Women in contemporary China: an Outline


1. History:

Historically, women lacked equal status with men, and did not have legal status (before 1912). Polygamy was practiced because of the Confucian emphasis on male heirs (more wives, more chances of sons, and more sons). Concubines (second, third, ...wives) lacked legal status and could be sold.

2. Communist China (1949-1978):

Granted women equality with men ("women hold up half of the sky.").
Denied women symbolic differences from men as part of a larger plan to reduce individual differences and individuality for socialist collectivism.
Equating femininity with the bourgeois or traditional Chinese culture, linking gender differences to the capitalist or traditional cultures that Communist China wanted to leave behind.

3. China in economic reform (1978-now)

Gradually restoring women to a more feminine representation, both as result of a more open society where individual differences are more recognized, and as result of the market mechanism that require China shed its inefficient excessive labor force. Women are encouraged to resume their more traditional roles in the household so that more men can keep their jobs.

Although the importance of women is less emphasized in today's China, because of the Communist legacy and because of the one child policy, girls and young women (especially educated) continue to have great importance attached to them in the mass media and in various professions. Job discrimination against women, however, has become more frequent. Women university graduates report instances when their bosses pin hiring or promotion upon sexual favors.