Who are China’s feminists? What are they fighting for? And does a feminist movement in contemporary China after all exist? “Feminism in China – An Analysis of Advocates, Debates, and Strategies,” the first comprehensive study on Chinese feminism, gives answers to these questions.
The study, published by FES Shanghai, looks at feminism in China over the last century. The author, university professor Shen Yifei takes as the focus of the study the origins of feminism in the country at the beginning of the twentieth century. She continues to present feminist actors and arguments after the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 and the ensuing changes from the start of the Reform and Opening-Up policy in 1978 until today.
The steep economic growth that began with the reforms of 1978 did not automatically translate into more gender equality.
While state feminism as enforced by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) after the founding of the PRC brought enormous progress concerning the participation of Chinese women in employment and public life, the steep economic growth that began with the reforms of 1978 did not automatically translate into more gender equality.
The reform process guaranteed greater freedom of choice and development potentialities for men and women. Yet, liberalized (job) markets also stimulated new forms of gender discrimination. These are demonstrated, for example, by a widening gap in men’s and women’s employment rates and wages, inequality in social security and a “thicker” glass ceiling for women than for men.
Efforts by feminist scholars and younger generation of activists remain scattered
These and other setbacks have been addressed by feminist scholars and by a younger generation of feminist activists who have appeared on the scene in the last years. Yet, their efforts remain scattered and a major dialogue on these challenges including different feminist actors has still to happen.
Indeed, gender equality has been a national policy for decades, but implementation is lagging and traditional stereotype gender images are persistent and even experience a comeback. It will take more time and combined efforts of the public and the private sector, until women in China really “hold up half of the sky” – as famously stated by Mao Zedong in the 1970s.
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