Being a Woman in China Today

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Updated: Aug 21, 2023
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Do you know how many baby girls have been abandoned in China? The answer is countless. China is a patriarchal society and with a 30-year one-child policy, this has led to many baby girls being abandoned. This has been happening because, when only allowed one child, many couples prefer a boy. According to the Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum in 2018, China ranked below the world average. Gender identity influences society’s perspective and decision-making process. It affects behaviors related to family life, such as a wife’s employment, household chores, and even marriage decisions (Ye and Zhao, 2018).

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In China, stereotypes about the roles and responsibilities of males and females in family and society still exist. This research paper mainly discusses three stereotypes which include labor inequality, educational inequality, and family inequality.

Primarily, understanding the issue of workplace inequality for Chinese women requires a knowledge of gender discrimination. Firstly, there is significant gender discrimination against women in the workplace. Yang and Li’s (2009) results indicate that “A large number of women in many occupations are still subject to discrimination, including discriminatory hiring practices, limited opportunities for promotion, the lack of social insurance benefits, early compulsory retirement age, and various forms of harassment” (p.297). Currently, although this situation has improved, there is still a common scenario where executive and senior government positions are rarely occupied by women. According to the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, Chinese female legislators, senior officials and managers ranked 122nd. Secondly, labor discrimination can be divided into direct and indirect discrimination. The most obvious example of direct discrimination is job advertisements exclusively for men. Indirect discrimination is generally less overt (Yang and Li, 2009). These discriminations are justified under the guise of defending women. A common issue for Chinese women is that many companies refuse to hire women likely to have children due to concerns over maternity leave, which may cause financial losses. They may even require female applicants to prove they are not pregnant. Lastly, Chinese law has limitations regarding women’s workforce equality. Although the law has improved, it still fails to fully protect women’s labor rights or prevent employment discrimination (Burnett, 2009). Some examples of these limitations include increasing the cost of hiring women, limiting the types of jobs women can choose, and restricting their employment opportunities. In conclusion, labor inequality encompasses the current and past positions of Chinese women, types of discrimination, and labor laws.

Additionally, educational gender inequality is also a serious problem that Chinese women suffer. Due to the popularity of education, there are more opportunities for children to study. Nevertheless, educational inequality still exists (Yang, Huang, and Liu, 2014). Firstly, in a patriarchal society like China, women have fewer educational opportunities. In 2009, Cheng noted that “Substantial gender imbalances are clearly illustrated in many aspects of educational development”. In 1986, China stipulated nine-year compulsory education. Although parents don’t need to pay the tuition fee for children in the period of compulsory education, they refuse to enable girls attend school. The reason for this is that they think this is a waste of time to send girls to school. Secondly, the biggest influencing factor of gender inequality in education is the difference between rural and urban areas. The gender inequality in urban education is less severe than in rural settings (Cheng, 2009). Rural families are easier thinking that men are more likely to support the family, and they also think that the daughter is just an outsider of the family. In contrast, urban families are more educated, less influenced by traditional thoughts. Furthermore, education inequality can be reflected in family inequality and labor inequality. If women don’t possess enough education, they will maintain their views on the women’s traditional roles and pass those views to their children in the future (Burnett, 2010). They are possible considering that the Chinese women’s characters are born a male descendent and becoming family caretaker, and this limits their choice of life. Furthermore, women can’t find jobs without a high degree of education, so they can’t feed themselves. Therefore, rural and urban educational perspectives, family inequality and job inequality which are caused by lack of education are all manifestations of educational gender inequality.

In addition to labor inequality and educational inequality, the most serious situation which Chinese women face is family inequality. First of all, the fact that women are treated as ‘sheng nu’ is gender inequality. People in China constantly hear a word called ‘sheng nu’ which means the leftover women who are unmarried after 27-years old (Luo and Sun, 2015; Zurndorfer, 2018). Old unmarried women in China face huge and harmful gender inequalities. Leftover women usually have a high education such as a doctoral degree or more. Male arrogance makes them willing to find academic qualifications, economic ability, and appearance are not as good as their woman, not women who are better than them. In addition, social media such as TV dating shows have a negative impact on gender inequality about marriage. Those TV dating shows reflect the sharp social problems that Chinese people face about marriage and it is also a materialization of women (Luo and Sun, 2015). Nowadays, people use ‘Bai Fu Mei’ which is the witness of skin, high economic level and beautiful appearance to describe a popular woman. However, the value of women cannot be measured by these three criteria which are influenced by social media. This way of description is gender inequality.

Finally, women in the Chinese patriarchal society are imprisoned by traditional roles. According to Sangren (2009), “By Chinese ‘patriliny’ I mean not only ‘kinship’– that is to say, patrilineal descent, virilocal residence, equal inheritance among sons, etc. – but also ancestor worship, funerary practices, marriage ritual, ethnobiological ideologies, gender categories and, especially, pervasive values like filial piety” (p.256). Chinese traditional culture and concepts imprison women. Women are always considered male accessories. They can only be regarded as filial if they marry and raise children in a family. Consequently, the situation of the older unmarried woman being labeled ‘sheng nu’, the negative effects of social media, and traditional female roles in a patriarchal society are all manifestations of familial inequality.

However, some people think that the status of Chinese women is relatively equal when compared to other East Asian countries. However, compared with European and American countries, their status is not equal. According to the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, China’s Global Gender Gap score dropped from 63rd in 2006 to 103rd in 2018. Moreover, the metric that best reflects the enduring traditional patriarchal ideology is the sex ratio at birth, which is at the bottom. As a result, these rankings reflect the gender inequality of Chinese women.

To sum up, stereotypes including labor inequality, educational inequality, and familial inequality indicate the unequal treatment of Chinese women. Not only are women in China subjected to gender inequality, but women around the world also face this issue. According to the 2017 Global Gender Gap Report, it will take 217 years to achieve gender equality in the workplace. China needs to create more laws and change traditional thinking to achieve gender equality in the workplace, education, and family.


  1. Bing Ye, Yucong Zhao. (2018) Women hold up half the sky? Gender identity and the wife’s labor market performance in China. China Economic Reiview. Vol.27, pp.116-141
  3. Harriet Zurndorfer. (2018) Escape from the country: the gender politics of Chinese women in pursuit of transnational romance. Gender, Place & Culture. Vol.25, No.4, pp.489-506
  5. Henan Cheng. (2009) Inequality in Basic Education in China: a comprehensive review. International Journal of Educational Policies. Vol.3, No.2 pp.81-106.
  7. Jamie Burnett. (2010) Women’s employment rights in China: Creating harmony for women in the workforce. Indiana Journal of Global Legal Studies. Vol.17, No.2, pp.289-318
  9. Jun Yang, Xiao Huang, Xin Liu. (2014) An analysis of education inequality in China. International Journal of Education Development. Vol.37, pp.2-10
  11. P. Steven Sangren. (2009) ‘Masculine Domination’ Desire and Chinese Patriliny. Critique of Anthropology. Vol.29, No.3, pp.255-278
  13. Sadia Yang and Ao Li. (2009) Legal protection against gender discrimination in the work place in China. Gender & Development. Vol. 17, No. 2
  15. Wei Luo and Zhen Sun. (2015) Are you the one? China’s TV dating shows and the sheng nu’s predicament. Feminist Media Studies. Vol. 15, No.2, pp.239-256
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Being a Woman in China Today. (2021, Mar 26). Retrieved from