Reshaping family life in China.
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But the shortage of creches and kindergartens in most of China's overcrowded cities has made it necessary for many families to place children with private baby sitters or hire full-time live-in housemaids or ayis (aunties) to take care of child raising.Skip to next paragraph
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Domestic servants were banned during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), but it now appears that the pressure of modern life in China is overriding any remaining ideological objections.
According to the official English-language newspaper, the China Daily, there are more than 30,000 ayis in Peking. Many of these are women who have come from rural areas looking for work.
''Although the employment of maids was criticized as gentrified, bourgeois, and exploitionary during the Cultural Revolution, in reality such employment cannot be abolished. This is an inevitable phenomenon of today's urban social life,'' says Yang Zhengyan, deputy secretary-general of the Peking municipal government.
''And the current tendency is that people wish to have less housework and more time for work, study, and relaxation,'' he says. According to Mr. Yang, the use of housemaids is not confined to the better paid members of China's work force - cadres and intellectuals. An increasing number of working families are also seeking domestic help.
The China Daily reports, ''Many young couples, among them workers and schoolteachers, have started to hire ayis for their children, especially small babies,'' the paper said. ''The families of workers account for almost a quarter of the families with ayis.''
According to Mr. Yang, ''It is a big change from the old phenomenon whereby only senior cadres and intellectuals employed maids.''
However, the more widespread use of ayis hasn't made the job, with its long hours and low pay, any more popular with the urban work force. ''The young women in Peking don't like to do this sort of work, but for us it is an easy way to make money and live a comfortable life,'' said one woman who came to Peking from her country town to work as an ayi.
According to the China Daily, two-thirds of the ayis in Peking live with the family they work for, although most don't earn more than $15 a month. Despite these low wages and poor conditions - two days off a month - women's federations in China are pushing the use of ayis, and agencies are being set up to facilitate the hiring of servants.
According to officials of the All China Women's Federation, the trend toward using ayis benefits women in China in two ways: It is providing jobs for the growing surplus of female labor in China's rural areas, and it relieves the pressure on working women who are still expected by many Chinese husbands to cope with both housekeeping and child raising in addition to their jobs.
The federation has long been calling for the ''socialization'' of housework to complete the equality Chinese women have won in the workplace with equality at home.
Says the China Daily, ''The Chinese government has integrated the traditional ethics inherent in Chinese society with concepts of socialist culture, and this constitutes an important part of activities now under way to build a new type of family.''