Women’s Rights in China

Dramatic changes in women’s rights have been achieved in a culture where for millennia women were stereotyped as inferior to men, had no rights and served as slaves, concubines and prostitutes. Marriages were arranged—sometimes at infancy.

In 1949, foot binding was abolished; the All-China Women’s Federation (ACWF) was formed and supported by China’s Communist Party (CCP). Change in China, as in the United States, has been a painful evolutionary process. However, the struggle for women to gain equality appears to have moved faster in China since the CCP came to power.

After the CCP was established in 1949, it took less than a year to liberate women and pass laws to speed this process along.

For a comparison, after the United States was established in 1776, it took one hundred and forty-four years until August 26, 1920 when the Congress voted in the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution giving women the right to vote.

At the 10th National Women’s Congress in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, in 2008, Deputy-Chairwoman HuangQingyi said, “Sex discrimination in employment should be eradicated and the income gap between men and women should be further narrowed.”

It was also been reported that domestic violence is a severe threat to women. Chinese authorities reported 50,000 complaints annually, according to figures released by the ACWF. The domestic violence fact sheet shows this is also a problem in the United States.

Role of Women in China Then and Now

Sexual discrimination was supposed to have been abolished in China back in 1949, when Chairman Mao Zedong famously announced, “women hold up half the sky”, but it wasn’t. It has only been a few years since China outlawed sexual harassment. Laws may be written to bring about change but change comes slowly.

Today, statistics show China has about 27,000 women and children’s rights protection agencies. However, China’s critics and enemies will only point out what they believe is wrong without giving credit to what has changed for the good of women in China.


Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This revised and edited post first appeared on March 21, 2010

4 Responses to Women’s Rights in China

  1. Troy Parfitt says:

    When I lived in another, non Chinese Asian country (han guo or chao xian, depending on what form of Mandarin you speak) I saw women punched in the face on the subway and often heard women screaming at night. Other expats had similar experiences. It was a real social issue. I was walking with a Canadian girl once who said something a bit smarmy to a man on the street – who responded by tossing her into a brick wall.

    I found women, generally speaking, much easier to get along with. Men seemed insecure and aggressive – and they drank too much and got out of control. When I moved to Taiwan, I never saw anything like that, though I dated a Chinese girl who told me her ex-boyfriend hit her a couple of times. Men were sometimes very controlling (you see them going through their girlfiends’ cell phones, checking to see what calls were made, upon meeting), but talk about an improvement. At least it seemed like one. Who knows what goes on behind closed doors? An American journalist wrote a book about that peninsular country and there’s a whole section on what could probably best be described as pig headed men. He notes that while many daughters will do anything thing for their mothers, they often despise their (controlling, chauvanistic) fathers.

  2. Aussie in China says:

    Everyday here in rural China I see women walking a few paces behing the man. Old habits die hard.

    Regarding abortion, the Law is China is that it is illegal to use ultrasounds to determine the gender of the foetus. However, it’s difficult to enforce. But if you’re caught it’s jail time.
    But not everyone takes that measure. A few years ago, we financially helped a couple who were tossed out of their farm house when it came to the notice of the authorites after a birth of a daughter that they already had another 5 daughters at home. They were so poor that after the eviction they sold their new baby daughter to a childless couple near where we live. The women was a cousin of one of our close friends.

    Another Law in rural China for Han is that if a women has already given birth to two sons, she is legally bound to have tubal ligation, Not sure of the enforcement rate on that one.

  3. Troy Parfitt says:

    Based on my impressions (no stats), Chinese society in general seems to have really moved toward the empowerment of women. When I was in Taiwan, I didn’t really notice any more inequality than in my native Canada. In fact, one negative stereotype my adult students had of neighboring East Asian countries, like Japan and Korea, was that there was a high incidence of da nan ren zhu yi – lit: Big Man-ism, or chauvanism. In the realm of gender equality, or moving toward it, China and other Chinese territories really have it over a lot of other countries and cultures. There are probably books out there like The Good Women of China which could alter that impression, however.

    • I suspect that urban women in China are better off than rural women, and the more remote the rural area, the less empowerment women have.

      The old ways change slowly.

      It is easy to pass new laws but not as easy to enforce the changes those laws were meant to bring about.

      For example, the One Child Policy designed to control population growth has been difficult to enforce in a culture that favored boy babies over female (as it still is in India), which has led to millions more men than women. There are laws in China against abortion just because the fetus is a female, but the illegal black market for abortions is still strong.

      Although in urban areas, there seems to be some improvement on this age-old tradition of boys being more important than females. However, the same improvement in attitude hasn’t seen much of an improvement in other Asian countries.

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