Women hit the political glass ceiling at China’s Communist Party Congress

         Sun Chunlan, China’s “Iron Lady” and the only woman in the ruling party’s Politburo, is due to step down from her post at the 20th Communist Party Congress this week. There’s no guarantee that another woman will succeed her, providing yet another example of the systemic under-representation of Chinese women in leadership positions, which can have very real consequences for the world’s most populous nation.

Sun Chunlan is a special case in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) galaxy: She is the only woman in the Politburo, the Beijing regime’s powerful executive body. But it’s not for long. Sun is expected to step down from her post during the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress, the weeklong, twice-a-decade meeting, which began on Sunday, October 16. At 72, China’s “Iron Lady” is past the usual retirement age of 68.

The nerve center of Chinese power could therefore be composed solely of men, aggravating a chronic problem of gender underrepresentation in the nation’s halls of power.

Since 2017, Sun has embodied the CCP’s image of a party unafraid to promote women to top positions. She holds the prestigious title of vice premier, one of only four in the 25-member Politburo.

Women hold up half the sky’, but men rule

Sun’s “Iron Lady” moniker has been reinforced over the past two years, since President Xi Jinping appointed her as the country’s top official overseeing China’s Covid-19 pandemic response.

She has been the enforcer of Xi’s "zero-Covid" policy – proof, if proof were needed, that the country’s only female vice premier enjoys the president’s complete confidence to manage one of the most serious health crises confronting the Chinese leader since he came to power in 2012.

But managing the controversial public health policy is not exactly a political gift. Some China experts believe Xi found in Sun an easy “zero-Covid” scapegoat to be sacrificed if his management of the pandemic becomes too contentious. The health dossier has also traditionally been entrusted to women in Communist China; one of Sun’s Politburo predecessors was Wu Yi, who had to deal with the 2003 SARS epidemic.

Nevertheless, Sun’s departure will leave a void in the party’s upper echelons. There are other female candidates for the coveted Politburo post, including Shen Yiqin, the only woman to serve as party general secretary of an entire province, Guizhou, in southern China. Shen also hails from the Bai ethnic minority, “which – cynically speaking – means she simultaneously checks the woman box and the ethnic minority box”, noted the China Project website.

But "nothing obliges the CCP to replace Sun Chunlan with another woman", explained Valarie Tan from the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics). The likely absence of women in the next Politburo, to be unveiled during the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress, would not be surprising since Sun's position represents the exception to the rule.

In theory, Communist China claims to be one of the most egalitarian regimes in the world. Schoolchildren across the country are familiar with founding father Mao Zedong’s famous "women hold up half the sky" quote reinforcing constitutional equal rights. "From the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the CCP has placed equality between women and men as one of the characteristics that distinguish the Communist state from the 'old China'," explained Cheng Li, from the Washington-based Brookings Institution, in a report on female representation in Chinese politics.

A very patriarchal party

But the reality is quite different for a country with around 703 million women, constituting 48.7 percent of the total population.

Since 1949, there have been only six women in the CCP Politburo. Three of them were the wives of the founders of Communist China. Among the more than 300 members of the Central Committee – who elect Politburo members and endorse their decisions – there are barely 30 women. In short, only "eight percent of the party's leadership positions have been given to women", noted Tan.

The Politburo – of which Sun is a member – in turn selects the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee. The current Standing Committee has seven members, none of them women.

This underrepresentation is not due to a lack of Chinese women choosing political careers. Between January 2020 and June 2021, for instance, nearly half of new party members were women.

The 20th Congress could have been the occasion to spearhead the fight against the political glass ceiling since the meeting provides an occasion for a major renewal of the party’s upper echelons. But the chances of significant change in female representation are slim.

For starters, the reasons for male domination in top political positions have not been questioned. The party's executive positions are often reserved for “leaders who had held managerial roles at state-owned enterprises, ministries and regional governments, positions for which women were often bypassed”, noted Minglu Chen, from the University of Sydney’s China Studies Centre, in the South China Morning Post.

Secondly, promotion within the CCP is “entirely based on factional ties rather than individual merits”, Bo Zhiyue, an expert in Chinese elite politics based in New Zealand, told the South China Morning Post. “This has created a very helpless situation because it’s a selection, not an election,” he added.

To rise to the top of the political ladder, aspirants need the right support, and women often have less direct access to those few party figures who can promote their protégés.

Xi is also no champion of women in politics. He embodies "the CCP's very patriarchal approach to society", argues Tan. The end of the one-child policy in 2021 was an opportunity for the Chinese president to insist on the importance of "traditional family values". He has even initiated a campaign to exalt "the unique physical and mental traits [of women] for giving birth and caring for newborns". In other words, the Chinese leader would rather see women at home than in the office.

This lack of women in leadership has important economic and social consequences, noted Tan. "One of the root causes of the current demographic crisis in China is the underrepresentation of women in important positions," she explained. "The problems of almost half the population are not, or barely, represented in the CCP."

And so, the incentive to have children is essentially "money distributed to families, without taking into account the deeper reasons why Chinese women do not want to have more children", explained Tan.

Chinese authorities are also not severe enough when it comes to tackling domestic abuse and violence against women in general, noted Tan. The impunity that some powerful men involved in sexual assault scandals seem to enjoy – such as former vice premier Zhang Gaoli, who is accused of rape by tennis player Peng Shuai – reinforces a “climate that does not make women want to have children", said Tan.

Communist party honchos who have been setting priorities in recent years to encourage people to have more children "could have benefitted from conversations with women on the Standing Committee", noted the China Project, referring to the tiny group of Politburo Standing Committee members selected by the 25-member Politburo. “Too bad there weren’t any.”

This article is a translation from the original in French.

Susan Shirk:Xi Jinping Has Fallen Into the Dictator Trap


The Dictator Trap of Xi Jinping

President Xi Jinping’s first decade in power has been a study in hubris. He has purged political rivals and adopted heavy-handed policies that have imperiled China’s economy. He laid the groundwork for a crackdown in the Xinjiang region that drove Muslim citizens into thought reform camps and has alarmed and alienated neighbors with an aggressive foreign policy.

And things just might get worse.

The Chinese Communist Party congress, which opens on Sunday, is expected to hand Mr. Xi another five years as general secretary of the party. Rather than a reassuring sign of continuity, his third term as the top leader of China could spell years of uncertainty as problems mount around an unbound leader who has shown little inclination to share decision-making.

Mr. Xi fell into the same trap that has ensnared dictators throughout history: He overreached. He has concentrated more power in his hands than any Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, looming so completely over the country that he’s been called the “chairman of everything.”

Rivals — real and imagined — have been removed through an extensive anti-corruption campaign. Two more top former officials were jailed last month, accused of financial crimes and disloyalty to Mr. Xi. Mr. Xi has openly accused other politicians of plotting against the party from the outset of his purge ten years ago. He values fealty to himself as more important than competence, and subordinates compete to prove their loyalty by carrying out his policies to the extreme rather than raising harsh truths about negative consequences.

This is precisely the sort of situation that Deng Xiaoping and other former Communist Party leaders had set out to prevent with changes introduced decades ago.

The over-concentration of power in Mao’s hands led to decisions such as his misguided Great Leap Forward, a campaign to greatly increase agrarian and industrial output in the late 1950s that led instead to a devastating famine, and the chaotic political violence of the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution.

After Mao’s death in 1976, Mr. Deng made leadership competition more predictable by introducing term limits and retirement ages for leading posts in the government and military and giving party institutions more authority. A pattern of decade-long reigns set in. But Mr. Deng refused to give China’s legislature and courts authority over the party. Party institutions — their members all appointed by senior leaders — proved to be pushovers for Mr. Xi. No visible resistance was raised when he engineered the abolition of presidential term limits in 2018, which could allow Mr. Xi, who is 69, to stay in power until he dies or is deposed in a power struggle.

The costs of his overreach are piling up.

Mr. Xi, who favors a state-led, centrally controlled economy, began an abrupt crackdown on major Chinese internet companies last year, part of a plan to redistribute wealth and rein in the private sector. That has been put on the back burner for now, but not before it wiped billions of dollars from the valuations of innovative companies and cast a pall over entrepreneurship, exacerbating an extended Chinese economic slowdown.

And while the rest of the world has learned to live with the pandemic, Mr. Xi has stubbornly refused to loosen his zero-tolerance approach. Officials nationwide are overzealously imposing mass lockdowns and surveillance in a bandwagon dynamic that has echoes of the Great Leap Forward, when officials over-complied with Mao’s damaging directives.

The Covid policy has angered citizens and saddled local governments with the huge costs of constant testing and quarantining. Private companies stricken by the disruption and regulatory crackdowns are laying off employees, and college graduates are struggling to find jobs. For the first time in years, unemployment has become a serious political risk for the party, and a tanking Chinese real estate market threatens to pull down the entire economy.

On foreign policy, Mr. Xi abandoned decades of Chinese restraint in favor of a muscular approach designed to restore China’s historical status as a leading power but which is harming its standing in the world.

China has militarized disputed islets in the South China Sea, threatened military action against Taiwan, picked a border fight with India and cut off many imports from Australia after that country’s government called for an international investigation into the origins of the pandemic. Mr. Xi destroyed Hong Kong’s autonomy and has deepened China’s isolation from Europe and the United States by aligning with President Vladimir Putin of Russia just before Mr. Putin launched his brutal invasion of Ukraine.

Countries that could have been Beijing’s valued partners have joined ranks against China in coalitions like the Quad, which groups together the United States, Japan, Australia and India. The United States and some European countries, whose trade and investment inflows were crucial to China’s re-emergence as an economic power, are now apparently less willing to do business. As Germany’s economy minister, Robert Habeck, said of Chinese protectionism and pressure to ignore its human rights abuses, his country would no longer “allow ourselves to be blackmailed.”

The greatest risk now facing China and the world is that the consequences of Mr. Xi’s misrule could lead to a point where he feels compelled to provoke a foreign conflict to divert domestic public attention. Mr. Xi’s continued reluctance to share power also could increase the risk of an internecine split in his third term. The level of dissent within the secretive Communist Party is difficult to gauge, but possible signs of frustration have emerged.

It’s anyone’s guess how much longer Mr. Xi’s rule will last, but there appears no end in sight. The party normally selects a successor five years in advance to groom and introduce him to the Chinese public. But everyone is in the shadow cast by Mr. Xi, who has so far given no hint who his eventual successor might be.

Next week’s congress will be closely watched for clues that other leaders might be allowed to take on more power and responsibility. But that seems unlikely. Mr. Xi is almost certain to stay in character, packing the top leadership with his loyalists. And the more concentrated his power, the greater the hazards for China and the world.

The post Xi Jinping Has Fallen Into the Dictator Trap appeared first on New York Times.


《月明世暗 ——- 错爱的民族主义》

                                吳稱謀 ----- 2022清秋

2022 mid-autumn festival























       1969年,一個16歲的懵懂少年和其他14個孩子,上山下鄉來到黃土高坡,一個只有四十戶農家,连小学都没有的偏僻山村——— 梁家河。       



       遙想文革期間,韶山,井岡山,延安…… 凡是某偽人生活過的地方都變成了革命聖地。因為全國上下盲目崇拜,造成神州內外愚昧貧窮。如今,歷史又在重演,劇情幾乎雷同,膜拜的民眾和崇拜的主角也讀驚人的相似。