China Still A Man’s World (Updated)

Forty years after Mao Zedong claimed that there would be an equal place for women in China, women continue to be underrepresented in China’s government. Many women claim that the Chinese government is still a man’s world. Despite this under-representation, Chinese women have excelled in the private sector. Bloomberg reports:

Since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949 only two women have been appointed governor of any of the country’s 31 provinces and four biggest municipalities; none serve now. By contrast, 32 women have been elected governors of the 50 U.S. states in that time.

The marginalization of half the talent pool matters because China relies on state-owned, “national champions” to help drive economic growth while preparing for a surge of retirees. The full potential of China’s women isn’t being tapped in those parts of the economy and government that are shaping the country’s future.

“In business, women advance mainly through their own abilities,” said Li Chunling, a scholar at Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “In government, advancement depends on whether your boss likes you or not.”

Pan Jintang, a professor at Beijing’s People’s University who specializes in women’s employment and welfare, said the small number of female political leaders is a natural result of the economic overhauls inaugurated more than 30 years ago. Under Mao’s Communist regime, women were promoted in government and industry as “useless decoration,” he said.

Although female entrepreneurs have experienced success, women in China face other difficulties, such as unequal incomes. The New York Times adds:

Women’s incomes are falling relative to men’s; traditional attitudes are relegating women to the home; and women’s net wealth may be shrinking. While female parliamentary representation elsewhere is rising, the percentage of women in China’s national legislature, the National People’s Congress, has flat-lined for decades at just over 20 percent.

Clearly, women in China have more rights than their sisters in Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia. Women in Egypt and other Arab states see their rights endangered or already curbed by the rise in Islamists’ power since the Arab Spring.

But China — such a rising force in other fields — is not emulating India, Europe, Latin America or African nations like South Africa and Rwanda in thrusting women to the fore.

In part, this is because the Communists fear exactly what they see in Ms. Liu: an individual demanding rights in a one-party state. As she put it, “Actually, the problem is that no Chinese citizen has any status.”

Update: Didi Kirsten Tatlow, the author of the New York Times article, also posted a piece about reporting it.

Read more about women’s rights in China and about women in politics, via CDT.