Since the late 1970s, with the opening of China to the rest of the world, Chinese women have engaged in all sorts of activities formerly frowned upon by the old dispensation as “decadent bourgeoisie culture.”
From 1949–1979, women were urged to be nurturers of the next generation of loyal citizens. They were supposed to be dedicated, productive workers, as well as brave soldiers in defense of the motherland, who must help combat feudalism at home, and imperialism from abroad.
Instead of living a parsimonious, simple life of self-sacrifice, today’s slogan is: Get rich and enjoy life in style.
Gone are the days when foreign culture, especially from the West, was suspect. Today, Chinese who have lived abroad are welcomed home in the same way we treat most balikbayan Filipinos. Western art and culture have become fashionable—and so are interracial marriages, especially with Caucasians.
Aﬄuent parents prefer to send their children to kindergartens run by Westerners rather than to public schools. Wider economic and educational opportunities allow women to attain leading roles in academic institutions and business enterprises.
Most remarkable is 61-year-old Xie Qihua, chairperson and president of Baoshan Steel. She is the first woman to head an industry dominated by men. Xie Qihua was able to merge four steel companies to create the Baoshan Steel conglomerate, one of the world’s top 500 corporations with total assets of 100 billion yuan (US$13.94 billion) and still growing.
There are also other women who occupy high and influential positions. Chen Zhili, who was the former Minister of Education, is now a commissary of the State Council. Wu Yi was Vice Premier, served as Health Minister during the SARS crisis, and helped negotiate China’s entry into the World Trade Organization. Gu Xiulian is Vice Chairperson of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, as well as the All- China Women’s Federation’s president.
For the majority of women, economic reforms are the opportunity to pursue a greater variety of occupations, where higher earnings allow them to purchase goods and services for themselves. Thousands of young women work away from their families and villages; in Special Economic Zones, hotels, resorts and restaurants in big cities, and as tour guides.
But many young rural women workers in big cities have no security of tenure, no health and pension benefits, and are vulnerable to all sorts of exploitation and harassment. Those with disposable income are easy prey to the lures of urban life. They enter the treadmill of acquisitiveness and consumerism purveyed by cosmetic and high-fashion businesses.
Like many of the nation’s youth, Chinese women are undergoing an explosion of sexual freedom. Health studies have shown that more young people are promiscuous; and women faced with unwanted pregnancies readily have abortions.
State family-planning policy is directed at married couples, ignoring the widespread phenomenon of liberal sex among unmarried young people.
The alarming increase of HIV—estimated by the World Health Organization at close to a million—forced the government to take more drastic measures. Cases of HIV were first reported in Henan province in 2000 by Dr. Gao Yaojie (a recipient of the Ramon Magsaysay Award) and has been shown to have spread widely to far-flung provinces.
From 2003–2004, the government and NGOs disseminated information on contraception and distributed contraceptive devices to prevent the spread of HIV. This effort was mainly targeted at the young, unmarried populace.
China’s aggressive market economy has put stress on the nation’s women. They are made to think that happiness and success comes from making lots of money.
The seductions of a consumer culture and economic prosperity encourage people to explore all sorts of thrills, including sexual adventures. In this system of free enterprise, women have become commodities: Young women in remote rural areas are abducted and sold as sex slaves in metropolitan areas; poor rural people sell their blood and organs (i.e., liver, kidney).
These problems are, of course, not unique to China. The same problems plague many countries around the globe that experience fast-paced industrialization, rapid urbanization, unprecedented ease of travel, ready access to information, and burgeoning economic opportunities.
print ed: 03/08