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Women in China

Throughout most of China’s history, men have been seen as the core of the family and society at large. Women’s roles were primarily kinship roles: daughter, sister, wife, mother, etc. In all these roles, the women were strictly required to accord with the wishes and needs of men. In modern China, as in much of the rest of the world today, old suppressive practices were criticized; foot binding, widow chastity, parental control of marriage, and concubinage have all been eliminated. However, after decades of Communism followed by years of economic liberalism, Chinese society remains, in some ways, very attached to its social and family traditions.

Chinese culture has always placed a greater value on the male sex. Throughout history, when socio-economic circumstances forced Chinese families to limit the number of children, sons were preferred over daughters, creating a shortage of young females. As a result of the one-child policy (introduced in China in 1979), many girls were selectively aborted or received poorer healthcare than boys and died very young. Consequently, China is currently one of the rare countries in the world with more men than women. According to official estimates of 2019, the surplus of men among young adults of marriageable age of 20 to 24 years was almost 115 to 100. This infamous deficit of young Chinese females is naturally accompanied by several social, demographic and economic problems, including black markets for brides and increased age-gaps between spouses.

On the other hand, China is one of the world’s first countries in which demands for the emancipation of women and the struggle for equality between the sexes appeared on the political agenda – the first feminist movements in China date back to the mid-nineteenth century. As early as the 1950s, concrete action was organized in favor of female work outside the home and for equality of spouses. In recent decades, Chinese women have undoubtedly gained more economic independence, higher education, and professional qualifications. Some even speak of the emerging female entrepreneur elite whose social success has become one of the symbols of the Chinese economic boom. In 2019, the share of the adult Chinese population involved in business startup activities was quite close among females and males – 7.9 and 9.4 percent respectively.

Employment in general for Chinese women has undergone major transformations over the last decades. Data show that the female unemployment rate is lower than that of male unemployment in China and lower than the unemployment rate among women from other Asia-Pacific countries like Sri Lanka, Mongolia, and even Australia and New Zealand. Along with some improvements in female empowerment in the labor market and politics, the deep-seeded internalization of stereotypical gender roles in Chinese society has been challenged in recent years. A survey revealed that attributes most strongly associated with femininity by women were “independence”, “maternity”, “aggressiveness”, and “energy”. In addition, gender equality was personally important to 86 percent of Chinese female as of 2018.

The place of Chinese women in society and family is currently still undergoing major transformations. Many women and girls are still facing discrimination, inequality and even violence, especially in rural areas. However, the evolution of the female status in China, while somewhat ambivalent, is likely taking the right direction.

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