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The Gender Imbalance in China: History and Overview

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Cultural Studies
Wordcount: 2484 words Published: 19th Jun 2018

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Carl Max identified social class as the definitive origin of classism as well as of oppression in regards to women. In respect to China, leaders assumed that the birth of the Republic brought with it the demise of class-based discrimination thereby liberating women. But this is not particularly the case as the new society was characterized by amplified efforts to transform the society through masculinization as women became increasingly pressured to act as well as dress in a manly manner. In this respect, the period encompassing the Cultural Revolution saw “women who tried to look feminine” criticized “for their improper attitudes” (Ownby, 351). This submission will seek to “In China’s Modern Economy, a Retro Push against Women” appearing in the New York Times in regards to the picture it paints in relation to gender in China to ordinary American reader. Based on the course as well as various course materials, the article will be critiqued in regards to the manner in which it displaces various figures presented by the course.

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The economic explosion in China has created an array of opportunities for Chinese women on the one hand, but has equally fostered a renaissance of long-introverted traditional values. Increasingly, men as well as women hold the hold the opinion that a woman’s place in society is confined to the home. In this regard, affluent men take mistresses in what epitomizes a modern resurgence of concubines coupled with increasing pressure for women to marry early. In the workplace and particularly the corporate scene, the Socialist-epoch consensus has been substituted with open sexism, which in some intances is toughened by the law (Tatlow and Forsythe, 1).

This summation is consistent with the requirement that women bind their feet as the men did as outlined by predetermined cultural norms as well as practices to in an effort to fulfill the need to use the body as attire and therefore use the body as reflection of the society. “The body was a signpost that could be rearranged by a person to show political allegiance or defiance. The mass hysteria that enforced conformity to Manchu attire unleashed, in turn, affords new insights into the gendered nature of conceptions of the body” (Ko, 20).

Patriarchal Society

In regards to the article and the impression created to the general reader in America, China is not the society that has been portrayed in various media. It is not a model state in relation to the place of women in the society in comparison with other parts of Asia. The regime has gone to great lengths to portray women as being equal to their male counterparts by declaring their role in the society as being equal to the half the sky (Tatlow and Forsythe, 2). However, the reality is that women still play second fiddle to men and what the Chinese authorities are trying to do is present as false picture to the world in order to justify their position as a global leader underlined by the need to achieve gender equity as well as equality. However, this conclusion does not present itself clearly from the article but the underlying theme of the article is predicated on debunking the erroneous myths advanced to the ordinary American reader.

Indeed, while the women in corporate America are struggling with the glass ceiling, their counterparts in China are battling a different and more potent form of career discrimination: the sticky floor. Though the glass ceiling does prevail in China, most women do not seem to progress from the point they entered a career in. They will remain there playing a predefined role in order to meet a specific target. The reality presented here is one where the society tries to maintain as well as control traditional values as opposed to promoting the ideals of a modern woman within a contemporary society.

To the American reader, having a woman or several of them in on the board of public or private organization is standard practice due to the inherent advantages within the global business context. However, in the Chinese society as presently constituted, this notion is met with misunderstanding and to some extent boredom by business and government leaders. At this point, the question that begs is why this trend is so prominent in China particularly in state-owned organizations where for instance, a majority of the firms making up the CS300 assemblage do not have women directors despite being owned by the state which could simply make an executive order and make it a requirement for the fairer sex to be represented.

A closer look at the article reveals a situation where the society as it were tries to justify why women are still being oppressed and confined to peripheral roles within the great economic renaissance sweeping through China. In this regard, women should be blamed for the precarious situation they find themselves in the present society as they have failed to fight for equality (Tatlow and Forsythe, 3). This conclusion could not deviate further from the truth as the society as presently assembled fails to facilitate the creation of a conducive environment for women to demand their rightful place in the social, economic as well as political realm. Take the Leadership of the Chinese Communism Part as a case in point. The party is primarily dominated by the male gender throughout its ranks. In fact, no woman has ever expressed any intention of ascending to its leadership and by extension the leadership of the Republic due to the patriarchal nature of the current political dispensation that then defines the interactions within the other facets of the society. Further “the feminine qualities of irrationality, willingness, regret, romanticism, and love of illusion” have been carried forward to the present generation and as such continue to determine the role women play in the society as regards politics (Barlow and Bjorge, 316).

Republican China

It is important to take cognizance of the fact that the situation presented by the article has not been sustained throughout the entire history of China. It is therefore important to examine the function women have played historically particularly during the initial decades of the twentieth century- an aspect that has not been adequately examined by the authors. In this regard, the Guomindang Civil Code during the last decade of the 20th century recognized the vital role of an individual in regards to legal purposes. Women were consequently accorded passive agency which, enabled them to resist or endure abuse and if their resistance was judged insufficient, they were criminally liable. Consequently, women were regarded as active agents as well totally autonomous and like men; they controlled their own choices in marriage, sought divorce and inherited property. These then laid the foundation of the new republican society in China (Hershatter, 24).

This means that the present society in China was build through an appreciation of the critical role that both sexes can play in building a modern society predicated on class as well as social equality. As previously Stated, the leadership within the Republic views women as holding up half the sky and this statement is therefore not as misplaced as the article would like to portray to the common folk in America. The only difference here being that over time and particularly in the years following the Cultural Revolution, the society changed and perceived the role of women as confined to the home setting. This is why women are today encouraged or rather pressured into marrying early and therefore leaving their career to raise children.

New Woman versus Modern Girl

The change in gender and sexuality in China during the preliminary decades of this epoch, was first and foremost motivated by the recognition that confining women to their conformist roles within the confines of home and away from the work force meant that their potential to add to the revolution required in the country would remain unexploited and consequently restrain the productivity required to build a modern society as well as economy. To realize this nationalistic goal, China had no option but to construct a novel woman- one who would contribute positively to the state as well as the nation. This woman would be detached from conventional female seclusion based on the fact that labor or gender roles were “linked with family disaster, with hardship, and barely getting by” (Hershatter, 57).

However after China achieved its intended goal as regards to creating a new state, it seems that it was widely believed that women had made their contribution and such, would not be required in China and their place was subsequently their role was confined to the domestic realm. Though a great read, the article fails to take cognizance of these facts in order to give the common reader a lucid picture as to the important contribution made by Chinese women throughput various stages of its illustrious history. What the article does is portray a society that never went through various transformations since the Maoist era where discussing such issues like “personal life, romantic relationships, or sex was considered bourgeois and hence taboo” (Honig, 143). The new woman created during the creation of the republic therefore differs markedly from the modern girl in the sense that the latter has no role to pray in furthering the goals of the current dispensation as was the case with the latter. In this regard, it is important to note that the Cultural Revolution succeeded in creating a modern woman but did not extend the benefits to the modern woman.

Positionality in Modern China

The current position of women in China is borne out of the realization that the communist regime emphasized gender equality in an effort to unite the two sexes as the nation focused attention on building socialism. The general picture portrayed here is one that depicts gender equality rhetoric that basically epitomizes the reality of inequality in the present society, where women are no more than keepers of the home and therefore cannot play any significant or make any significant contribution to Modern China. Women were only accorded equal status as men in order to for them to get educated and therefore reflect the aspiration of the new Republic.

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From the article appearing in the New York Times, it is important to examine what being a woman in the current society in China means in regards to the dynamic responsibilities in workplaces as well as the society. The changing social in addition to economic fabric has created numerous opportunities in regards to Chinese women but it is important to interrogate whether these transformations have impacted the roles of women in any significant way. In this respect, a Chinese woman is required by the society, to continue playing her traditional values as espoused by the traditional values esteemed by the cultural stratum while at the same time utilizing the opportunities as well as freedoms presented by the new China (Tatlow and Forsythe, 4).

In addition, the growing middleclass living lucratively within the cities is focused on giving their daughter the opportunities they never hand in order to compete effectively with their male colleagues but the idea that women should marry early and consequently leave their careers early in order to raise their children still underlines their perspectives as regards the role of women. This conclusion is supported by fact that even though the Chinese society has changed profoundly in the last few decades, just like other women in the world, they have to strike a balance work and family responsibility if they are going to gain their rightful place in the society (Tatlow and Forsythe, 5). In this respect, a woman can be on the one hand an individual while on the other represent numerous characters. This is markedly different from the manner in which men are viewed as they are only required to be individuals without other characters irrespective of the setting.

It is clear that the society under consideration is more opened-minded and continues to recognize the important contribution of women towards social and economic as well as political advancement but societal pressures still persist. Gender differences will therefore continue to influence the way women are viewed and as such, they will never be truly emancipated. Indeed, the powerful assumptions that women are obliged to marry early and consequently focus their energies on families after the birth of a child will account for inherent disparities going forward. More importantly, despite the provisions in law prohibiting discrimination, the vagueness in the writing as well as spirit will continue to maintain the status quo and as such, women will repose as well as reside in the realm of second citizenly from where they cannot make any significant contribution to the future of China (Tatlow and Forsythe, 6).


The article, “In China’s Modern Economy, a Retro Push against Women” is great read in regards to painting a true picture of the position women hold in contemporary China. It portrays gender as defining factor in interactions within the society. To the American reader, it depicts are a markedly different situation since the women in the corporate sector there are battling the sticky floor as opposed to the glass ceiling. In essence, the article underscores the need within the society to restrict women to a particular rank without giving them any incentive to progress as societal needs in regards to gender roles must at all times supersede the need to progress career-wise.

Works cited

Barlow, Tani E and Bjorge Gary J. I Myself Am A woman: Selected writings of Ding Ling. Boston: Boston Press, 1989. Print.

Hershatter, Gail. National Countermemories: The Gender of Memory: Rural Chinese Women and the 1950s. Gender and Cultural Memory, 2002: 43-70. Print.

Honig, Emily. Socialist Sex: The Cultural Revolution Revisted. Modern China 29.2, 2003: 143-175. Print.

Ko, Dorothy. The Body As Attire: The Shifting Meaning of Footbinding in Sebenteeth Century China. Journal of Women’s History, 1997: 8-27. Print.

Ownby, David. The Gender of Rebels. Du, Shanshan and Ya-chen Chen. Women and Gender in Contemporary Chinese Societies: Beyond Han Patriarchy. Lexington Books, 2013. 385-386. Print.

Tatlow, Didi Kirsten and Michael Forsythe. In China’s Modern Economy, a Retro Push Against Women. New York Times, 20th February 2015. Web.


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