top of page

Interview with Dr. Usha Chandran on 'Status of Women in China'; By Amalu Maria Innocent

C3S Paper No. 0066/2016 


Amalu Innocent

Dr. Usha Chandran

Dr. Usha Chandran

Dr. Usha Chandran is Assistant Professor, Centre for Chinese and South East Asian Studies, School of Language Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. She shares her views with Amalu Maria Innocent, Intern, C3S on the status of women in China, via an email interview. 

Q1: Despite the provision for 50% representation for women in China’s Polit Bureau, there is only a figure of 23.4% representation observed. Is this because women are being discouraged by some quarters or is it due to the fact that women themselves do not prefer political roles?

A: This kind of national level phenomenon does not have roots in one or two factors. However the overwhelming factor is indeed that they are discouraged to go beyond a certain level in the political arena. Even to the extent that one will find most of the women party workers present in the Women’s Federation (All China Women’s Federation i.e. ACWF has its sub-federations spread all over the length and breadth of the country). Participation of women in party work is depicted by quite large a number; however they are clustered at the grass-root and medium level, even in the ACWF. Surprisingly in China, which started the Women’s Liberation movement way ahead of most countries of the world, it is strongly believed that the tasks of the Women’s Federation is purely the task of women. There is practically negligible presence of men. It is generally considered demeaning for men party workers to be part of the Women’s Federation.

Apart from this the second factor mentioned also plays a role to some extent. As far as one has observed, when women are faced with repeated failures in the ladder of their political growth they take the role of compliance with this factor in mind. That is, they convince themselves that the political role/responsibilities are better played by men since it’s a very intelligent game with the basic rule being making and maintaining relations (guanxi, in Chinese). One’s success in the political field depends entirely on his/her guanxi.*

Q2: Are the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s viewpoints on agenda for women worldwide consistent with the domestic outlook towards the female gender? (Refer

A: Among the five point agenda only four are clearly mentioned. The first one refers to a well rounded development strategy. One is at a loss to understand this statement. Does it mean all round development? If yes then I do not think China has made efforts for all round development for women. There is discrimination in every field. The nature of discrimination is not that women are not getting jobs, but in the fact that women are only getting certain types of jobs. Most of the time, they have to compromise and take up a job which is much below their potential. Therefore the next factor mentioned by Xi, that policies should be directed such that their (women’s) potential is utilized, is not happening on ground. Instead the employers in the formal sector do not prefer young women owing to women’s engagement/responsibilities of reproduction and fostering a child, which would be a loss to the employer.

One is surprised to see China adopted its first law against domestic violence only in 2014. Refer the following site:

As regards (the second agenda point) equal share in development, China has made sure it happens, since they want to use the potential of women for work. It is not their cause of concern on what type of work women want to perform or have the physical ability to do so. You will find women in all places like petrol pumps, restaurants, hotels, metro stations, in short in all service industries wherein showcasing women will benefit their profit. However, you may also see in most of the cases the supervisor of these women workers at a level higher than them will almost invariable be men.

As regarding (the third agenda point) protecting women’s rights and interest: China has been renewing its law on protecting women’s rights namely, Labour Protection Law for Women Workers in 1988. Even though this law was perhaps intended to protect women, it suited well with the gender discriminative practices of employment, especially after the reforms, when the market turned profit-oriented. Following this, women were either jobless and needing no protection anymore or employed in informal sector which does not guarantee legal protection. Thus as mentioned earlier, most of the women are employed in informal sector, which does not come under the preview of these laws.

In 1992, the Chinese Women’s Rights Protection Law was introduced. According to this law there will be no discrimination of minority nationalities, races, gender and religion in employment. It further states that women have equal employment rights with men and except for those work places that are unsuitable to women; units shall not refuse to employ women, on the ground of gender, or raise the recruiting standard for women. It also clearly mentioned that no unit shall dismiss or unilaterally terminate a work contract of women employees on ground of their marriage, pregnancy, maternity leave or child bearing, etc.

In 1993, the Regulation for State-Owned Enterprises issued insurance for laid-off workers, wherein the enterprises were asked to pay insurance to laid-off workers for two years, assuming that the worker will get another job in two years. If they did not get job, they could ask for social relief fund. Besides, in 1994, the Labour Law of the Peoples Republic of China was also announced. Apart from including all major regulations adopted by the government in the field of employment, it also outlined the new protective minimum wage system, stipulating that the employers must guarantee minimum wages, salaries not less than the local minimum wage standard. Owing to the fact that the labour hiring system was under indirect control of the State and was characterized by ‘optimal labour composition’ and competitive employment, it became a pretext for the employers to lay-off female workers. It was observed by several studies that when the employers were given freedom to choose their employees, women workers found it difficult to get work. In the absence of any mechanism to monitor the practice of hiring and firing, the discriminatory practice of non-recruitment and laying-off of women and unfavourable working conditions for women workers flourished and took a firm ground. The underlying reason behind such prejudice could be the attitude of gender discrimination, which stems from the ideas of male superiority, all the more, since most employers were men. Besides, labour protection laws are relaxed in the export processing zones so as to attract foreign investors. They work in poor conditions, low-wages, long working hours, and with lack of safety standards. A law against sexual harassment at work came as recent as August 2005. China’s legislature passed amendments to the Law on women’s rights protection, which ‘prohibits sexual harassment of women and empowers women to ‘lodge complaints’ to relevant organizations.

Apart from this in China, women’s development work directly corresponds to women’s participation in economic development and the social sphere. Most of the time women do not have the choice to stay at home. Therefore while looking at China you cannot look with a pure Indian lens of givens for women in India.

As regards (the final agenda point) global environment, if it refers to infrastructure then surely China has improved its infrastructure at a global level. Moreover, people in general do not behave in a gendered way on public spaces. Women are free and safe especially in all the big and small cities even in the middle of the night.

Q3: Xi Jinping mentions that ‘outdated mentalities and customs inhibiting women’s development’ should be dismissed. Is he indirectly referring to China’s One Child policy?

A: No, I do not think he is referring to the One Child policy. I feel none of the leaders would publicly, directly or in directly criticise the policy. I think he is referring to the general gendered view on women being incompetent, or reducing women’s role to domestic beings.

Q4: The One Child Policy has indirectly contributed to trafficking of women from other countries to China. Should the solution lie only within China or should other countries also put pressure on Beijing?

A: Well, China has recently adopted the two child policy. This decision is also not owing to any kind of concern for women, it is purely due to the growing concern of unequal demography of China. China will face the problem of 70 % of the population becoming elderly, (in contrast to) 30% of their young population.

Q5: A significant section of Chinese society and media term educated single working Chinese women over the age of 30 years of age as Sheng Nu/ Left over women. In the developed world such women are seen as empowered. How does this prejudice deter Xi’s vision for women in China?

A: The issue of the growing number of unmarried women, literally called “left over women” (剩女), has turned into a national issue of debate in China. Interestingly enough, very few people outside China know that this term was coined by the government. The Chinese government disseminated it to warn women that they will become spinsters if they do not marry by the time they turn 30. The irony of the media campaign is that China’s sex-ratio imbalance has resulted in a surplus of tens of millions of men who will not be able to find a bride. This is the main reason that the government has taken up this task….So, I feel Xi will not do anything to change this or revert the government’s view on this.

Q6: China has the second highest number of female CEO’s in the world. What makes them succeed despite the existing prejudices against women in China?

A: When we make opinions according to figures we always miss out on seeing two factors, one, that China is world’s most populated country; second, that China is the fastest growing economy, and the engine of its growth is propelled by the government itself. However, I feel if there is more research into the struggle and life of these CEOs one would get a deeper picture. However, the fact also remains that in China women have relatively more acceptance and freedom for being successful entrepreneurs as compared to India or highly populated developing countries.

Q7: Can One Child Policy of China be seen as a boon as well as a bane considering the economic profit and independency it has given to them while taking away their freedom of choice?

A: Yes of course it was both a boon and bane but as a nation state one has to be clear about your goals, whether it is economic development or social development. China cannot be called a socialist country in this sense then, whereas India in spite of being democratic has always kept its vow of being a socialist country in policy matters.

Q8: How has the One Child Policy influenced family, culture and lifestyles in China?

A: The main trends are of a of nuclear family along with one or two sets of parents staying nearby to help bring up the one child leading to several conflict of interest and opinions, the one child being pampered by six grown-ups on the one hand and the one child facing expectations of six grown-ups on the other hand, since all the child’s demands are fulfilled it turns into a spoilt brat, the child being called the king of the family (since many parents indulge in sex selective abortion to have a boy as the only child, the term king ‘xiaowang‘ is coined perhaps, as there is no corresponding term for girls) ….all these aspects are very interesting to look at.

Q9: The relaxation of One Child policy still wouldn’t be able to compensate for the imbalances it created. What other policies are being taken regarding the aging population?

A: Yes, even the two child policy adopted recently will not be able to compensate for the loss already made. As far as I know there are no policies, apart from increasing the easily available health insurance schemes.

Q10: How do you see the future for the women in China evolving?

A: The future for women in China is very difficult to predict. The fact remains that there are changing variations of understanding on what is women’s liberation, whether it is in China or any other country of the world. In China it started with the understanding that women’s lib is economic liberation. However following economic liberation it was realised that this does not give complete liberation, especially since women are mostly secondary earners. Then came the right to education and the right to enhance one’s potential to succeed economically. Then with reforms and globalization came a woman’s right to employment corresponding to her education and potential. Recently there is an increasing awareness that real liberation is when women can make choices. But most of the time theses choices are a result of cultural givens. Thus I personally feel only when every woman is able to identify what is liberation for her and then strives towards achieving it, women, be it in any part of the world, will surely move towards liberation.

*One may refer to the following hyperlinked article and to understand the importance of ‘guanxi’ in China:

(Amalu Maria Innocent is an Intern with the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Email id: The views expressed are Dr. Usha Chandran’s own.)

4 views0 comments


bottom of page