Women in China

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The purchasing power of Chinese women living on their own or in married households with no children is projected to jump from $180bn in 2005 to $260bn by 2015 (Ernst & Young, p.6, 2007). On top of this Ernst and Young also state that 65% of Chinese female consumers now

spend more than 60% of their monthly wages (p.5, 2007).

China is the only country in the world where more women commit suicide than men, with 150,000 doing so every year and altogether 1.5 million Chinese women attempt to take their own lives every year (Allen, 2010).

The two statements above highlight the manner in which Chinese women have become empowered in recent years and at the same time the extent to which they still feel powerless. In a world of contradictions the influence of women on Chinese society continues to grow stronger while at the same time, all women still lack certain basic freedoms of choice. One could argue that China’s one child policy has played a significant role; both a positive and negative one, in the lives of Chinese women. Its presence has also been felt in a similar way within wider society. The policy has managed to bring China’s population growth under control but has done so with potentially disastrous effects to Chinese society in the future. Within this essay I will attempt to use the one-child policy as a framework in order to show the contradictions, the changes and the challenges which are a part of life for Chinese women.

China’s one child policy was introduced in 1979, it was seen as imperative to bring China’s booming population under control in order to benefit from the economic reforms which were being introduced by Deng Xiaoping at the time (Hesket, Li & Zhu, p.1171, 2005). It has been strictly enforced in large cities and urban areas, while some exceptions and less rigorous implementation has been pursued in rural areas and low population centres (Fong, p.1100, 2002). The Chinese government aimed to have a population of 1.2 billion people by the year 2000, however the 2000 census revealed that the population was just above this target at about 1.27 billion (Hesket, Li & Zhu, p.1171, 2005). The Chinese government claim that the One Child Policy has prevented 400 million births (Bristow, 2007).

The negative effects of the one child policy are numerous and controversial and seem to touch all facets of Chinese society. The first most obvious impact of the policy is the restraint it places on the freedom of women to chose how they wish live their lives, this is in contravention of article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which grants the right to life, liberty

and security for everyone1. Chinese culture’s strong preference for boys has not helped either resulting in infanticide, a rise in the popularity of gender determination scans and the aborting of pregnancies for female foetuses (Hesket & Wei, p.1687, 1997). The prevalence of such activities has decreased considerably in recent times due to the enforcement of strict legislation, the launching of educational campaigns on the issue and also a general change in the culture has seen the rise of a more tolerant society, however isolated cases still persist (Hesket & Wei, p.1687, 1997). Accusations of health officials enforcing late-term abortions and sterilisations are also dark sides of the policy which the government are less willing to discuss (Bristow, 2010).

A distorted gender demographic is another effect which is argued to be as a result of the one child policy (Hesket, Li & Zhu, p.1171, 2005). This has resulted in China having approximately 40 million more men than women2. However the contribution which China’s one child policy has made towards this demographic problem is debatable. If we look at the Chinese census figures for 1953 we see that the sex ratio was 100 females to 107.56 males, in 2000 the sex ratio was 100 females to 106.74 males (Mackerras, p.211, 2001). This information suggests that the over-population of...
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