Sr. Wang Pinpin, MSJ
(On 11 November 2016, Sr. Wang Pinpin gave this presentation during the 12th Missiology Forum held at the Institute for Consecrated Life.)
The People's Republic of China (PRC) is a sovereign state in East Asia. It is the world's most populous state, with a population of over 1.381 billion. The PRC is a single-party state governed by the Communist Party of China, with its seat of government in Beijing. The people of China is made up of 56 distinct ethnic groups, the largest of which are the Han Chinese, who constitute about 92% of the total population.
China has had a remarkable economic growth in this past decade. It is currently the second largest economy in the world. Chinese women have played a significant role in this flourishing economy. This presentation discusses the situation of the women in China and calls attention to a long journey ahead, on the path towards attaining gender equality.1
I. What is the Situation of Women in China?
Women's situation in China varies from place to place. My presentation will be in general terms.
In the families:
First of all, the role of women in the family is crucial. A mother’s presence can help the family be more stable. However, she is tied to the household work even if she is working outside. The decisions in the family are made by the husband, and the woman is considered as an extension of the man. Due to prolonged care-giving, women have less opportunities for professional growth. They see this as natural. Child care and education are also the women's responsibilities because most men still do not feel that they have to participate in house work and in child care. This places a double burden on working mothers.2 In addition, the former one-child-policy led married couple to maintain the sole care of both parents. This care became more likely the responsibility of women than men.3
In the economy:
The economic reforms of the last twenty five years have affected Chinese women. As guaranteed employment under the state-controlled economy disappeared, women have lost ground. Meanwhile, these give opportunity for educated and capable women to be self-employed. Today, many young women from the countryside migrate to cities to look for jobs.4
Along the rise of economic reforms, gender inequality in the work places has increased. Discrimination of women is reflected on the following characteristics:
- Women have lower income levels.
- Higher positions are given to men.
- Women experience forced early retirement, which results to problems of insecurity.
- There is a higher percentage of women who are laid-off compared to men.
Although women have made inroads into the political system, their impact is still minimal. There has been no woman in the top tier of power (the Standing Committee of CCCCP) in China since 1949. According to the All-China Women’s Federation compiled survey, which showed that by 2010, there are 26 ministers in the government of China, only 3 (11.5%) are women. . In the 12th National People's Congress, women represent 23.4% of the total number of Representatives in 2013.5 However, a close look at the distribution of women in power structures reveals the clear disadvantage of women in the political system in China.6
In culture and religion:
Women’s positions in culture tend to be subordinate to men's positions. In Chinese society, women cannot carry the family name (cannot continue the family line of their father) and they have no right to pay respect to their ancestors. Therefore, having a son is more favored than having a daughter in the family both in the present life and in the life after death.7
In the church, the participation of women is an extension of their domestic roles; they have very little role in decision making. For instance, most parish councils are still male-dominated.8From the above, we conclude that:
» The whole thrust of development based on economic growth and profits favor those who have power and wealth. Women are often excluded from visible holding of authority.9
» Due to lack of education and the influence of patriarchal society, women suffer from gender inequality and discrimination.
» Traditionally, the son is favored in China. Moreover, with the one-child policy, male is more desirable. These factors cause the abortion of female fetus.
II. Why do we consider this situation?
Ø In Chinese Culture, (Zhong Guo Wen Hua),中国文化 some of the qualities of compassion are described in Tao Te Ching.
- Tao Te Ching Chapter 61 refers to female force in a positive light. The feminine prevails by her quietness, by lowering herself through her quietness. Taoists traditionally have a positive view of women.10
- According to Lao Tse, water is the source of life; it maintains and nourishes the existence of the cosmos. Without water, no living creature can survive. “Water is the symbol of mobility and tenderness; the greater the height from which the water flows down, the greater the force it carries. In the same way, the immense love and compassion flowing from the mother’s heart impacts on the nurturing and the development of her child.”11
- At the center of Taoism stands the concept of the Yin and Yang. Yin and yang are the female and male energy; they cannot exist without the other, they are unified and equal while representing different things.12
Ø In Sacred Scripture, God is shown as a loving and compassionate God. Let me cite how God’s mercy and compassion are manifested to women.
- Isaiah 49:15 -“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you.” Obviously, it is to show the love which God has for his people is stronger than that which is produced by the most tender ties created by any natural relation. The love of a mother for her infant child is the strongest attachment in nature.
- Luke 8:41-56 - Compassion leads Jesus to concrete action: He heals the bleeding woman. Jesus treated her as having worth, not blaming her for what the cultic code of cleanness would have considered as a defiling of him. Out of love, he relieved her of any sense of guilt for her seemingly unlawful act and lifted her up wholly by calling her "Daughter." He affirmed her that her faith saved her. The act "emphasizes the remarkable compassion of the one doing the good deed.13
- John 4 - Christ's way of acting is a consistent protest against whatever offends the dignity of women. "If you knew the gift of God,..." Jesus says to the Samaritan woman during their conversation; this shows his great esteem for the dignity of women and for the vocation which enables them to share in his messianic mission (Pope John Paul II — MD).
Ø In the Church's Teaching: Let us see how our Church teaches about mercy and compassion.
- The Church's way has always been the way of Jesus, the way of mercy and inclusiveness, the way of calling everyone to approach the mercy seat of God, to turn away from evil and come home to the loving embrace of God. Pope Francis’ repeated call to treat others with mercy and compassion, particularly to the weak and the disadvantaged, is a strong reminder of the need to recognize the dignity of women.14
- As Pope Francis quoted the poignant words of Saint John XXIII in Misericordiae Vultus (#4b), the Church is depicted as a Bride and a mother. “Now the Bride of Christ wishes to use the medicine of mercy rather than taking up arms of severity…The Catholic Church wants to show herself a loving mother to all; patient, kind, moved by compassion and goodness toward her separated children.” He further stressed that the Church's very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love. Consequently, wherever the Church is present, the mercy of the Father must be evident. In our parishes, communities, associations, and movements, in a word, wherever there are Christians, everyone should find an oasis of mercy. For in mercy, we find proof of how God loves us.
III. How do we respond to this situation?
1. Education and formation
The formation of religious and lay people needs to be reconsidered.15
- Promote the values of Chinese culture which emphasizes the importance of women, particularly respect for mothers.
- Facilitate partnership between women and men in the family, in the Church and in society.
- Bring awareness to both women and men about gender sensitivity in our daily life and in the division of roles and responsibilities in the family, in the church and in the society.16
- Promote encounters and dialogue between women and men in the Church especially in decision–making.
- Explore the Gospels and reflect on how Jesus treats women through Bible sharing in the church.
2. Leadership training for women
- Assisting women to examine the existing structures within the Church and identifying areas where women have a rightful role in the Church.17
- Awakening women to reclaim their particular and significant contribution in the family, in society, and in the Church. They also need to recognize their dignity and to use their authority wisely to nurture life.
- Affirming and facilitating networking among women groups so that they will be empowered by one another and form a solid support system for each other.18
By reflecting on the life of women in China from various aspects, generally, we can say that Chinese women, just like women in other parts of the world, are carriers of love. In them, mercy and compassion is embodied. Their importance in history is easily felt, yet their rights as individuals are hardly acknowledged and enhanced in the society and in the Church.
Continuously following the spirit of the year of mercy, we can all be missionaries of God’s mercy and compassion in uplifting the life of women through “… building a community of sisters and brothers who live as faithful disciples of Jesus and who bear witness to his message to the world." Therefore, by striving to build bridges of understanding and collaboration and by sharing our particular gifts and talents, we can become effective instruments to promote God’s reign in today’s China.19
1Benxiang Zeng, “Women’s Political Participation in China: Improved or Not?” Journal of International Women's Studies, Volume 15, Jan-2014, 136.
2 FABC, Vol 2, 114.
3 Lanyan Chen and Hilary Standing, “Gender Equity in Transitional China’s Healthcare Policy Reforms,” Feminist Economics, vol. 13, no. 3-4 (2007): p. 189-212.
4See Cara Abraham, “Women's Roles in China”, http://resources.primarysource.org/content.php?pid=78888&;sid=584078
6Zeng Benxiang, “Women's Political Participation in China: Improved or Not?” Journal of International Women's Studies, Volume 15, Jan-2014, 139-140.
7See “Son Preference in China”, http://www.wikigender.org/wiki/son-preference-in-china/
8 FABC, Vol 2, 115.
10Taoism & Gender Roles, http://taoismvsaustralia.weebly.com/taoism-and-gender-roles.html
11 Monteior and Gutzler, Ecclesia of Women in Asia: Gathering the Voices of the Silenced, Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 75, No. 1 (Mar., 2007), 262.
12Taoism & Gender Roles, http://taoismvsaustralia.weebly.com/taoism-and-gender-roles.html
13Jesus' interactions with women, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesus%27_interactions_with_women
14Pope Francis “At a Crossroads of Two Ways of Thinking”, At Mass with the Newly Cardinals in St. Peter’s Basilica, L’OSSERBATORE ROMANO, No. 8, 20 February, 2015.
15 FABC, Vol 2, 116.
16 Ibid., 117.
18 Ibid., 115
19 FABC, Vol 2, 94.