Women's Journal

Confronting Population Challenges, China Urges Women Towards Domestic Roles

Image Commercially Licensed from: Depositphotos

Zhang Nanfeng, a Beijing-based employee at a Japanese company, enjoys a child-free life with her husband, valuing their freedom and lack of parenting responsibilities. This lifestyle sharply contrasts with Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s vision for women, amidst China’s economic challenges due to a declining birth rate. In 2022, China recorded its lowest birth rate in 61 years, with just 9.56 million live births, a significant drop from the previous year. The marriage rate has also plummeted, reaching its lowest since 1986.

Xi Jinping, addressing the 13th National Congress of Chinese Women, emphasized the need for a new culture promoting marriage and childbearing. He stressed the importance of guiding young people’s perspectives on these issues, enhancing fertility support policies, and addressing population aging. However, analysts interpret Xi’s remarks as viewing women’s rights and gender issues as political risks needing control, linking feminism with foreign influences.

Lu Pin, a Chinese feminist activist and doctoral candidate at Rutgers University, observes that the Chinese government now sees women as pivotal for family stability, a fundamental unit for national stability. Public advocacy for feminism is nearly impossible, though some online discussions call for equal employment for women and men’s involvement in parenting.

The push for women to assume traditional homemaking roles marks a significant shift from the Communist Party’s early principles, which promoted women’s independence and workforce participation. Mao Zedong’s famous statement, “Women hold up half the sky,” reflected this stance. However, recent policies encouraging larger families have inadvertently pushed women out of the workforce and public life, as observed by Wu Weiting from Taiwan Shih Hsin University’s Institute of Gender Research.

China’s declining position in the Global Gender Gap Report, along with the censorship of gender equality rights on the Chinese internet, further highlights the shift in the government’s stance on women’s roles. Wu interprets the recent ban on rainbow imagery and the push for traditional family values as part of China’s broader confrontation with Western ideologies, particularly concerning LGBTQ rights.