In recent years, the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), which rules China dictatorially, has adopted an increasingly traditionalist and reactionary stance on the role of women. L’conservative attitude on gender issues it intensified in China with the coming to power of Xi Jinping and is considered, among other things, as a clumsy attempt to respond to the growing demographic crisis facing the country. Over the past decade or so, social and cultural policies have been implemented in China aimed at promoting a traditional image of Chinese women as wives and mothers, often to the detriment of their professional and economic emancipation. acceleration.
Communist leaders have reiterated their reactionary stance on the role of women also in recent weeks, on the occasion of the National Women’s Congress organized by the All-China Women’s Federation (a party-controlled body). At the Congress, held at the end of October, the main participating (male) political leaders reiterated a decidedly traditionalist view of the role of women, also in contrast to the declarations and political positions adopted in previous years.
For example, in his inaugural speech, Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang did not repeat the standard formula on gender equality as the “basic national policy of the Chinese government” that had been repeated at the start of every congress since On the contrary, Ding urged the Federation to “establish a correct perspective on marriage, love, birth and family” (i.e., the perspective of what is called “the traditional family”).
This language is very different from that used in the past. Xi Jinping himself during the previous congress in 2018, he encouraged “to help women better manage the relationship between family and work”, while this year, at the close of the Congress, he declared that policies in favor of women do not only concern the development of women themselves , but also “family and social harmony, as well as national development and progress”. In practice, Xi said, women’s autonomy must be subordinated to the needs (especially demographic) of the state. Xi also urged “cultivating a new culture of marriage and fertility”, as well as “strengthening the orientation of young people’s views on marriage, birth and family”: all rather traditionalist subjects.
The demographic crisis in ChinaAccording to many experts, the main reason for this increasingly reactionary and traditionalist attitude on the part of the Communist Party towards women is the demographic crisis that China has been facing for some time. Faced with declining birth rates, the (all-male) leadership of the Party adopts a rhetoric and attitude similar to that of many far-right regimes in the West and beyond.
The Chinese demographic crisis has fairly distant origins. Since 1979, with the introduction of the one-child policy, Chinese society has embarked on a path of radical social reform which, in many respects, has been a precondition for the surprising economic development observed in over the last decades. But on the other hand, this family policy has significantly reduced the birth rate, exposing China to the risk of premature aging.
The effects of this demographic problem they are already visible in China, where last year the population fell for the first time in six decades. The demographic peak reached at the end of 2021 recorded 1,412.6 million inhabitants in the country while a year later, this figure had fallen to 1,411.8 million: with 9.56 million new births and 10.41 million deaths, the Chinese population in 2022 is decreased by approximately 850,000 people .
The most worrying trend is the lack of new births, which have declined in recent years. Although decreasing compared to the previous decade, between 2003 and 2015 the number of newborns remained stable, around 16 million per year, with a peak of 17.86 million recorded in 2016. Since then, however , the birth curve has fallen dramatically and last year fell for the first time below the threshold of 10 million per year. The outlook for the current year is not very encouraging: according to Qiao Jie, director of the Peking University Health Science Center, this year the number of newborns may even drop to 7-8 million . Other projections, however, are more optimistic and estimate that the figure in coming years could stabilize around 10 million .
The government has taken several measures to counter this crisis. In 2016, the one-child policy was abolished, allowing citizens of the People’s Republic to have up to two children, while in 2021 the limit was raised to three children. In addition to the easing of restrictions (which in some cases local administrations have even gone as far as remove completely ), Beijing has promoted economic support programs for couples intending to have children. However, the measures implemented such as tax cuts, state subsidies or the extension of maternity leave, have not had the desired effect.
There are several reasons why young Chinese people do not have children. The first, despite economic aid, concerns the high costs associated with raising a child in China: the enormous costs of education and the scarcity of neonatal care services are two important elements that deter Chinese couples. The second is rather linked to social changes: if some have decided to postponing important personal decisions until the future like those of getting married or starting a family (especially in the general climate of uncertainty that China has experienced in recent years), for part of the population it is nevertheless a life project that does not include parenthood .
However, according to He Dan, director of the China Population and Development Research Center, part of the responsibility must also be attributed to bad public strategies , particularly at the level of local authorities. By focusing on supporting families with a second or third child, local authorities have often failed to encourage people to have their first child and have unwittingly contributed to lowering overall fertility rates.
The Family Values CampaignPolicies in favor of the birth rate are part of this context of demographic crisis. To combat low birth rates, the CCP has launched a growing campaign in recent years also on a cultural level , and which seeks to influence social norms and values surrounding marriage, family and parenthood. The campaign has often attempted to ease the social pressure involved in starting a family in China: some of the directives issued by the CPC Central Committee in 2021, for example, push against practices that are now obsolete and problematic like that of the dowry .
On the other hand, the Communist Party has mainly tried to recover traditional values and images of the family. Chinese leaders now systematically approach the issue of gender roles with a paternalistic attitude, in which individual choices are subject to the political necessity of countering the demographic crisis.
The repression of progressive female voices goes hand in hand with the revival of conservative family values. In recent years, several feminist profiles or those simply seeking to defend women’s rights have been closed on Chinese social networks: an example is the #MeToo movement, which had reached a certain diffusion in China and had allowed numerous cases of sexual abuse to spread. be discovered, but it was quickly repressed by the authorities .
Even from a symbolic point of view, the presence of Chinese women at the highest levels of the party has always been very limited and recently even this minimal representation has been abruptly reduced. interrupted . Since 1997, within the CCP Politburo (one of the main governing bodies of the Party), there has always been at least one woman among its approximately 25 members: last year, at the 20th Party Congress, all Positions were available and were allocated to men. .
The Chinese discourse on womenThe gender issue in China has had mixed fortunes. The emancipation of women from the subordinate role assigned to them in traditional Chinese society was a central element of the socialist revolution undertaken by Mao Zedong after the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Already in the first Constitution promulgated by the Republic popular in 1949, In 1954 they expressly established equal rights for women and men “in all spheres of political, economic, cultural, social and domestic life.”
Policies in favor of the socio-economic inclusion of women and gender equality, promoted under the slogan “women hold up half the sky”, have been applied instrumentally to the construction of a socialist society and this has led to real advances and others more linked to the government’s propaganda needs.
For years, the condition of women in Chinese society has remained quite good compared to other developing countries, but political and economic power has always remained in the hands of men.
With market reforms and gradual economic liberalization beginning in the late 1980s, many public policies supporting gender equality gradually weakened. Even if from the point of view of education and access to health, Chinese women have experienced a notable improvement , in terms of employment and economic well-being, the disparity between men and women in China has widened. Today, China occupies 48th place in the ranking. Gender Inequality Index established by the United Nations, a ranking in which Italy occupies 13th place (the index measures inequalities, the ranking starts from the lowest values).