(This is a guest post written by Shujie, a Chinese political activist, torture survivor and refugee. Shujie is a proud socialist and pro-feminist, fighting for democracy, worker´s rights and women´s rigths. He has worked on articles about enviremental issues andhas done many translations of political articles. He currently lives in Sweden after fleeing China due to political issues).
“The state-sponsored media campaign about ´leftover´ women is part of a broad resurgence of gender inequality in post-socialist China, particularly over the past decade and a half of market reforms.” – Leta Hong Fincher
Leta Hong Fincher grew up in a bilingual envirement, learning both English and Mandarin in the US. The family visited China frequently throughout her childhood summers from the years 1970-1980. Starting from the end of the ´90s, Ms. Fincher worked as a China-based journalist for several American news agencies until 2003.
Her acclaid book, “Leftover Women: The Resurgence Of Gender Inequality In China”, is the result of two and half years of dedicated research, which Ms. Fincher started upon in 2010 along with her final studies in sociology at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Book cover for “Leftover Women”
Hong Fincher had began to take notice of the so-called “Leftover women” phenomenon in China. Growing both curious and concerned to what this meant for the women of China, she began to investigate. Following her research, she interviewed many high-educated women in the end of their 20s, who described themselves as in a hurry to get married, even though they considered their fiancés very lacking of any positive traits. As a result of becoming a wife, many previously economically stable, independent women were drained of economical and financial independence after they made their marital promises.
Hong Fincher discovered that despite having no interest in their fiancée and rightfully worrying what marriage would do to their economy, many women still reluctantly married to escape the stigma of being a “leftover-woman”, a term which is has been prevalent in Chinese media since 2007. According to Hong Fincher, the CCP’s (Chinese Communist Party) claimed feminist-based “All-China Women Federation” defined the term “leftover” women as a single, unmarried woman older than 27. This term is sometimes also branded on women as young as 25.
One article that was published on many Chinese sites and newspapers, including “All-China Women Federation” website, claimed that numerous women were overly critical of their partners, and when they finally express interest in marriage, the men who are of similar age and have similar education are no longer available.
Ms. Leta Hong Fincher
In response to this accusation, Hong Fincher points out that the country’s gender imbalance can be seen in the birth ratios: in 2008 121 boys were born and only 100 girls were born, which is a mark of the results from the countries one-child policy. In the Chinese culture it is tradition to prefer a son instead of a daughter. This leads to many women being forced to abort girl-fetuses. Or that, in some extreme causes, parents outright abandone new-born baby girls (causing them to die of hunger or lack of warmth).
Hong Fincher revealed that the motivation behind the “leftover” women media campaign was to motivate marriage to keep a social stability. The government believes too many unmarried men is a threat to stability. (Here it can be pointed out that the Government sees the men´s need for a wife as more important over women´s reproductive rights).
Another reason that Hong Fincher could see as an explanation for the sexist campaigns is that the lack of marriage was, to the government’s anxiety, supposedly effecting the countries population planning policy. This policy was designed for not only to control the quantity but also the quality of the Chinese population. Therefore the regime wanted the “high quality” women to get married and birth out “the best” children for the state.
One of the many propaganda posters used for the “Leftover women” campaign
One myth that is wide spread among Chinese people is that babies will be born with more disabilities and defects if the mother is over the age of 28, although no scientific research supports this belief. Many women that were interviewed by Hong Fincher were warned by their doctors not to have children “too late” since their baby would be “less than perfect” if they chose to give birth at the ages 28 and older. (The Chinese society has, as many cultures do, deep-seated ableist prejudices)
Furthermore Ms. Hong Fincher shows the mechanism between the housing market and the promotion of marriage between 20-30s male and female: “According to sales professionals, gang xu demand[rigid demand] comes largely from urban consumers experiencing the following life events: (1) marriage; (2) pregnancy and birth of the first child; (3) a child starting school.”
The idea of a rigid demand (gang xu) is constructed by the state so that they may control the property market; “it won’t become too hot or too cold”, as Ms. Hong Fincher writes.
According to Hong Fincher, the demand for residential real estate is kept high in these ways:
at one side, if I may quote her once again: “state-owned property development companies do not lower their prices significantly”. The new house buying policies in cities are often biased. For instance in big cities such as Shanghai, the real estate sellers discriminate against unmarried home buyers . On the other hand, as Ms. Fincher writes once more: “ property development companies collaborate with state media and matchmaking industries to reinforce the norm that couples need to buy a home when they get married…state media and real-estate advertisements perpetuate the myth that Chinese women will refuse to marry a man unless he owns a home”.
Hong Fincher also notes that the government probably wants to maintain high housing prices, so most of the middle-class home buyers must work under inhuman and overly-consuming conditions just to earn money for basic living. This results in the Chinese population having no time to reflect on their political and social situation and rights, especially the younger generation that are pressured into marriage and to buy a home the same minute they finish their university studies. A subtle and devious way to keep people under control.
“Angel No. 4”, 2006, by Cui Xiuwen
Hong Fincher points out that middle-class activism tend to resolve around “NIMBY”, which stands for “not-in-my-back-yard” environmental concerns, such as to protest the construction of a chemical plantation that might pollute the neighborhood. However middle-class activisms among homeowners have not yet shown any serious potential for collective action that challenges the central government’s totalitarian rule. These activists are not concerned, for instance, with the lands poor or the lands oppressed minorities (such as the Tibetans or Uigur).
The world famous Sociologist Jean-Louis Rocca explains that homeowners in cities tend to support the one-party state and usually believe that engaging into politics is dangerous both to themselves and the Chinese society. Their motto tends to be: “China does not need a change in political regime. It needs stability.” Moreover, Hong Fincher says that aspiring home buyers in their twenties and early thirties tend not to show opposition to the state because of the “pursuit of money for a deposit on a new home saps much of their time and energy”. (It should be noted here that other journalist have stated that the Chinese do infact show a sense of dislike and distrust with their government, but accept it out of fear and the despairing idea that no other type of rule is possible.)
Ms. Hong Fincher elaborates: “Rather than causing political instability, high property prices and the norm of middle-class home ownership(home ownership is at 85% in China) might actually promote social stability by forcing young Chinese to focus on saving money to buy into the propertied class rather than agitating for social change.”
“Tattoo II”, by Qiu Zhijie
Ms. Hong Fincher reports that the status of women in China has gotten horrible worse over the years and wealth inequality between men and women is the biggest form of wealth inequality that exist in todays China.
Most of the homes are owned only by the husband even though most of the women also have contributed to the home in different ways, Hong Fincher states. According to the nationwide “Third Survey” on the Situation of women, 51.7% married men are the sole owner of the home.
The problem lies in that when a women wants a divorce, she is at high risk at losing her entire apartment. According to a new interpretation of the Chinese martial law since 2011, it is stated that if the marital home is only written in the man’s name, the man gets everything automatically once a divorce is settled. Although many women contribute to housing in different ways, such as paying a part of the down payment or mortgage, they usually lack the documents to show their involvement. The Situation is even worse for housewives and stay-at-home moms who do unpaid housework.
Therefore, many women have difficulty to escape from their unhappy marriages, even in cases such as domestic violence. Many women are worried about losing child custody to the abusive husband and afraid that they will have nowhere to live if they end the marriage. In sort: abused women are forced to stay with their abuser to avoid homelessness.
A particularly heartbreaking example is when a woman was murdered by her husband in 2009. The woman had previously reported her husband’s behavior to the police eight times. The man was convicted only six and half years in prison for the abuse of his spouse. Women who report abuse to policemen are often ignored and left into the hands of their abusers.
Hong Fincher also describes women who resist the authoritarian state, at both collective and individual level.
One person Hong Fincher interviewed was Li Maizi, who was 24-year-old when the book was being written. Ms. Li is a feminist activist and openly lesbian. In the small space for activism in China her group organized many public activities such as “performance art” to protest gender discrimination. For example, they organised the famous “Occupy Men’s Toilets” campaign in Guangdong in 2011, where they were calling on local governments to provide more public toilets for women and in the same year she and other young women dressed in white wedding gowns splattered with red, blood-like paint to highlight the domestic violence issue.
Another famous activist is Ye Haiyan, whose blogger name is “Hooligan Sparrow”. She is a long time campaigner for women’s rights, especially in high-lighting issues around sex workers. After she protested against the cover ups of a officials and headmasters history of sexual abuse towards young girls, she was arrested and made homeless.
Ms. Fincher explains that since there is almost no space for independent women’s movements, many activist work in some NGOs registered by the government and work with agencies such as the All-China Women’s Federation. Many such NGOs are lobbying for legislation for domestic violence, according to her.
However, Hong Fincher observed that Li Maizi and many other radical feminists choose to work outside of the system.
In addition, Hong Fincher describes many women who struggle individually. For example, Hong Fincher interviewed a domestic violence survivor Kim Lee who immigrated from the states and married a famous entrepreneur, Li Yang. Even though she is an American, she still had to fight for several years before she got a result from the court. She received support and thanks from many anonymous Chinese women who live with domestic violence, which gave her the strength to continue, despite the constant threats by many other people, including a incident where a man walked up to her in the subway, spat in her face and screamed: “American bitch! Hope he beats you to death next time!”.
Interestingly, Hong Fincher sees many simularities between feminists and Chinese revolutions. During the bourgeois revolution in China which overthrow the Chinese empire in 1911, the famous feminist revolutionary Qiu Jin advocated for gender equality. In the May Fourth Movement, the women’s emancipation became one of the goals for the revolution. After the CCP gained power, the women’s position had been promoted considerably. But unfortunately these promotions have become merely lip service.
For instance many of these statements are mere mansplaining, i.e. they are often done without taking into consideration what the women of China are asking for. One problem that Ms. Hong Fincher forgets to mention is that these male bourgeois revolutionaries usually stand at a nationalist point of view, meaning that they merely see that China “needs” modern women to improve Chinese population’s qualities, which were inherited by the CCP. Ever since the CCP came into power, they also wanted to free women’s labour force. Hong Fincher describes how the women are ordered to work equally as men in the Great Leap Forward in spite of the fact that women still had to take care of the family and do all of the housework. Many women were forced to leave their infants at home when they went to work, which gave them lifetime traumas.
Chinese University students dressed as battered wives hold banners in front of an office of China’s Civil Affairs department, where local people register for marriage, in protest of domestic violence.
But that is not all. Ms. Hong Fincher also illustrates a vivid image the situation and struggles for the LGBTQ community in China and the transformation of the woman’s status since 1000 years ago.
It is an extremely well-detailed, layered and thought-provoking book. It gives a much needed insight into the lives of Chinese women, letting their voices be heard and their woes be expressed. It pulls at the readers heartstrings and educates the readers mind, and should absolutely be read by anyone interested in the situation for today´s women of China. I applaud Ms. Hong Fincher and her fine book!
It must be agreed with her that the women of China, as all other women of the world, must continue their long and hard battle to equality and emancipation. This fight must be fought by the Chinese women themselves; male allies in China must show solidarity to the brave women’s work. It would also help to use a certain intersectional view within the Chinese feminist movement, one that includes also highlighting the poor women’s, the jailed female political activist, the minorities and also the Tibetan women´s issues as well. At the same time others social justice, human rights and democratic movements should also take part in the feminist movement and take a stand against sexism including sexism within these movements. An economic Social transformation is also needed to provide the foundation of the woman’s liberation such as free public day care and fair, humane jobs for both men and women. To me, there is no feminism without socialism. And there is no socialism without feminism. Will Chinese feminist activists reach their goal of overcoming the oppression of the authoritarian government in China? We’ll see.