Women in China finally making a great leap forward
Mao once said that 'women hold up half the sky.' But only today are urban women making big gains.
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Li Yifei is managing director of MTV China. She was a national tai-chi champion at 13 and appeared in two martial-arts films at an equally tender age. She trained as a diplomat at Beijing College of Foreign Affairs and studied in the US, and worked at Burson Marsteller in Beijng before taking the top post at MTV/Viacom Asia here. She is the first Chinese female to make the cover of Fortune magazine, which named her one of 25 Rising Stars of the Next Generation of Global Leaders. She has a daughter and son; her husband, Wang Chao Yong, is CEO of a top investment firm, making them a bit of a power couple in Beijing. The Monitor interviewed her at her offices at Beijing's China World Tower.Skip to next paragraph
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ARE CAREER WOMEN IN CHINA INFLUENCED BY THE WEST?
"The influence of the West is significant in my life, and for women in Asia. I went to college at Baylor University, and spent time in the US. It helps to see a great many female executives abroad. Look at Condoleezza Rice. Look at Madeleine Albright, or Charlene Barshefsky [former US Trade Representative]. The message we get is: You don't need to be ashamed of being a female executive."
ARE THERE MORE CHINESE CAREER WOMEN?
"Chinese women are only now beginning to move out. Yes, if you look at the absolute numbers, especially at upper management and for entrepreneurs, we are still a tiny minority. But the growth of upper-level women is increasing. The most popular panel at the All-China Women's Federation conference is on "women in management." A lot of guys show up, too. The women I associate with, those in my generation who have education or college, are more sensitive and less threatening. They are a fit for the way corporate China is moving. They are good at talking in several worlds, to government officials, to ordinary people, to family. One of the most talented people working for me is a 28-year-old female, Liu Pei, who, despite her youth, has been the supervising producer of our China-MTV music awards four years in a row."
WHAT DO CHINESE WOMEN TALK TO YOU ABOUT?
"They often ask about the choice between a career, or marrying a rich man. Today a lot of women want both. But I think it is more difficult to manage a relationship if your key goal is to find a rich man. Women need to do things on their own, not be dependent on men. Even if you marry a rich man, I feel, you need to be curious and keep learning."
WERE YOUR PARENTS INFLUENTIAL?
"My own parents were very tough and had high expectations. I had to come out from under that pressure. I tried hard to fulfill my parents' dreams, but now I no longer find satisfaction in "doing this for my parents." It is better to relax and enjoy the work. Our parents lived a difficult life in a difficult age. Mother lost her job because of Communist Party politics, and they put her out to be shamed. We all have family that ended up on the wrong side of the civil war or the Cultural Revolution."
WHAT ABOUT YOUR KIDS?
"My daughter wants to be a pop singer. My son wants to be a Formula One race driver. In my youth these things didn't exist. No rock and roll, no fast cars. I actually don't believe in applying too much pressure. I tell my kids they don't need to be at the top, just maybe in the top 10! I want my daughter to be good, not just smart."
HOW DID YOU MEET YOUR HUSBAND?
"I met him at the Chinese Consulate in New York. We were introduced by a mutual friend and exchanged cards. We talked only about 10 minutes. He flew that night to Beijing. On the plane he thought about me, but his professor was busy helping him find a wife. Then he was called back to New York. On his second day there we actually ran into each other at a newsstand, and were buying the same newspaper."