Chinese culture has always placed a greater value on the male gender. 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 2021, the surplus of men among young adults of marriageable age of 20 to 24 years was around 113 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 genders 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 significant changes 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 Mongolia, Malaysia, and Australia.
Along with some improvements in female empowerment in the labor market, the deep-seeded internalization of stereotypical gender roles in Chinese society has been challenged as well. An increasing number of young women, mostly in urban areas, decide not to marry and have children. In recent years, women are more aware of their rights, are willing to seek help and to speak up. In 2022, the issue of women’s rights sparked nationwide discussions and protests after two incidents of violence against women were escalated on Chinese social media. In October that year, the National People’s Congress passed a revision of the women’s protection law, which includes new measures against sexual abuse, trafficking, and workplace discrimination. The revision is a big improvement; however, a lot of Chinese female activists continue to fight for the new regulations being put in practice.
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.