Interestingly, the history of contemporary women’s rights in China has followed a trajectory opposite of the rest of the developed world. In the 1950’s and 60’s, while American women generally had low workforce participation, the women of Mao Zedong’s Communist China enjoyed a governmental system that boasted extremely high levels of gender equality. However, following Deng Xiaoping’s “Reform and Opening Up” (改革开放), this situation has gradually deteriorated and come to reveal many contemporary iterations of formerly traditional constraints. Though some concrete laws exist that prevent gender equality within the workplace, many of the inequalities that permeate Chinese society exist within and are perpetuated by Chinese societal constructs. In addition to discriminatory hiring practices and imbedded ideas about the industries in which it is acceptable for women to work, there are many practices that implicitly prevent women from gaining leadership roles within the workplace. For example, many business deals within China are conducted at banquets that involve substantial amounts of drinking and often feature prostitutes. The mere nature of these events biases the success of men in the business world and often prevents women from creating networks equal in magnitude.
Perhaps the strongest restraint on women’s equality within the workplace comes from their perceived role in the household. This issue was made highly visible by an advertisement run by Japanese beauty company SK-II. The documentary-style video explains the concept of shengnü (剩女), which literally means “leftover woman”. This describes the phenomenon of any single woman older than twenty-seven that has chosen to pursue educational or economic opportunities rather than marriage. These women often receive undue amounts of pressure from older generations to find a husband, thus creating an uneasy balance between the traditionally hierarchical Chinese family structure and desire to keep up with a rapidly modernizing economy. Women’s parents are not the only ones encouraging this though – the Chinese government has also encouraged the exodus of these women from the workforce in order to have children. Their rumored goal is to assure the future development of a superior workforce by ensuring educated, urban women have children. In reality though, it is not just these women’s kids who represent continued economic success; it is the women themselves and they should be afforded equal economic opportunity as such.