Sunday, September 14, 2008

Women in the People's Republic of China

Since 1949, the government of People's Republic of China has actively promoted the social, economic and political roles of women in society. While advancing progress in promoting , the efforts met resistance in a traditionally Confucian society of male superiority.

Historical perspective

Traditional Chinese society has been male-centered. Sons were preferred to daughters, and women were expected to be subordinate to fathers, husbands, and sons. Far fewer women were educated than men, and many of their readings consist of book such as NĂ¼ Xun and LienĂ¼ zhuan, which instruct them to be subjects of men. Sketchy but consistent demographic evidence tends to show that female infants and children had higher death rates and less chance of surviving to adulthood than males. In extreme cases, female infants were the victims of infanticide, and daughters were sold, as chattels, to brothels or to wealthy families. Bound feet, which were customary even for peasant women, symbolized the painful constraints of the female role.

Throughout the thousands of years of Chinese history, it was common for rich Chinese men to have a wife and various concubines. Before the establishment of the People's Republic of China, it was lawful to have a wife and multiple concubines within Chinese marriage.

All-China Women's Federation

In 1949, All-China Women's Federation was founded to "represent and to protect women’s rights and interests, and to promote equality between men and women." It was a multi-tier GONGO organization "with local women’s federations and group members at every divisional level of government."

Progress in promoting equality

"In 1949, when the PRC was founded, employed women accounted for only 7% of the workforce; in 1992, however, the figure was 38%. Women's contribution to family income went from 20% in the 1950s to 40% in the 1990s. In 1982, Chinese working women made up 43% of the total population, higher than the percentages enjoyed by American women or Japanese women ."

Gender disparity

The at birth in mainland China reached 117:100 in the year 2000, substantially higher than the natural baseline, which ranges between 103:100 and 107:100. It had risen from 108:100 in 1981 -- at the boundary of the natural baseline -- to 111:100 in 1990. According to a report by the State Population and Family Planning Commission, there will be 30 million more men than women in 2020, potentially leading to social instability. The correlation between the increase of sex ratio disparity on birth and the deployment of one child policy would appear to have been caused by the one-child policy.

However, other Asian regions also have higher than average ratios, including Taiwan , and South Korea , which do not have a family planning policy. Many studies have explored the reason for the gender-based birthrate disparity in China as well as other countries. A study in 1990 attributed the high preponderance of reported male births in mainland China to four main causes: diseases which affect females more severely than males; the result of widespread under-reporting of female births; the illegal practice of sex-selective abortion made possible by the widespread availability of ; and finally, acts of child abandonment and infanticide. It can be argued that the preference of boys over girls has been amplified by the implementation of the policy, however, given the multiple factors that may produce such sex ratios, it is inappropriate to attribute the ratios directly to the policy.


Shortly after taking power in 1949, the Communist Party of China embarked upon a series of campaigns that purportedly eradicated prostitution from mainland China by the early 1960s. However, since the loosening of government controls over society in the early 1980s, prostitution in mainland China not only has become more visible, but also can now be found throughout both and rural areas. In spite of government efforts, prostitution has now developed to the extent that it comprises an industry, one that involves a great number of people and produces a considerable economic . Prostitution has also become associated with a number of problems, including organized crime, government corruption and sexually transmitted diseases.

Second wives

The phenomenon of de facto polygamy, or so-called "second wives" , has reemerged in recent years. There are many villages in southern part of China, such as Shanghai and Guangzhou, where predominantly such women live.
This situation has created many social and legal issues.

Further reading

* by the Asian Development Bank

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