One hundred years after the secret founding of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) aboard a Shanghai ship, China is a radically different world from what the party wanted to overthrow in 1921.
People are richer, have fewer children, and have more job opportunities than their ancestors would probably have ever imagined.
But in the midst of the disorder, one thing remains the same.
Men continue to dominate political power.
There were no women present that day in Shanghai and women’s rights were not specifically mentioned, although they were widely aired as part of China’s “New Culture Movement” and the May 4 protests. 1919 that would be an inspiration to CCP leaders.
At the last National Congress of the CCP in 2017 – the event is held every five years – Women made up only 83 of 938 elite delegates, or less than 10 percent overall, according to China Data Lab, a University of California project in San Diego.
Most of the women found themselves on the Provincial Standing Committee, increasingly scarce with each step of power reaching Deputy Prime Minister Sun Chunlan, the only woman among the 25-man Politburo men.
There is not a single woman in the party’s most elite circle, the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee.
No party for young people
The absence of women is partly a dynamic of party membership and the way individuals increase ranks. Currently, women make up only a quarter of the members and, once inside, are often channeled into less competitive positions than their male counterparts.
In other words, they are losing from the beginning.
“There is probably a pro-male bias just for recruiting party members and there is a pro-male bias in putting men or women in important positions,” said Victor Shih, an associate professor at the UCSD School of Public Policy. .
“The police, Internet censorship and the military are very important and are usually male-dominated specializations. Women are usually engaged in education, Front Unit work (propaganda) and social policies. You can get to a pretty high level in that kind of specialization, but you don’t see a fast track to the top, ”he said.
To rise among the ranks, party members must achieve certain milestones in order to qualify for elite positions. Most of China’s top leaders have served as governor or party secretary of a major province or city, but there are only a handful of women in these positions, and as a result, there are few women who are considered eligible for office. senior positions.
When they are ready to take an elite position, many of the women are already reaching retirement, set at just 55 for women in China.
“It’s not like the United States, where Barack Obama or JFK, 45, can run for office,” said Richard McGregor, author of The Party: The Secret World of Communist Rlers. “You go up through the rows in a very structured way and you retire in a very structured way. It’s very rare to become a member of the Politburo before the age of 55, so that means that even with this record of women’s promotions, it’s very difficult to correct. “
While 10 percent of provincial, municipal and county leadership positions are supposed to be reserved for women, quotas are rarely met due to a deep preference for men, Valarie says. Tan, analyst at the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Germany.
Beyond institutional hurdles, Tan says women often face unexpressed cultural biases and a state push for traditional gender norms that have picked up pace under President Xi Jinping’s leadership as China faces decreased birth rate.
“Gender stereotypes or traditional historical norms are still very much present. I would say that even more under Xi Jinping, the hope is that women will get married, have to take care of their children, grow old and take care of their grandchildren, ”said Tan.
Party members make up 37.5 percent of village and neighborhood committees, but that number falls into leadership positions, according to ChinaFile, the Asia Society’s China-China Relations Center online magazine.
Women hold only 9.33 percent of positions at the county level as head of government or party secretary, down to 5.29 percent in cities and 3.23 percent at the provincial level.
“As a woman, you don’t have the resources to do other things away from home,” Tan said. “On the demand side, those in power do not want women to have superior political leadership because that would jeopardize the status quo and patriarchy.”
Despite the party’s “revolutionary” rhetoric, which has historically included stories of model workers, feminism has always been subordinated to the organization’s political and economic ambitions, says Linda Jaivin, author of China’s Shortest History.
“From the beginning, the party promoted the idea that women are strong and should be given certain rights so that they can, like men, be part of the communist project,” Jaivin said.
In fact, one of the most frequently attributed quotes to the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, President Mao Zedong – “Women keep half the sky” – was not an inspired call for women’s rights, but was triggered by a collective farm that in 1953 increased its productivity tripled after giving women the same “jobs” as men.
Although Chinese women were given a “nominal egalitarianism” from the beginning of the Mao era, the oldest practices, including gender-based violence and later preference for men, remained beneath the surface. according to the one-child policy. According to its latest census report, China has 34.9 million more men than women.
As China pivoted toward market reforms in the 1980s and opened up its economy, it was believed that practices that were largely eliminated, including concubinage or “lover culture,” and prostitution were come back.
Today, discussions about feminism and sexual harassment are censored online, while the party has also made divorce difficult, with a new “cooling-off period” mandatory even in cases of domestic violence. Other problems, such as unequal pay, also persist.
Jaivin said this is because party men are unwilling to cede power and therefore pursue policies to maintain the status quo.
“The CCP is happy to talk about strong and successful women who contribute to the nation and the party and the state media can present female delegates to the people’s national convention, but few women have serious power and none has served to the fullest. governing body, “in the Politburo Standing Committee, and one cannot talk about the structural issues holding back women that some of China’s really serious feminists would like to talk about,” Jaivin said. “It’s basically about patriarchal power holders not wanting to share power.”
However, the problems faced by women in China are not at all common in East Asia. Enemy Japan was called “democracy without women,” while men still outnumber women in politics South Korea, Taiwan i Hong Kong, although all three have had female leaders.
Also in the social realm, the gender bias persists throughout the region, said Lynette Ong, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Asian Institute at the University of Toronto. According to some measures, urban Chinese women are still better off than their neighbors in South Korea and Japan, where women continue under pressure to leave work after having children, cutting them off from their careers and any possible entry into politics.
“I would say that everything is relative, although women do not enjoy the same condition as men in China, they are better than at the beginning of the founding of the PRC. And, compared to the status of women in other Confucian societies, such as Japan, South Korea, women in China, especially those in big cities, possibly enjoy better status, in large part because they were “liberated” by President Mao, ”Ong said. .
Chinese women liberated or not, still have a long way to go before maintaining half the political sky.