed into providing gifts for the bride or her family.[13] Article 4 of the 1980 marriage law banned the usage of compulsion or the interference of third parties, stating: "marriage must be based upon the complete willingness of the two parties."[13] As Engel argues, the law also encouraged gender equality by making daughters just as valuable as sons, particularly in the potential for old-age insurance. Article 8 states: "after a marriage has been registered, the woman may become a member of the man's family, or the man may become a member of the woman's family, according to the agreed wishes of the two parties."[13]

More recently there has been a surge in Chinese–foreigner marriages in mainland China—more commonly involving Chinese women than Chinese men. In 2010, almost 40,000 women registered in Chinese–foreigner marriages in mainland China. In comparison, fewer than 12,000 men registered these types of marriages in the same year.[22]

Second wives[edit]

In traditional China, polygamy was legal and having a concubine (see concubinage) was considered a luxury for aristocratic families.[23] In 1950, polygamy was outlawed, but the phenomenon of de facto polygamy, or so-called "second wives" (二奶 èrnǎi in Chinese), has reemerged in recent years.[24] When polygamy was legal, women were more tolerant of their husband's extramarital affairs. Today, women who discover that their husband has a "second wife" are less tolerant, and since the New Marriage Law of 1950 can ask for a divorce.[25]

The sudden industrialization in China brought two types of people together: young female workers and rich businessmen from cities like Hong Kong. A number of rich businessmen are attracted to these economically dependent women and started relationships known as "keeping a second wife" (bao yinai) in Cantonese.[25] Some migrant women who struggle to find husbands become second wives and lovers.[26] There are many villages in the southern part of China where predominantly these "second wives" live.[26] The men come and spend a large amount of time in these villages every year while their first wife and family stay in the city.[27] The relationships can range from just being casual paid sexual transactions to long-term relationships. If a relationship does develop more, some of the Chinese women quit their job and become 'live-in lovers' whose main job is to please the working man.[28]

The first wives in these situations have a hard time and deal with it in different ways. Women that are far away from their husbands do not have many options. Even if the wives do move to mainland China with their husbands, the businessman still finds ways to carry on affairs. Some wives follow the motto "one eye open, with the other eye closed" meaning they understand their husbands are bound to cheat but want to make sure they practice safe sex and do not bring home other children.[28] Many first wives downplay the father's role to try to address the children's questions about a father that is often absent. Other women fear for their financial situations and protect their rights by putting the house and other major assets in their own names.[28]

This situation has created many social and legal issues. Unlike previous generations of arranged marriages, the modern polygamy is more often voluntary.[26] Women in China face serious pressures to be married, by family and friends. There is a derogatory term for women who are not married by the time they are in their late twenties, sheng nu. With these pressures to be married, some women who have few prospects willingly enter into a second marriage. Sometimes these women are completely unaware that the man was already married. Second wives are often poor and uneducated and are attracted by promises of a good life, but can end up with very little if a relationship ends.[5] There are lawyers who specialize in representing "second wives" in these situations. The documentary, "China's Second Wives"[6] takes a look at the rights of second wives and some of the issues they face.[citation needed]

Policies on divorce[edit]

The Marriage Law of 1950 empowered women to initiate divorce proceedings.[29] According to Elaine Jeffreys, an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Associate Professor in China studies, divorce requests were only granted if they were justified by politically proper reasons. These requests were mediated by party-affiliated organizations, rather than accredited legal systems.[29] Ralph Haughwout Folsom, a professor of Chinese law, international trade, and international business transactions at the University of San Diego, and John H. Minan, a trial attorney in the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice and a law professor at the University of San Diego, argue that the Marriage Law of 1950 allowed for much flexibility in the refusal of divorce when only one party sought it. During the market-based economic reforms, China re-instituted a formal legal system and implemented provisions for divorce on a more individualized basis.[29]

Jeffreys asserts that the Marriage Law of 1980 provided for divorce on the basis that emotions or mutual affections were broken.[29] As a result of the more liberal grounds for divorce, the divorce rates soared[30] As women began divorcing their husbands tensions increased and men resisted, especially in rural areas .[31] Although divorce was now legally recognized, thousands of women lost their lives for attempting to divorce their husbands and some committed suicide when the right to divorce was withheld.[31] Divorce, once seen as a rare act during the Mao era (1949–1976), has become more common with rates continuing to increase.[32] Along with this increase in divorce, it became evident that divorced women were often given an unfair share or housing and property.[29]

The amended Marriage Law of 2001, which according to Jeffreys was designed to protect women's rights, provided a solution to this problem by reverting to a "moralistic fault-based system with a renewed focus on collectivist mechanisms to protect marriage and family."[29] Although all property acquired during a marriage was seen as jointly-held,[30] it was not until the implementation of Article 46 of the 2001 Marriage Law that the concealment of joint property was punishable.[29] This was enacted to ensure a fair division during a divorce.[29] The article also granted the right for a party to request compensation from a spouse who committed illegal cohabitation, bigamy, and family violence or desertion.[29]

Domestic violence[edit]

In 2004, the All-China Women's Federation compiled survey results to show that thirty percent of families in China experienced domestic violence, with 16 percent of men having beaten their wives. In 2003, the percentage of women domestically abusing men increased, with 10 percent of familial violence involving male victims.[33] The Chinese Marriage Law was amended in 2001 to offer mediation services and compensation to those who were subjected to domestic violence. Domestic violence was finally criminalized with the 2005 amendment of the Law of Protection of Rights and Interests of Women.[34] However, the lack of public awareness of the 2005 amendment has allowed spousal abuse to persist.[33]

Education[edit]

Males are more likely to be enrolled than females at every age group in China, further increasing the gender gap seen in schools among older age groups.[35] Female primary and secondary school enrollment suffered more than male enrollment during the Great Chinese Famine (1958–1961), and in 1961 there was a further sudden decrease.[35] Although the gender gap for primary and secondary education has narrowed over time, gender disparity persists for tertiary institutions.[35]

The One Percent Population Survey in 1987 found that in rural areas, 48 percent of males aged 45 and above and 6 percent of males aged 15–19 were illiterate. Although the percentage of illiterate women decreased significantly from 88 percent to 15 percent, it is significantly higher than the percentage of illiterate men for the same age groupings.[35]

Health care[edit]

A teenage girl with chopsticks

In traditional Chinese culture, which was a patriarchal society based on Confucian ideology, the healthcare system was tailored for men, and women were not prioritized.[36]

Chinese health care has since undergone much reform and has tried to provide men and women with equal health care. During the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), the People's Republic of China began to focus on the provision of health care for women.[36] This change was apparent when the women in the workforce were granted health care. Health care policy required all women workers to receive urinalysis and vaginal examinations yearly.[36] The People's Republic of China has enacted various laws to protect the health care rights of women, including the Maternal and Child Care law.[citation needed] This law and numerous others focus on protecting the rights of all women in the People's Republic of China.[citation needed]

For women in China, the most common type of cancer is cervical cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) suggests using routine screening to detect cervical cancer. However, information on cervical cancer screening is not widely available for women in China.[37]

Ethnic and religious minorities[edit]

Girl from Tibet

After the founding of People's Republic of China in 1949, the communist government authorities called traditional Muslim customs on women “backwards or feudal”.[38]

Hui Muslim women have internalized the concept of gender equality because they view themselves as not just Muslims but Chinese citizens, so they have the right to exercise rights like initiating divorce.[39][40]

A unique feature of Islam in China is the presence of female-only mosques. Women in China can act as prayer leaders and also become imams.[41] Female-only mosques grant women more power over religious affairs. This is rare by global standards. By comparison, the first women's mosque in the United States didn't open until January 2015.[42]

Among the Hui people (but not other Muslim ethnic minorities such as the Uyghurs) Quranic schools for girls evolved into woman-only mosques and women acted as imams as early as 1820.[43] These imams are known as nü ahong (女阿訇), i.e. "female akhoond", and they guide female Muslims in worship and prayer.[44]

Due to Beijing having tight control over religious practices, Chinese Muslims are isolated from trends of radical Islam which emerged after the 1979 Iranian Revolution. According to Dr Khaled Abou El Fadl from the University of California in Los Angeles, this explains the situation whereby female imams, an ancient tradition long ended elsewhere, continue to exist in China.[45]

Among Uyghurs, it was believed that God designed women to endure hardship and work. The word for "helpless one", ʿājiza, was used for women who were not married, while women who were married were called mazlūm among in Xinjiang; however, divorce and remarriage was facile for the women.[46] The modern Uyghur dialect in Turfan uses the Arabic word for oppressed, maẓlum, to refer to "married old woman" and pronounce it as mäzim.[47] Women were normally referred to as "oppressed person" (mazlum-kishi). 13 or 12 years old was the age of marriage for women in Khotan, Yarkand, and Kashgar.[48]

During the last years of imperial China, Swedish Christian missionaries observed the oppressive conditions for Uyghur Muslim women in Xinjiang during their stay between 1892-1938. Uyghur Muslim women were oppressed and often held domestic service positions, while Han Chinese women were free and given a choice of profession.[39] When Uyghur Muslim women married Han Chinese men, the women were hated by their families and people. The Uyghur Muslims viewed single unmarried women as prostitutes and held them in extreme disregard.[49][better source needed] Child marriages for girls were very common and the Uyghurs called girls "overripe" if they were not married by 15 or 16 years old. Four wives were allowed along with any number of temporary marriages contracted by Mullahs to "pleasure wives" for a set time period.[50] Divorce and marriage was rampant, each being conducted by Mullahs simultaneously, and some men married hundreds of women and could divorce their wives for no given reason. Wives were forced to stay in the household, to be obedient to their husbands, and were judged according to how many children they could bear. Unmarried women were viewed as whores and many children were born with venereal diseases.[51][better source needed]

The birth of a girl was seen as a terrible calamity by the local Uighur Muslims and boys were worth more to them. The constant stream of marriage and divorces led to children being mistreated by stepparents.[52][better source needed]

A Swedish missionary said "These girls were surely the first girls in Eastern Turkestan who had had a real youth before getting married. The Muslim woman has no youth. Directly from childhood’s carefree playing of games, she enters life’s bitter everyday toil… She is but a child and a wife." The marriage of 9 year old Aisha to the Prophet Muhammad was cited by Uyghur Muslims to justify marrying girl children, whom they viewed as mere products. The Muslims also attacked the Swedish Christian mission and Hindus resident in the city.[53][better source needed] Lobbying by Swedish Christian missionaries led to child marriage for under 15-year-old girls to be banned by the Chinese Governor in Urumqi, although the Uyghur Muslims ignored the law.[54][better source needed]

Foreign women[edit]

Some Vietnamese women from Lao Cai who married Chinese men stated that among their reasons for doing so was that Vietnamese men beat their wives, engaged in affairs with mistresses, and refused to help their wives with chores while Chinese men actively helped their wives carry out chores and cared for them.[55]

In a study comparing Chinese and Vietnamese attitudes towards women, more Vietnamese than Chinese said that the male should dominate the family and a wife had to provide sex to her husband at his will.[56] Violence against women was supported by more Vietnamese than Chinese.[57] Domestic violence was more accepted by Vietnamese women than Chinese women.[58] However, most of these relationships emerged from poor, rural areas of Vietnam and China, and represent power dynamics at play attempting to smear Vietnam, rather than trying to promote equality instead. The consequent studies may have been a projection of Chinese and Japanese societal's East Asian flaws rather than Vietnamese, where many women in Vietnam holding top positions in business and society in the South East Asian region. 31.3 percent of businesses in Vietnam are owned by women, which places the nation sixth out of 53 surveyed economies, ahead of many European countries, as well as the US and China. [59]


Population control[edit]

One-child policy[edit]

In 1956, the Chinese government publicly announced its goal to control the exponentially increasing population size. The government planned to use education and publicity as their main modes of increasing awareness.[60] Zhou Enlai launched the first program for smaller families under the guidance of Madame Li Teh-chuan, the Minister of Health at the time. During this time, family planning and contraceptive usage were highly publicized and encouraged.[61]

The One-child policy, initiated in 1978 and first applied in 1979, mandated that each married couple may bear only one child except in the case of special circumstances.[62] These conditions included, "the birth of a first child who has developed a non-hereditary disability that will make it difficult to perform productive labour later in life, the fact that both husband and wife are themselves single children, a misdiagnosis of barrenness in the wife combined with a passage of more than five years after the adoption of a child, and a remarrying husband and wife who have between them only one child."[62] The law was relaxed in 2015.[63]

Sex selective abortion[edit]

A roadside slogan calls motorists to crack down on medically unnecessary antenatal sex identification and sex-selective pregnancy termination practices. (Daye, Hubei, 2008)

In China, males are thought to be of greater value to a family because they take on greater responsibilities, have the capacity to earn higher wages, continue the family line, receive an inheritance, and are able to care for their elderly parents.[64] The preference for sons coupled with the one-child-policy have led to a high rate of sex selective abortion in China. Therefore, mainland China has a highly masculine sex ratio. Amartya Sen, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, asserted in 1990 that over 100 million women were missing globally, with 50 million women missing from China alone. Sen attributed the deficit in the number of women to sex-selective abortion, female infanticide, and inadequate nutrition for girls, all of which have been encouraged by the One-child policy.[65] The sex ratio between male and female births in mainland China reached 117:100 in the year 2000, substantially more masculine than the natural baseline, which ranges between 103:100 and 107:100. It had risen from 108:100 in 1981—at the boundary of the natural baseline—to 111:100 in 1990.[66] According to a report by the State Population and Family Planning Commission, there will be 30 million more men than women in 2020, potentially leading to social instability.[67]

As the One-child policy limits the number of children a family can have, immense social pressures are placed upon women. Women are mostly blamed when giving birth to a girl. Women were subjected to forced abortions if they appear to be having a girl.[68] This situation led to higher female infanticide rates and female deaths in China.

Other Asian regions also have higher than average ratios, including Taiwan (110:100), which does not have a family planning policy.[69] Many studies have explored the reason for the gender-based birthrate disparity in China as well as other countries. A study in 1990 attributed the high preponderance of reported male births in mainland China to four main causes: diseases which affect females more severely than males; the result of widespread under-reporting of female births;[70] the illegal practice of sex-selective abortion made possible by the widespread availability of ultrasound; and finally, acts of child abandonment and infanticide.


Iron Fist Campaign[edit]

According to reports by Amnesty International, family planning officials in Puning City, Guangdong Province, launched the Iron Fist Campaign in April 2010.[71] This campaign targeted individuals for sterilization in an attempt to control population growth. The targeted individuals were asked to go to governmental clinics where they would be sterilized. If they refused the procedure, then they put their families at risk for detainment.[71]

The Iron Fist Campaign lasted for 20 days and targeted 9,559 individuals.[71] Approximately 50 percent consented and 1,377 relatives of targeted couples were detained.[71] Family planning officials defended the Iron Fist Campaign, asserting that the large population of migrant workers in Puning misunderstood the One-child policy and therefore had not complied with family planning regulations.[71] In an attempt to standardize family planning policies across all of China, the Population and Family Planning Law of 2002 was implemented, which protects individual rights and bans the usage of coercion or detainment.[71]

Property ownership[edit]

In current-day China, women enjoy legal equal rights to property, but in practice, these rights are often difficult to realize. Chinese women have historically held little rights to private property, both by societal customs and by law. In imperial China (before 1911 C.E.), family households held property collectively, rather than as individual members of the household. This property customarily belonged to the family ancestral clan, with legal control belonging to the family head, or the eldest male.[72]

Ancestry in imperial China was patrilineal, or passed through the male, and women could not share in the family property.[73] Upon the death of the head of the household, the property was passed to the eldest son. In the absence of an eligible son, a family would often adopt a son to continue the family line and property.[74] However, as Kathryn Bernhardt, a scholar of Chinese history points out, nearly one in three women during the Song dynasty (960-1279 C.E.) would either have no brothers or no sons, leaving them with some agency over family property. In these cases, unmarried daughters would receive their fathers’ property in the absence of direct male descendants, or an unmarried widow would choose the family heir.[74] A law enacted during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644 C.E.) required that in the absence of a direct male descendant, a man's property was to go to his nephews. With this change in law, women's access to private property was even more restricted. At that point, only if none of a man's sons and none of his brothers' sons were alive to inherit property would a daughter receive the inheritance.[73]

In most cases, the most control over family property that a widow would receive was maintenance, or the agency to control the property while an heir came of age.[74] In some cases after some reforms in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), some women could retain maintenance over undivided property even after their sons came of age.[75] Law during the Republican era interpreted this to mean that widows held complete power over sons in control of the family property.[75]

The Kuomintang, which assumed power over China in 1911, publicly advocated for gender equality, though not very many changes in property rights went into effect until the enactment of the Republican Civil Code in 1930, which changed the definitions of property and family inheritance.[74][75] The Code specified that family property legally belonged to the father, with no connection to the ancestral clan.[74] Inheritance of this property was based on direct lineage, regardless of gender, so that sons and daughters would receive an equal share of family property upon the death of their parents. Furthermore, a man's will or appointment of a different heir could not fully bypass the legally mandated inheritance structures, preventing families from holding onto gender-discriminatory customs.[74] Despite the law's equitable wording on the property, some scholars, such as Deborah Davis and Kathryn Bernhardt, point out that the legal definitions regarding property may not have entirely changed the practices of the general public.[74][76]

The People's Republic of China (PRC), which assumed control in 1949, also promised gender equality. The PRC's approach was different from the Kuomintang. With regards to land, all land was owned by the central Chinese government and allocated for people to use, so technically no one, male or female, owned land. In 1978, the Chinese government set up a household farming system that split agricultural land into small plots for villages to allocate to citizens.[77]

The land was distributed to households with legal responsibility in the family head or the eldest male. A woman's access to land was then contingent on her being part of a household. Land leases were technically supposed to transfer with marriage to a woman's marital family, but the perfect allocation of land leases was not always reached, meaning women could potentially lose land upon marriage. Such village allocations have since ceased, so the leases to the land are now passed through families.[78]

For property other than land, new Chinese laws allow for the distinction between personal and communal property. Married couples can simultaneously own some things individually while sharing others with their spouse and family. With regard to divorce, Chinese law generally demands a 50/50 split of property. The Marriage Law of 1980 defined different types of divorce that would split the conjugal property differently, such as instances of adultery or domestic violence.[76]

Since most divorce disputes are settled at a local level, the law allows courts to review specific situations and make decisions in the best interest of the children. Typically, such a decision would simultaneously favor the mother, especially in disputes over a house where the children would live. In some divorce disputes "ownership" and "use" over property would be distinguished, giving a mother and child "use" of the family house without awarding the mother full ownership of the house.[76]

Employment[edit]

If female labor force participation is used as the indicator to measure gender equality, China would be one of the most egalitarian countries in the world: female labor force participation in China increased dramatically after the founding of the People's Republic and almost reached a universal level.[79] According to a study by Bauer et al., of women who married between 1950 and 1965, 70 percent had jobs, and women who married between 1966 and 1976, 92 percent had jobs.[35]

Even though women in China are actively contributing to the paid labor force to an extent that exceeds numerous other countries, parity in the workforce has not been reached.[80] In 1982, Chinese working women represented 43 percent of the total population, a larger proportion than either working American women (35.3 percent) or working Japanese women (36 percent).[81] As a result of the increased participation in the labor force, women's contribution to family income increased from 20 percent in the 1950s to 40 percent in the 1990s.[81]

In 2019 a government directive was released banning employers in China from posting "men preferred" or "men only" job advertising, and banning companies from asking women seeking jobs about their childbearing and marriage plans or requiring applicants to take pregnancy tests.[82]

Rural work[edit]

In traditional China, the land was passed down from father to son and in the case of no son, the land was then given to a close male relative.[83] Although in the past women in China were not granted ownership of land, today in rural areas of the People's Republic of China, women possess pivotal roles in farming, which allows them control over the area's central sources of production.[84] Population greatly affects the mode of farming that is utilized, which determines the duties women have.[85] According to tishwayan Thomas Rawski, a professor of Economics and History at the University of Pittsburgh, the Shifting cultivation method is utilized in less populated areas and results in women performing more of the agricultural duties, whereas in more populated areas complicated plough cultivation is used.[86] Men typically performs plough cultivation, but during periods of high demand women pitch in with agricultural duties of planting, harvesting and transporting.[87] Women also have key roles in tea cultivation and double-cropping rice.[85] Agricultural income is supplemented by women's work in animal rearing, spinning, basket construction, weaving, and the production of other various crafts.[85]

Urban and migrant work[edit]

The People's Republic of China's dependence on low-wage manufacturing to produce goods for the international market is due to changes in China's economic policies.[88] These economic policies have also encouraged the export industries.[89] Urban industrial areas are staffed with young migrant women workers who leave their rural homes. Since males are more likely than females to attend college, rural females often migrate to urban employment in hopes of supplementing their families’ incomes.[90]

In 1984 the reform of the Regulations of Permanent Residence Registration marked an increase in the migration of rural Chinese workers. As the restrictions on residence became more lenient, less penalizing, and permitted people to travel to find employment, more women engaged in migrant labor.[90] In the cities, women could find low-paying work as factory workers. These increased employment opportunities drew women out of rural areas in hopes of escaping poverty.[90] Although this reformed system enabled the migration of rural residents, it prohibited them from accepting any benefits in the cities or changing their permanent residence, which led to a majority of migrant workers not receiving any forms of medical care, education, or housing.[90]

Nationally, male migrant workers outnumber female migrants 2:1, i.e. women comprise about 30% of the so-called 'floating population'.[90] However, in some areas, Guangdong Province, for example, the ratio favors women. In the industrial district of Nanshan in Shenzhen, 80 percent of the migrant workers were women. A preference for younger women over older women has led to a predominantly young population of migrant workers.[90] Married women have more restrictions on mobility due to duties to the family, whereas younger women are more likely to not be married. Also, younger rural women are less likely to become pregnant, possess nimble fingers, are more able to work longer hours, and are less knowledgeable about their statutory rights.[90] For the women who are able to gain employment, they then face the possibility of being forced to sign a contract prohibiting them from getting pregnant or married during their period of employment.[91] Chinese law mandates the coverage of maternity leave and costs of childbirth. These maternity laws have led to employers’ reluctance to hire women.[92]

"Feminine" jobs and professions[edit]

Along with economic reforms in China, gender differences in terms of physical appearance and bodily gestures have been made more visible through the media and commerce. This has created jobs that demand feminine attributes, particularly in the service industry. Sales representatives in cosmetics and clothing stores are usually young, attractive women who continually cultivate their feminine appearance, corresponding to images of women in advertisements.[93] Chinese women nowadays also dominate other domains of professional training such as psychotherapy. Courses and workshops in psychotherapy attract women of different ages who feel the burden of sensitively mastering social relations in and outside their households and at the same time as a channel to realize themselves as individuals not reduced to their familial roles as mothers or wives.[94]

Female Billionaires[edit]

61% of all self-made female billionaires in the world are from China, including nine out of the top 10, as well as the world's richest self-made female billionaire Zhong Huijuan.[95][96][97][98][99]

Women in politics[edit]

Women in China have low participation rates as political leaders. Women's disadvantage is most evident in their severe under representation in the more powerful political positions.[35] At the top level of decision making, no woman has ever been among the nine members of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party's Politburo. Just 3 of 27 government ministers are women, and importantly, since 1997, China has fallen to 53rd place from 16th in the world in terms of female representation at its parliament, the National People's Congress, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.[100] Party leaders such as Zhao Ziyang have vigorously opposed the participation of women in the political process.[101] Within the Chinese Communist Party women face a glass ceiling.[102]

Crimes against women[edit]

Women's safety[edit]

China is generally considered a safe place for women, having some of the lowest crime rates in the world. However, crime is systematically underreported and women continue to face discrimination in public and private spaces.[103]

Foot binding[edit]

Women with bound feet, Beijing, 1900
Women with bound feet in 1900

In 1912, following the fall of the Qing dynasty and the end of imperial rule, the Republican government outlawed foot binding,[104] and popular attitudes toward the practice began to shift by the 1920s. In 1949, the practice of footbinding was successfully banned.[105] According to Dorothy Y. Ko, bound feet can be seen as a footnote of "all that was wrong with traditional China: oppression of women, insularity, despotism, and disregard for human rights.” however they can also be seen as female empowerment within a traditional patriarchal society.[106]

Trafficking[edit]

Young women and girls are kidnapped from their homes and sold to gangs who traffic women, often displacing them by great distances.[107] Men who purchase the women often do not allow them to leave the house, and take their documentation.[108] Many women become pregnant and have children, and are burdened to provide for their family.[108]

In the 1950s, Mao Zedong, the first Chairman of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, launched a campaign to eradicate prostitution throughout China. The campaign made the act of trafficking women severely punishable by law.[109] A major component was the rehabilitation program in which prostitutes and trafficked women were provided "medical treatment, thought reform, job training, and family reintegration."[109] Since the economic reform in 1979, sex trafficking and other social vices have revived.[109][110]

Prostitution[edit]

Shortly after taking power in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party embarked upon a series of campaigns that purportedly eradicated prostitution from mainland China by the early 1960s. Since the loosening of government controls over society in the early 1980s, prostitution in mainland China not only has become more visible, but also can now be found throughout both urban and rural areas. In spite of government efforts, prostitution has now developed to the extent that it comprises an industry involving a large number of people and producing a significant economic output.[citation needed]

Prostitution has also become associated with a number of problems, including organized crime, government corruption, and sexually transmitted diseases. Due to China's history of favoring sons over daughters in the family, there has been a disproportionately larger number of marriageable aged men unable to find available women, so some turn to prostitutes instead.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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Works cited[edit]

  • Keightley, David N. (1999). "At the beginning: the status of women in Neolithic and Shang China". NAN NÜ. 1 (1): 1–63. doi:10.1163/156852699X00054.
  • Wu 吴, Xiaohua 晓华 (2009). "周代男女角色定位及其对现代社会的影响" [Role orientation of men and women in the Zhou Dynasty and their effects on modern society]. Chang'An Daxue Xuebao (Shehui Kexue Ban) (in Chinese). 11 (3): 86–92.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]