China’s market economy has brought pros and cons to the women, says author Zhang Lijia of the bestseller Lotus: A Novel, on prostitution in China, to the BBC.“I think women have shouldered most of the cost and burden during the transition from a planned economy to the market economy,” she says. She is currently working on a book on the left-behind children in China.
One critic of the reforms, social commentator and author Zhang Lijia, says that China’s shift from a planned economy to a market economy model has brought changes and opportunities for both men and women – particularly urban and educated women. But it has also brought setbacks, including job losses.
“I think women have shouldered most of the cost and burden during the transition from a planned economy to the market economy,” she says. “For example, [in] ailing state-owned enterprises, women are always [the] first to be let off.”
Zhang has personal experience of the changes that she wrote about it in her book, Socialism is Great. Growing up in Nanjing, the capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu province, she started working at a missile factory at the age of 16. The village she lived in served as a residential area for a local machinery factory, which was run by the Ministry of Aerospace Industry.
“They had a rule that women [of] about 45 years old were let off from my worker unit,” she says, suggesting that this was a blanket rule in place at the factory.
She thinks the shift to the market economy has allowed more businesses to get away with unscrupulous practices towards female workers in China. “Before, there was this kind of Maoist-style gender equality. Now it’s being replaced by open sexism,” she says.
Zhang goes on to say that “it’s just so much harder to get jobs because they make extra demands… some companies will refuse to hire women of child-bearing age. And sometimes if a woman gets pregnant, they will sack them. Sometimes they will force women to write that ‘in the next ten years I promise I will not have children.’”
Recent figures show that women in China’s cities now earn 67.3% of what men make. Meanwhile, for women in the countryside, it’s even less at 56%.
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