20 Years After the World Conference on Women: Chinese Women’s Rights Advancing with Difficulty

Source: WRIC                            Translated by Tony Flannery


Jing Zhang attended the Democracy Forum of China in Australia and gave the speech about the Chinese women’s liberation movement.

In the beginning of the 1990s, while an economically-recovering China was anxious to join the international trend, there was a popular term in China at the time: “jie gui”—to get on track, to want to link up with the world again on all fronts. Hosting the 1995 World Conference on Women became a turning point, particularly for helping the Chinese government to gradually move away from the predicament of having been isolated by Western countries after the Tiananmen Incident in 1989. China actively hosted a large-scale international event, striving to participate more in international affairs. In 1991, after it had been decided that the World Conference on Women would be held in Beijing, the Chinese government began a large amount of preparation work, including revising the Law on the Protection of Rights and Interests of Women and signing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The official All-China Women’s Federation added over ten auxiliary groups. The 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing’s Huairou district seemed like a shot in the arm, provoking long-silent leading Chinese female intellectuals to pursue feminism and inspiring them to reconsider gender, equal rights, and the women’s liberation movement. These exemplary women were the first to realize that “women’s rights are human rights too”. With the attention of government and society on women’s rights and the women’s liberation movement, it was as though a spring breeze had caressed the parched earth. Around the time of the World Conference on Women, Chinese NGOs had already developed into six groups. The women involved were the first group of pioneers of the women’s rights movement in over sixty years of Chinese communism. Of the cohort of women’s rights activists who have appeared since the year 2000, Sun Yat-sen University’s Professor Ai Xiaoming is regarded as the primary promoter of grassroots women’s rights movements.

The deepest effect that the World Women’s Forum brought China was the rise of NGOs and loosely knit groups of grassroots women’s rights activists. Unfortunately, the government strictly controlled these groups, not letting NGOs make use of their full capabilities. It suppressed the loosely knit groups of grassroots women’s rights activists, which disabled the effective implementation of related legislation, thereby wiping out its essential meaning. Next I will divide the last several decades, particularly after the Beijing World Women’s Forum, into aspects such as political, economic, social, cultural, and the rise of NGOs to discuss the state of development for Chinese feminism and the women’s liberation movement. The data cited are all statistics published by official or semi-official Chinese organizations. It is believed that in the relevant departments, the data underwent strict screening to be approved for publication, based on the rules of the state’s Official Secrets Act.

The Misshapen Women’s Rights Movement during the Cultural Revolution

100 years ago, as various powers invaded China, they also brought with them western civilization. Chinese female intellectuals quickly cast off the burden of foot-binding and stood out in the street proclaiming new ideas of gender equality. They actively participated in the New Culture Movement and turned the page on the international media’s stereotypes. From 1912 to 1913, the female political participation movement of the early republican period initiated by Tang Qunying and other pioneering women was China’s first large-scale women’s rights movement. These women pushed straight from the stage of theoretical proof to the stage of practical struggle. One after another, they organized the three great women’s organizations: the Women’s Political Alliance, the Shenzhou [a historical name for China] Women’s World Republican Association, and the All Nations Women’s Political Participation Forum. According to accounts, because of the Nationalist government’s program to remove wording about gender equality, these women even publicly denounced Song Jiaoren, political leader and a founder of the Kuomintang, and Lin Sen, Chairman of the National Government. After this, the female political participation movement that these women promoted allowed ten female representatives in Guangdong to sit straight and strong in seats of provincial parliament, the first time this had been seen in any Asian country. The Chinese women’s liberation movement was basically in step with the international community’s, particularly in countries like England, France, and America. But a succession of civil and international wars killed the feminist zeitgeist in its cradle and destroyed the essence of the New Culture Movement. The women’s rights movement seemed like a flash in the pan.

Picture27          Picture26

This is a principle of China’s traditional beauty standard for women: feet had to be three inches small to be the most beautiful (WRIC Information)”


The 1921 New Culture Movement (Source: traditions.cultural-china.com)

After the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) established a new regime in 1949, a clause on gender equality was added to the new constitution because of Marxist doctrine’s abundant feminist elements. By substantiating the theoretical basis of the socialists at the level of reality, the demands of gender equality were also essential ingredients for the new rulers of modern history to begin placating the nation. The first constitution enacted in 1954 expressly stipulated that women enjoy the same rights as men in politics, economy, culture, society, and family life. But a few decades after this, Chinese women’s rights and benefits were defiled until there was nothing left. The only thing society respected was the might of Mao Zedong. After Mao launched the political movement of the Cultural Revolution, his wife Jiang Qing raised the banner of gender equality anew to achieve her own political ambitions. As part of the “Chairman Mao” convoy, the first lady reached the forefront of the political arena. Together with Vice Chairman Lin Biao’s wife Ye Qun, she entered the upper echelon of the Central Committee’s Politburo. From there she used government force to spread a fake feminism with the goal of political struggle. Chinese women regarded floral clothes, high heels, makeup, and perms as disgraceful. All over the country on giant propaganda signs seen everywhere were formidable-looking women, women wearing hard hats or standing on electrical poles. But another equally ubiquitous image made a strong contrast with this one: women with black signs hung from their necks with “slut” and “whore” written on them, women trussed up and standing on flatbed trucks or paraded through the streets on foot to be pelted with rocks and rubble and spat upon by adults and children. Ten years into the Cultural Revolution, women who had been humiliated and abused to the point of madness or death were everywhere.

In 1976, Mao died and the era of Mao was proclaimed over. China entered the first round of a new phase with Deng Xiaoping in total control of political power. After the economy had been revitalized, women’s rights and benefits were once again cast into the eighteenth level of hell [the deepest level of Buddhist hell].

The Number of Women in Politics Has Gone Down, Not Up in 30 Years

Data from the third “Social Status of Women” investigative report by the All-China Women’s Federation show that in the more than 30 years from the 1975 Fourth National People’s Congress to 2012, the proportion of female representatives at the People’s Congress always hovered around 21%. It wasn’t until 2013 that there was an increase in the number of female representatives to 23.4%, a far cry from the 30% proposed by the UN for female participation in the national legislature by 2015. 2.2% of employed women are in leadership roles in government organizations, party committees, and businesses—barely 50% of the corresponding rate for employed men. 80.5% of high-level company employees are men, while at 30.8% of these companies, men are promoted faster than equally qualified women. The All-China Women’s Federation report also reveals that the proportion of women in the People’s Congress has slid sharply in the international ranking of the proportion of female legislators, from sixteenth place in 1997 to fifty-sixth place.

In April 2010, the UN allocated 24,560,000 USD to Hunan to conduct the “Enhancing Chinese Women’s Political Participation” program hoping to improve China’s unfulfilled promise to increase the proportion of women in politics. This four-year program has already finished, but up to the present we have not seen whether there were any practical results.

In the absence of real legal safeguards, the issue of promoting female political participation in China is beyond difficult. On top of that, in an environment rife with official corruption, the process of concrete implementation or operation will naturally have a large amount of fraud, as well as cases of public persecution. Throughout this whole process, women are severely deprived of the right to participate in and discuss politics.

In Guangdong’s Foshan, female villager Li Biyun’s bitter experience with demanding political participation is a typical case. At the end of August, 2011, Foshan City’s Shunde District began elections for district- and town-level representatives to the National People’s Congress. Li Biyun exercised her right as a citizen and announced that she would run for Shunde People’s Congress representative as an independent candidate. Because Li Biyun had long paid attention to the villagers and helped defend their land rights, she was well-respected. She received the supporting signatures of 600 villagers in Rongli and became one of the candidates. Without a political background or party membership, she was followed, harassed, beaten up, and even robbed of her belongings and materials. During the next round of the election, the local election office used an illegal procedure to assign 60 people to narrow down the candidates further, and the frontrunner Li Biyun was thrown out. This provoked intense controversy among the villagers, and in the midst of the controversy someone smashed a ballot box and a scuffle broke out in which both sides sustained minor injuries.

In September 2011, Shunde police arrested Li Biyun for undermining the election. While in jail she suffered injuries from police beatings. When she met with her lawyer, she held an IV in one hand and her legs were in shackles. When Li Biyun’s case went to court, hundreds gathered holding slogans in support of her. On September 9, 2013, her charge of “undermining an election” was judged unsound and she was released.

One month later, in October 2013, the police once again used the crime of “interference with public function” to arrest and detain her. Because of netizen and media attention, on December 18, 2014 her punishment was remitted. When she was released, the police kidnapped her from jail and left her by the side of a highway. At this point she was sick, angry, and in extremis. The 46 year-old Li Biyun’s body was wracked with pain, and in January 2015 she was hospitalized for treatment.


Left: Li Biyun in the hospital. (Provided by Li Biyun’s family)

Separately, a steelworker named Liu Ping in Jiangxi’s Xinyu City also suffered the unfairness of elections. Comparatively speaking, she wasn’t physically tormented like Li Biyun; that may be a difference between cities and rural areas. Liu Ping was born in 1964, and in 2009 was forced to retire. At the time she was 45. Since then she has advocated for paid leave and overtime pay. On May 12, 2011, Liu Ping announced that she would run for People’s Congress and introduced herself to voters. In response, she was taken away by the police and warned. The water and electricity in her house were cut off, and voters who recommended Liu Ping were all sought out by the police for “chats.” As a result, her supporters grew afraid, which harmed her candidacy. In the end, Liu Ping did not cross the threshold for candidacy, but her story did provoke public anger among netizens. This case reflects the fact that at a basic level, the government is extremely hostile to independent candidates, and making things hard for them by any means available is a widespread phenomenon. In 2014, Liu Ping was sentenced to six years in prison for holding a sign in the street demanding that Chinese high officials disclose their property holdings. (Listen to Liu Ping discuss her struggles running for office at http://youtu.be/llTVgEqsDTo.) A woman running as an independent candidate is doubly beaten down. On the one hand, male supremacy is deep-seated among current leaders, who have mixed feelings about women candidates who are not at home cooking and raising children. On the other hand, independent candidates who lack party membership and the support of party organizations will face layer after layer of impossibly difficult questioning. From the day they decide to run, they are at a disadvantage.

Going through records of the past 66 years’ of women’s participation in the highest government positions, there were a total of 6 women in the CCP Politburo, and three were wives of the founding fathers of the People’s Republic of China. On average, there was only one woman every 11 years. 90 years since the establishment of the CCP, no woman has been able to enter the highest decision-making body, the Standing Committee of the Politburo. Within the 7 members of the current decision-making level of the Politburo of Xi Jinping, there are no women as well. Among the 31 provinces of China, there have only been 4 female provincial leaders within the past 66 years, appearing on average every 16.5 years. In contrast, by the time in which the 1995 World Conference on Women was held, there were already 3 female Prime Ministers in the Arab world. The female Prime Minister of Pakistan even appointed the first female Chief Justice. Up until now, there have been dozens of female presidents and Prime Ministers in the world.

In rural areas, women account for 65% of the labor force, but occupy only 21.4% of membership in village committees, and only 1 to 2% of decision-making positions. Since 1978, the proportion of women in the National People’s Congress has hovered around 21%. This number has continued for 30 years without any substantive advance. From the Chinese government’s published data in the table below, we can see that female representation in the National People’s Congress is severely inadequate and ethnic minority representation in the National People’s Congress has not changed in 60 years. Even though the minority population has been increasing, the degree of political participation has been strictly controlled at around 14%.


Statistics from the Women’s Federation in October, 2011 show that the economic, social and political status gained by women 10 years after the establishment of the PRC has experienced a regression. The Global Gender Gap Report issued by the World Economic Forum ranked China the 69th among 136 countries. Jiang Yongping from All-China Women’s Federation’s Women’s Studies Institute of China remarked that more and more people accept that women’s status has fallen because “it is more difficult for women to become politicians.” Political participation of women can influence people’s way of thinking. Female heads of state can utilize political power to promote the visibility of female political participation directly and quickly. After Sri Lanka’s first female president took office, she appointed a large number of female officials. As far back as the early 1990s, Norway’s female prime minister formulated a stipulation for the Labor Party that women could not account for less than 40% of all levels of leadership. Northern Europe is the region where female political participation has the highest visibility; it has basically achieved gender equality in politics and is a model for all countries.

The One-child Policy Inaugurates the Bleakest Period in Women’s Rights

In 1978, Deng Xiaoping implemented the “loosening up” policy and China’s economy began to warm up. An Indian summer of freedom briefly appeared in Chinese society: people could boldly criticize past politicians and expose the dark side of society. However, this did not cause the government’s attention to turn to Chinese women’s rights and benefits, nor was there any special assistance for women to participate in economic laws and policies. Among the CCP’s highest-level policymakers there was not even one woman. There were no female ministers in the Central Committee’s various ministries. There were dozens of provincial leaders, none of them women. Even women mayors were rarely seen. Female representatives in the National People’s Congress were few and far between. If we can say that the Cultural Revolution was when slogans of gender equality were shouted with the greatest vigor in the communist era, then after Deng Xiaoping’s economic liberalization, these slogans and the notion of women’s rights were given the highest-sounding send-off into the eighteenth level of hell.

In particular, after 1979’s nationwide forced miscarriages, forced abortions, and forced tubal ligations [sterilization] under the one-child policy, it was as though ordinary Chinese women (particularly rural women) were living in an earthly purgatory. On the one hand, pregnant women had to risk their lives trying to give birth to sons to preserve their marital homes and please their husbands because the consequences of having a girl were severe. It meant facing a lifetime of indignity and remaining undaunted. On the other hand, women had to evade arrest and abuse at the hands of family planning officials. After having the roof of their houses lifted up and everything within smashed, they still needed to come up with a plan to let all their family members survive. 30 years from 1978 to the present, living examples of families ruined by family planning policies are in every corner of Chinese cities and villages and in every street and alley. In 2013, 14 female lawyers jointly petitioned for 31 provinces to publicize decades of family planning fine accounts. Only 22 provinces’ Family Planning Commissions responded. In 2012, the total family planning fines received totaled 16.8 billion RMB, and of this amount, the fines reported by the Guangdong Family Planning were unexpectedly 1.1 billion RMB less than the fines reported by the provincial planning commission. As the government treats family planning policies and related information as state secrets, the degree to which the policy implementation has devastated Chinese women and children, including the testing processes and results from birth control medication, remain unknown to the outside world. Just what has been exposed through all manner of individual cases has revealed a panorama of horror. Two full generations of women, a population of up to several hundred million, have been deprived by the Party of their rights of ownership and control over their own bodies.

According to data from the Ministry of Health’s 2010 annual statistical report, in 1983, 14,371,843 Chinese women had induced abortions, 16,398,378 underwent tubal ligation, and 17,755,736 used intrauterine birth control. These data are only what the government itself published, and do not include data of the large number of pharmaceutical abortions popularized by traditional Chinese clinics, at-home traditional abortions, or the surgical abortions carried out in remote rural areas without proper hygiene and on ad-hoc operating tables. At the time, from the Central Committee out to the provinces, cities, and counties, the All-China Women’s Federation was China’s only women’s organization. Not only did it not help victimized women speak out, it instead often cooperated with the enforcers of family planning, arresting illegally pregnant women everywhere. It was reduced to being an accomplice in the persecution of women.

Equality in politics was completely ignored. From central to local government, no one publicly encouraged or promoted the female right to participate in and discuss politics, nor did any female politicians stand up and criticize human rights violations and harm to women’s behavior. In 2006 the government built the Chinese Museum of Women and Children, but in the exhibition hall, it went so far as to make no mention of these things that affected such a broad sweep [of society]: the policies and birth planning tools, drugs, methods, personnel, fines, and relevant data that impacted 270 million families and hundreds of millions of women. It completely ignored this period in history that lasted several decades and hurt the hundreds millions of women. The foremost female intellectuals had no opportunity to participate in politics, which was the same as not having the right to speech. Without equal political status, women were just sheep to the slaughter in a society of men’s rights. The gender equality slogans popular during the Mao era were not shouted at all during the Deng era, not even emptily.

WRIC volunteers interviewed a family whose pregnant mother died after the local Family Planning Commission forcibly induced labor. On October 14, 2011 in Jiangjia Village of Shandong’s Dongying City, Lijin County, a female villager named Ma Jihong was seven months pregnant when she was taken from the cotton fields and given a forced abortion, leading to a tragedy in which two lives were lost in a single body.


The picture above left is Ma Jihong and her seven month-old baby, both of whom died in hospital. The picture above right is Ma Jihong and her husband’s wedding photo. The picture below shows Ma Jihong’s husband and daughter.


Patriarchal Culture Revives after “Loosening up” Economic Control.

Deng Xiaoping’s series of policies “Loosening control of the central government,” triggered the rise of the Chinese economy. Women from cities and rural areas worked hard, believing what the government told them: “the right to food is more important than any other human rights”. After opening up, economic reforms once again caused polarization within the Chinese society. Women from different classes lost their rights in the resource distribution oriented by the market. In the 1990s, while Deng’s “Black Cat, White Cat” theory of economic development replaced the socialist principle of economic distribution, female workers were dismissed and lost the opportunity to participate in the economy. In cities and corporations, female cadres are the first targets to be eliminated. Recruiting female students and workers were called “mixing coarse grains”. As the effects of the economic reforms deepened, sex discrimination became more public and common, and patriarchal culture regained force.

In the eligibility for candidates of the Hunan province civil servants exam, there are regulations that specifically pinpoint women, e.g. candidates that have sexually-transmitted diseases or asymmetrical breasts will not be accepted. Many female workers were dismissed and many large companies and foreign corporations only employ women in their “golden years”, limiting their age to 17-20 years old, with contracts that generally last 3-5 years, terminated after completion to avoid female workers’ age of marriage, pregnancy and delivery. Some institutions even set regulations in black and white that female workers cannot become pregnant during their employment.  It was not until 2014 that a TV host from a well-known company in China and a female journalist from a famous media group told me that they both signed contracts with their units that forced them to guarantee that they would not get married within the next three years and would not have a baby within the next five years.

Female university graduates face difficulties in employment. The third survey on “Social Status of Women” conducted by the All-China Women’s Federation and the Statistics Bureau on 1 December, 2010 interviewed female university graduates about their experience in job searching, and 24.7% said they had been treated unfairly before. Even among women in higher positions of their job, 19.8% thought that their gender is an obstacle towards career advancement.

In tertiary institutions, there are written guidelines that the minimum marks for admission for boys and girls are different: the threshold for female students is higher. Some departments emphasize that they do not accept girls. The “211 Project: Report on Gender Discrimination in School Admissions in 2013” published on the Media Monitor for Women Network randomly investigated 112 tertiary institutions and found that almost 70% had limitations based on gender. Some universities have admission rules and regulations with clear statements such as “recommended for male candidates,” “suitable for male students” or “suitable for female students”. These make candidates hesitate.

In 1998, China implemented joint policies to improve the quality of labor, laying off redundant workers in factories, mines and corporations. Among these laid-off workers, 70% were female (The Maple Women’s Psychological Counseling Center Beijing: http://www.maple.org.cn/tabid/76/Default.aspx). A huge number of female workers were dismissed and became unemployed. Different levels of the government made use of the reason of “improving efficiency” to withdraw their social welfare services from corporations, such as canteens, daycare centers and kindergartens of various units, forcing them to close down. A large group of married women thus could only leave the job market and return home to take care of their children.

On the other hand, sexual division of labor became rampant once again: married women mainly work in the agricultural field and take care of small villages and their family. Young women strive to enter foreign-invested and jointly-invested factories in economically-developed coastal areas, working overtime in toxic environments without medical insurance and welfare. Long-established joint ventures around the Shenzhen area have about 70% of young, single female workers. What makes it worse is the government’s unjust retirement system, which makes it perfectly justifiable for employers to cut off job opportunities for women at an early age: a large amount of women are forced to leave the job market once they reach 45 years old, and can only go home to take care of their children and cook. This retirement system drafted by the State Council has been in use for 50 years. The “Temporary Regulation of Civil Servants” issued in 1993 still states that “men retire at 60 years old, women retire at 55 years old”. Corporations and institutions that emphasize physical labor and are less effective require their female workers to retire at 45 years old, causing women to lose chances of promotion and further prospects due to policies and systematic injustice. The loss of economic independence leads to the loss of equal status in society and the family. Work is an important channel for women to sustain connection with society and a basic way for women to participate in societal development.

Female migrant workers and “migrant brides” that return to their home village after “marrying into” different towns have no human rights whatsoever. Women make up 65% of the agricultural workforce and are an important drive in advancing agricultural modernization and new models of urbanization that emphasize harmonious interactions between the city and the countryside. Migrant brides lose their land ownership and shares in collectives. The coastal areas are better-off and government and private corporations conduct large-scale projects to buy land. Yet the right for returning “migrant brides” to the use of their land or to natural resources in collectives, the compensation, relocation, ownership of land occupied for residential use, and the dividends and shares received after collective farmland are sold are still unfairly distributed. The rights of returning “migrant brides” are not protected by law; the relevant laws on gender equality issued by the State Council are only mere scraps of paper as there are numerous village rules seriously violating the rights of returning “migrant brides”, such as that to receive compensation for their lost land. Thus a new group was formed among petitioners: “defenders for returning migrant brides”. Although returning “migrant brides” used rational, peaceful and non-violent methods to defend their rights, their problems were not solved and they were even arbitrarily detained. Not only did they fail to protect their rights, they lost their personal freedom and were intimidated. For example, 6 representatives of returning “migrant brides” in Foshan, Guangdong were detained by the police in January, 2014.



Wong Zhuliu, representative of defenders of returning “migrant brides” holds her “Written Decision of Administrative Penalty” and tells WRIC volunteer Su Changlan at her home about the injustice she faced (photo credit: WRIC volunteer Su Changlan)

Rural Girls: the Most Vulnerable Group

In the Chinese government’s treatment of girls, the difference between cities—especially large cities—and rural areas is night and day. In remote mountain areas, education, health, and cultural activities for rural impoverished girls are almost nonexistent. Chinese official statistics show that there are 61,255,000 “left-behind children” who do not have parents present for long periods. 37.7% of rural children and 21.88% of all children nationwide are left-behind children, and 52,900,000 of them are 14 or younger.

The statistics show that at least 2 million children are living on their own. Their parents go to the cities to make money on the low-priced migrant worker market. Most rural girls are deprived of education. In regards to girls suffering sexual assault from fellow villagers or friends and relatives, cases of gang rape are often exposed in the online media, but the rapes of far more girls are hidden in the darkness of the villages, unknown to anyone. In 2013, a left-behind girl in rural Henan was raped by a 61 year-old fellow villager. It was not until she was eight months pregnant that her parents, migrant workers in Hangzhou, found out.

In a village in Guizhou’s Luzhi Special Economic Area, after Little Dan’s parents divorced, both went off in search of work. Little Dan lived with her 70 year-old grandparents, cold and hungry. In 2014, the 12 year-old Little Dan was “introduced” to a man in the village as an “adopted” child bride. Her parents did even not know until they rushed back to the village for a funeral to discover the girl had already “gotten married.” A villager said, “It’s a good thing for Little Dan to marry into another house. At home she can’t even eat her fill.” (Henan Business Daily)

WRIC volunteers exposed a tragic true story. It was a typical case of a policy problem leading to rural girls meeting heartbreaking misfortune. In Anhui Province’s Susong County, within Liuping Town’s Daban Village, there were three sisters in Deng Lurong’s family. Because their mother was unable to provide a son, she blamed herself and disappeared. The girls’ father Deng Jiechao moved far away to remarry and had a son. To evade the family planning officials’ large fine, he has not returned to the village, abandoning the three young girls to live with their grandma. As a result, their grandma was locked up by family planning officials to bring Deng Jiechao back. One night in April 2002, a young male villager named Deng Yunfei stole into the Deng home and forcibly raped the 12 year-old Deng Lurong. The three sisters were so scared that they screamed and cried. On the second day, the sisters went to where their grandma was locked up and reported the rape. After their grandma was released to return home, she found that the police and the public did nothing about the reported case, and became so angry that she fell ill and died. The three young sisters were left with no one to rely on. Not long after, Deng Lurong’s 15 year-old sister and her youngest sister, who was only about nine years old, were sold to a child trafficker by a male acquaintance. To this day there has been no news of them, and Deng Lurong, who was in a daze after suffering the attack, was sold into another village to be the wife of a poor bachelor 20 years older than her. She suffered a long torment there. After having two sons, her husband ordered her to go and be a sex slave for other men in the village. Each time she earned 10 to 20 RMB, all of which her husband collected. Often after being beaten she would hide in the mountains, sleeping outside and living like an animal. According to our understanding, after this Deng Lurong’s father returned to the village and reached an agreement with the local government. After he received 80,000 RMB in hush money, it was as though nothing had ever happened. The vanished, dead, sold, and tormented women and girls of the family were totally forgotten.

WRIC volunteers made many inquiries and even brought a reporter from a German magazine to do interviews, hoping that a record of this would cause the local government to take it seriously and that afterwards the volunteers would be able to see Deng Lurong’s face and see if there had been any slight improvement in her living situation. However, who knows whether her treatment would have returned to its original state after the volunteers left? Yet even today the Chinese government and National People’s Congress legislature cannot enact legislation for a Law to Safeguard Child Welfare. Nor can they use existing laws to safeguard children’s rights, particularly the rights of rural girls, and strictly punish those criminals who violate children’s rights.


A WRIC volunteer finally saw Deng Lurong, who was hiding in a dark room feeding her child, unwilling to come out (Photo credit: WRIC volunteer Tan Chunsheng)


Deng Jiechao’s younger brother selfishly sold off three of his own nieces and even harshly threatened the journalist and WRIC volunteers who paid him a visit. (Photo credit: WRIC volunteer Tan Chunsheng)

Even though some official women’s organizations have tried to help urban women who have suffered domestic violence, they have been unable to achieve real results. On April 30, 2009, Nanjing’s first domestic violence shelter opened its doors in the city’s aid station. In over a year, only two people seeking help stayed there. (From the May 15, 2010 Nanjing Daily story “How to open a protective umbrella for victims of domestic violence”) In March of 2000 in Liaoning Province, the women’s federation took the lead in establishing the country’s first provincial-level women’s shelter, calling it the “Women’s Refuge Station.” Each year, it receives more than 2000 petitions from women affected by domestic violence. Yet in six years it has only accepted slightly more than 300 “harmed women,” an average of four people each month. On October 17, 2002, Dalian’s anti-domestic violence aid shelter formally opened. In the last half year, of the over 1600 women who came to petition, not one was admitted. (From the October 3, 2011 Youth Weekend story: “Domestic violence shelters everywhere most likely forced to dismiss abused women; admission rare”) In Changsha, Hunan Province, the domestic violence shelter has been open for two months without a single person coming to request help (from the January 2, 2011 Legal Daily story: “Changsha’s domestic violence shelter is celebrated but not drawing crowds”). Based on statistics published by the All-China Women’s Federation, in the Women’s Federation system there are 3450 organizations providing shelter and assistance for women and children who have suffered domestic violence, and over 25,000 women and children have received aid and shelter. On average, each shelter organization has only admitted 7.3 women or children.

In reality, the problem of women suffering domestic violence is extremely serious. In November 2014 at the Media Dialog against Domestic Violence held in Beijing, the “Chinese Gender Violence and Male Attitudes Study” released there showed that among females age 18-49 who have or have had partners, 39% reported suffering physical or sexual violence from their partners. Over nine-tenths of these women chose to remain silent. Why is it that more and more women admit facing domestic violence yet such a pitifully small number are admitted to the shelters? The primary reason is that the requirements to qualify for shelter admission are stringent. Women who have been abused must, at the time of suffering abuse, gather identification documents, hospital and residence information, and other relevant documents and provide these to each organization before they can be admitted.

There is a series of other planned projects to care for girls. In “two-girl families” (one household with two daughters) in rural areas, families would receive a subsidy when building their homes. The parents and adult daughters (one or two) of struggling households with only daughters (one or two) would receive free training, small loans, affordable housing, and more. In a time of rampant corruption, real struggling two-girl families cannot get effective long-term assistance. The ones who profit most are the leaders who go to the countryside for inspections with the media following close behind. When the inspection ends, everything goes back to the way it was. In the last two years, many provinces have set up “Safe Islands” to care for abandoned children. Most have disappeared. After wide media coverage of “abandoned child safe islands,” there was a brief time in which every major city’s medical units constructed humane, caring, and fully equipped lodging for abandoned children. However, a few months or a year later they closed one after another due to a lack of funding and too many abandoned children. However, it is always better to have people do and try than to be apathetic. After all, this is not only a type of humane care. It is also a type of publicity channel that strengthens the culture of gender equality.

The State Council announced its second anti-trafficking plan “The National Plan of Action on Combating Trafficking in Women and Children (2013-2020)”. In 2013, the Ministry of Public Security solved 4537 cases of trafficking of women and 2237 cases of child trafficking. Similar to statistics related to Birth Planning, actual statistics of trafficking cases are under “The State Secrets Law” and non-transparent. The numbers of unresolved and unreported cases of missing, abducted and trafficked persons are unknown to the public. The U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report in 2014 has classified China as Tier 2 in compliance of “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” (the worst ranking is Tier 3).

Legislation and policies toward maternity leave in China’s various local governments have the most effective implementation. The 62nd provision of the Labor Law states that female workers may enjoy not less than 90 days of maternity leave. Nearly all of China’s female workers can enjoy this treatment. This is the most beautiful vista in all work to protect women and children’s rights. Professional women in America commonly rest for three days after giving birth and then return to work.

Prostitution Statistics Hit Record High in 60 Years

In the area of marriage and family, women face problems in terms of assets and personal freedom. According to statistics from the Women’s Federation, among the 207 million families in China, 30% of women face domestic violence, and 90% of the abusers are men. Wives that lose economic status often have to bear in silence when their husbands abuse or humiliate them and have to tolerate when they find out that their husbands are having affairs. The domestic violence case by the well-known Li Yang shocked the Chinese society two years ago. This famous man beat his American wife until her nose was bruised and face was swollen, but not only did he feel unashamed, he even publicly noted proudly that he was thoroughly punishing Americans. It was unbelievable that some people even praised him. In China, women who depend on husbands to sustain the family and are full-time housewives are rarely treated equally and with respect in the family and society. They are the most vulnerable victims of domestic violence. On another level, the violence that women have suffered from these decades not only comes from within the family, but from the government as well: birth planning officials and workers supported by the government inflict mental and physical harm on them. Once women are discovered to have unplanned pregnancies or have given birth illegally, they will lose dignity completely, be humiliated in public and be forced into hospitals or clinics, especially in townships. Pregnant women are often tied to operation tables by male birth planning officials, who allow people to do whatever they want to these women’s wombs and their newborn babies.

Recently, due to rapid economic development, the language of consumerism became popular and the media is inundated with male-centered beauty standards, which place the focus on women’s body parts. The female body becomes a symbol of desire and a carrier exaggerated by the media that forces women to consciously change their image to fulfill high social standards and strive to search for the easiest way to make a living. Thus, many young women leave factories and go to night clubs, massage parlors, and other venues for bathing and foot massages. Now a popular nation-wide “trend” is formed: becoming concubines that live on rich men’s money. Wealthy, powerful men pay for a whole group of concubines, and Chinese women are pushed into regression to their primitive form 100 years ago. News reports reveal that a large number of corrupted officials have concubines, with some that even have almost a hundred “lovers”. The phenomenon of prostitution not only revived, but rose to greater levels. Seeing that women work hard but do not gain the same rewards, young girls, regardless of their education level, naturally turn to easier ways to earn money and willingly become concubines of wealthy or powerful men, or even become involved in prostitution or drug trafficking. According to media reports, the number of prostitutes reached 20 million in 2013, the highest number in Chinese history.

The number of Chinese women trafficked in groups by criminal rings to foreign countries for sex work is increasing, and Western governments are pressured to combat the phenomenon. Since 10 years ago, the New York police have been directing large-scale raids on areas of illegal sex work in Flushing. Prostitution activities were then moved to the better-off area on Long Island, but again got caught by the police. Photos of the sex workers were sent to the media in Chinese communities and many Chinese newspapers raced to put them in print.

I remember it was about 2006 when I was still an editor for an established Chinese newspaper in New York. I had an argument with a supervisor in our editorial department about printing out the photos of the sex workers. I was suspected to be abusing my power to stop the 7 photos of the Chinese women from appearing in our newspaper, but I persisted: if we were to publish their photos, why don’t we show the faces of the johns? Of course, in my work thereafter, I could only guarantee that no such photos would appear on the pages I was responsible for. I was not able to control how other editors dealt with these photos. After all, there were more men than women in the editorial department, and the head was always a man. On 6 February, 2015, the Paris police announced that they uncovered a large website that provided Chinese call girls in Paris. There were people responsible for every aspect of the website, and they hired about 200 call girls, all of which were Chinese, to serve wealthy Chinese men.

Drugs are closely related to prostitution. The Chinese government has not publicized specific statistics on female drug addicts and drug trafficking, but from news reports, we can see that women are involved in every procedure, including making drugs, packaging, logistics and sales. In 2011, Hunan province launched a large-scale anti-drug campaign called “Mothers Against Drugs: Blue Knot Campaign”, which held promotional activities for 29000 times, established 34000 Mothers Against Drugs Associations, and recruited 520000 Mothers Against Drugs (Statistics from Hunan Annals). Yet, Hunan Province is far from the most popular place for drug dealers, who often gather in Yunan, Guizhou and flock to the coastal areas near Guangdong.

The Ministry of Police publicized general statistics in May, 2013, indicating that the total number of drug addicts in China has reached 2220000 (http://news.eastday.com/c/20130702/u1a7493816.html). The prevalence of drugs harms women, especially mothers. Many young women with low education levels face difficulties in finding jobs and are treated unfairly in many places. At last, they sell their bodies, become sex slaves or cross the line and become criminals.

Decades of implementation of the Birth Planning Policy has led to a much smaller female population when compared to males, but the social status of women has not improved. Instead it had fallen rapidly, further weakening women as a group, leading to their lack of self-confidence and overreliance on men, usually husbands or lovers. The main reason for the regression is inequality in political participation: there are no powerful female figures and organizations to speak out for women, reveal the inequality in economic distribution, point out the harms of patriarchal society, promote feminist ideology, advance the women’s liberation movement and advocate for legal reforms to punish acts of gender discrimination. In contrast, powerful male figures can nearly ruin 100 years of achievements in Chinese women’s liberation with only a few sentences. In October 2013, Xi Jinping emphasized the female household role in a speech to the All-China Women’s Federation, saying that “women must conscientiously shoulder the burden of caring for young and old and the responsibility of educating sons and daughters. In building a virtuous home they play their role.” As a result, thousands of women’s organizations, from Beijing to the provinces, cities, counties, and villages, have launched a wave of study, even directly calling on women to study Confucianism, laundry, and cooking because “a woman’s place is the home.” This implies that China’s highest leader is encouraging a kind of reversal, reversing 100 hard-fought years of the women’s liberation movement to the 19th century. In other words, Xi Jinping is demanding that females “proactively” assume the role of harmonious homemaker, meaning even if women see their husbands with three wives and four concubines, for the harmony of the home they will not make a sound. They will just make the food, raise the kids, and stay fixed to the homemaker role. If Xi Jinping said what his predecessors were unwilling to say to the public, feminists cannot help but ask, in Xi Jinping’s view, what is men’s role in the home? Wouldn’t having Chinese women all bind their feet again better suit the female image in Chairman Xi’s mind?

NGOs Strive to Survive Through Cracks

The issue on gender came out of the theoretical work of the second-wave feminist movement, and is also the core of policies emphasized in the 1995 World Conference on Women. Gender is a fair standard used to examine the civilization level of a nation’s policy and society. The six well-established NGOs formed after the 1995 conference includes the Shaanxi Women, Marriage and Family Studies Institute, Beijing Center for Cultural Development of Rural Women, Women and Children’s Psychological Counseling and Legal Aid Service Center of Xishuangbanna Prefecture, Henan Community Education Research Center, the Maple Women’s Psychological Counseling Center Beijing and the Beijing Zongze Area Women’s Legal Aid Center (formerly Legal Studies and Service Center for Women of the Law Department of Beijing University), which received abundant funding from different sources. The characteristics of operation of these NGOs are: first, they are affiliated with a government department; second, they rely heavily on the background of their leader, i.e. the personal networks formed through the government position they work for at the same time or worked for in the past, such as Zongze Center’s founder Guo Jianmei, who resigned from her job within the government system. After handling “sensitive” cases such as advocating for Deng Yujiao and Li Ruirui, she received strong responses from the public but her center was closed down by Beijing University. Experiencing many tribulations, the center finally changed its name to Zongze Area Women’s Legal Aid Center. These NGOs basically operate in the areas of research, legal aid and psychological counseling and focus on co-operation with the government. Without saying it out loud, they categorize their effort and the success they obtain as results gained by the government units within the system, then they can fulfill their project aims. Guo describes the process: we were pulling a heavy car in the strong wind, climbing up a slope. Yet compared to NGOs that focused on actions, advocated on the streets and became established later, these older NGOs were less frequently attacked, disbanded and arrested by the government.

A fiercer activist is clear-cut feminist Ai Xiaoming, professor of Sun Yat-sen University, who fought against many forces for the opportunity to voice out for the vagina by writing and directing the Chinese version of “The Vagina Monologues”. The play made its debut at the Guangdong Museum of Art in December 2003 and received strong responses from the public. She fought against the tide and won the chance to perform in various schools, which influenced a large group of feminist followers. All these years, she has been filming videos on site to protect women’s rights, speaking out for women who faced injustice. She also advocated for children’s rights and rallied for activists who exposed the illegal construction of “tofu-dregs” schoolhouses which led to students’ death in the Wenchuan Earthquake, such as Tan Zuoren and Ai Weiwei. Her half-naked statement photo, which was forwarded vividly by netizens, marked her leading status in the ultimate pursuit of the liberation of women. In May, 2013, the Principal of Wanning Primary School in Hainan province was found to be sexually abusing many primary school girls. This was known as the “School Motel Room Case”. After the case was revealed, sex worker activist Ye Haiyan was arrested for supporting the rights of the primary school victims. To support Ye, Ai stripped her upper body naked, held a pair of big scissors and wrote on her own body “Looking for a Motel Room? Come to me, release Ye Haiyan!” “The female body has been defined as a symbol of desire. Actively stripping myself naked is an act of resistance,” she explained. Ai’s action led to widespread concern within the nation towards the “School Motel Room Case” and the victims’ defenders.

Around 2005, there were a few young women in China that started to write about sex like male authors, but they used a feminist way to directly record facts about their sex lives and their attitudes towards it. This led to personal attack on the web with merciless whips in the form of comments, and some netizens even posted a “kill bill” to threaten them to keep quiet. Female author Muzi Mei recorded stories about all men who had sex with her, and one of them was a semi-famous married soccer player. Her writing sparked off a fire within the country but almost no one pointed their finger at the married man: it was all Muzi Mei’s fault. Her book “Letters of Remaining Love” was banned with an administrative order, and a rat poison factory even announced that they registered “Muzi Mei” as the name of a kind of rat poison because she was a rat on the street that everyone wanted to smack; she had to be poisoned to prevent society from being harmed.

Some other female authors couldn’t stand the insults from the Chinese public and chose to leave China altogether and live in a faraway country. Hong Kong kung-fu star Jackie Chan, who is also a married man, had an affair in which the women give birth to a baby girl. After the scandal was exposed, not only did he refuse to acknowledge that the baby was his, he even said on TV that he did something wrong that all men do. Chan won the understanding of the Chinese public, but his “concubine” was severely criticized and left Hong Kong to hide in her hometown in Shanghai, afraid of appearing in the public. She raised the child alone.

Chinese women hoped that meetings for the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) that both ended in March, 2015, would be a turning point, especially for passing laws to stop domestic violence and sexual harassment, to protect child welfare and legalize homosexuality. Yet human rights defenders were shocked when proposals regarding women’s and children’s rights failed to emerge as almost no representatives in the two meetings sent an official draft for the laws or proposed any discussion, showing a general lack of concern. What was more malicious was that just as the two meeting were in progress, on the night before International Women’s Day, 7 female activists who had been advocating for laws to stop sexual harassment were all arrested by the police in Beijing, severely destroying their plans. After a few days, two activists were released, but the other five were charged for “crime of incitement” and are still detained. In its public announcement, Women’s Rights in China stated: this as a brutal act of random arrest and an abuse of power. It is crude behavior which shows that the Chinese government is openly disregarding human rights and women’s rights, even in the public eye. Up until 12 March, 1521 supporters of women’s rights and gender equality from over 30 countries including China, Japan, Brazil, the U.K., the U.S., Australia, Finland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and India have signed a petition to request release of the five arrested female activists. On 10 March, 2015, dozens of representatives from women’s rights organizations protested against the Chinese government’s cruel acts in front of the United Nations and supported the five feminists.

Feminism and the women’s liberation movement in China are going through a severe winter. However, it is impossible to push women’s status back to decades or even 100 years ago; history is forever weaving its way forward and those that attempt to pull history back must fail!


The photo below shows WRIC’s staff and other women’s rights organizations protesting against the CCP’s brutal acts of random arrest and abuse of power!   (Photo credit: North Wind)

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