Academic journal article China Perspectives

Being a Woman in China Today: A Demography of Gender

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Being a Woman in China Today: A Demography of Gender

Article excerpt

I do not think that men and women are on an equal footing. I live in a world dominated by men, and I sense this impalpable pressure every day. It's not that men don't respect us. My husband cooks for me and does a lot around the house, but I still feel male chauvinism in the air. In truth, men do not really consider us to be their intellec- tual equals.

Cao Chenhong, senior manager in a Beijing company.

After three decades of Communism followed by three decades of eco- nomic liberalism, Chinese society remains, in many ways, very at- tached to its social and family traditions.(1)In recent years, however, it has shown a remarkable faculty for adaptation to the process of globali- sation in which it is now a stakeholder. Since they can prove difficult to in- terpret, the transformations that have affected China since the 1980s are sometimes perplexing. It is not always easy to distinguish between changes that are part of the continuity of longstanding social practices, and others, sometimes sudden, that ultimately prove to be ad hocexpressions in reac- tion to the new constraints and opportunities imposed by socio-economic changes and a globalised society. The analysis of social, just as much as eco- nomic and political, transformations is moreover sometimes so delicate that it quite rightly leads us to conclude that a paradox exists. (2)

The attitude of Chinese society towards women, which also displays its quota of paradoxes, testifies to this duality - itself all the more complex since it remains marked by the search for equality between the sexes that prevailed during the Communist parenthesis. Nonetheless, understanding and measuring transformations in the status of women since the economic reforms remains essential if we are to arrive at a more global understanding of contemporary Chinese society, its representations, and the changes it is experiencing. In fact, the place given to women, measured by various indi- cators relating to education, employment, demography, and health, is a gen- erally reliable indicator of the radical changes affecting society. Yet this is a paradox in itself: although in certain respects, notably regarding education and health, improvements in the situation of Chinese women in the ab- solute are indisputable, in others, their relationships with men remain all the more unequal for being part of a demographic context that is un- favourable to them, thereby testifying to an unquestionable deterioration in certain aspects of their situation.

The aim of this article is to draw up a socio-demographic inventory of the situation of Chinese women in the prevailing early twenty-first century con- text of demographic, economic, and social transition on the one hand, and on the other hand, to draw attention to the paradoxical effects of these transitions, whilst taking into account the diversity of the realities the women are experiencing. In conclusion, the article will raise the possibility of changes in gender relationships in China, where there are, and will con- tinue to be, fewer women than men, particularly in adulthood. The article is based mainly on the partial results of three surveys on the social status of women (Zhongguo funü shehui diwei chouyang diaocha) carried out jointly by the Federation of Chinese women and the National Office of Sta- tistics in 1990, 2000, and 2010. These surveys (referred to here as ACWF- 1990, ACWF-2000, and ACWF-2010),(3)organised with the specific aim of measuring inequality between the sexes and gender differences, paint a wide-ranging picture of the social realities experienced by Chinese women over the last two decades.(4)These quantitative surveys, the only ones to exist on the subject, nonetheless present limitations related to the closed questionnaire collection method. Although they do not provide all the ex- planations, they nonetheless enable us to understand the processes at work on the question of women and gender relationships. The data from these surveys will occasionally be supplemented by that taken from other sources, notably the 1990, 2000, and 2010 censuses. …

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