When the Communist Party took power
in China about 60 years ago, Mao Zedong
declared, “Women can support half of the
sky.” Women were granted the same working
opportunities as men and their economic
independence dramatically increased. As my
mom often said, “The best thing that
Chairman Mao did was to liberate women
from the home.” From a very young age, I
realized that economic independence is one
of the most important things in a girl’s life.
But my mom often complained she still
had to do all of the chores at home and take
most of the responsibility of bringing up
three kids while she worked out of the home.
Like most Chinese, she got support from my
grandparents, who helped her
take care of us. (According to
Chinese tradition, most
women expect to get help
from their parents or in-laws
when they have babies.)
Almost every company had
onsite daycare. And under the
Communist Party’s strict control, everyone’s job was pre-arranged and stable. Your boss might not like you, but he
could never fire you.
The job security is not there anymore as
China is transforming to a fast-growing market economy. Most state-controlled companies went bankrupt and more people are
working for private companies. For people
who still work within the state-controlled system, life remains stable and slow, but most
people’s lives now are quite different.
Work pressure is mounting for both men
and women. Most onsite daycare has disappeared. Chinese women are facing even more
challenges than typical Western women when
it comes to having a baby. Women in China
also have no serious legal protection at their
workplace when they get pregnant. Some
employers even ask female employees to sign
a contract stating they will not get pregnant
during the first five years in the company.
Unlike in the United States, these days in
China the stay-at-home mom is still an odd
concept. The idea that women need to work,
be independent and have a great career
remains intrinsic among educated women,
thanks to more than 50 years of working practice. It is very rare for an educated, talented
woman to give up her career for her babies.
My sister-in-law is chief editorial manager
of South Weekend, the most influential newspaper in China, located in Guangzhou. Her
husband works in Beijing where her parents
live. It takes three hours to fly from
Guangzhou to Beijing. When her daughter
was three months old, she had to send her to
Beijing for her parents to care for her. My
sister-in-law flies to Beijing every two or
three months to visit her little one. “I guess
it is the price I have to pay,” she says sadly.
I gave birth to my son in the United States
two years ago and I’m quickly starting to feel
“I gave birth to my son in the United States
two years ago and I’m quickly starting
to feel the work/life–balance pressure. I
couldn’t imagine having my baby if I was
still working at CCTV.”
the work/life–balance pressure. I couldn’t
imagine having my baby if I was still working
at CCTV. I remember another female producer told me she traveled around the country to conduct interviews while she was six
None of my friends working in China
have had a baby yet. Most of them are in
their early 30s. According to an official survey, the average age of women giving birth in
Beijing in 2005 is 28.
One of my friends told me the doctor suggested she have a baby as soon as possible,
but she said with sadness, “How could I have
a baby with this crazy working environment?
Where is my position when I come back from
having a baby?” This concern is true because
we saw other producers leave their jobs to
have babies and return to secretarial jobs that
pay half of their producer salaries.
It seems to me the most difficult part for
Chinese women is securing the job after the
maternity leave. After that, the help from parents and cheap nannies—and most importantly, the passion and pressure for a career—
make the choice obvious: Keep working. DI