Where are China's women leaders?

Less than a quarter of the delegates to the 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing, there are women. As for the select group of seven or nine top officials who in effect govern China? Not one. 

Ng Han Guan/AP
Chinese Communist Party top leaders stand up while 'the Internationale,' the international communist anthem, is played during the closing ceremony of 18th Communist Party Congress held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Wednesday, Nov. 14.

China's leaders are often thought of as men with near-identical suits and hairdos. But among the 2,268 delegates to the 18th Communist Party Congress in Beijing, there are 521 women.

So how are they contributing to this much-touted national gathering, which will culminate Thursday with the unveiling of a new generation of senior officials?

Judging from the Chinese press, one primary contribution is their looks. On Friday, the People's Daily website published a 14-photo slideshow labeled "Beautiful Scenery from the 18th Party Congress."

The slides featured female delegates, many of them ethnic minorities in exotic garb and towering hair ornaments. Also included were female reporters and groups of women known as "ritual" girls in pink and red coats, who are tasked with escorting delegates and others attending the congress.

"Beautiful ritual girls, female reporters and delegates to the Party Congress become beautiful scenery during the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China," the caption read.

Meanwhile, an article in the Beijing News on Li Li, a delegate from Beijing, described her as "the most beautiful female judge." The People's Daily wrote about "the most beautiful mom" delegate – Wu Juping, who became a celebrity after catching a child who had fallen from a building -– and "the most beautiful female teacher" delegate, Zhang Lili, who became a media star after losing her legs in a traffic accident trying to save some children.

There were no comparable stories about the most handsome male delegates. (Read more about the top 6 male delegates here though).

Of course, female delegates are capable of doing more than just beautifying the Great Hall of the People. The state-run New China News Agency ran an article Monday headlined, "Mom Communists Taking Babies to National Congress." The piece remarked upon how Jiang Min, a police officer, and Luo Wei, a beverage company worker, both from Sichuan Province, had brought their infants to the capital and were breastfeeding between sessions.

"After the congress opened on Thursday, they fed the babies before the meetings in the morning and at midday breaks, and handed over the babies to family members, before rushing to the meetings in the afternoon to vote or discuss with other delegates," the reporters noted.

A visit to Jiang's hotel room revealed that it was "full of documents and newspapers, along with her son's clothes, shoes, and toys. Behind the curtains, diapers were on the guardrail."

No word on whether any recent dads were among the delegates.

Some outlets such as the All-China Women's Federation are at least publishing articles detailing what female delegates see as key issues for the country, including cultural development and health care.

Their occupations vary widely. The female delegates include a TV news anchor, a calligrapher, a singer, members of the military and factory workers. Their total of 521 represents an increase of 76 from the last such event, in 2007.

"This increase in numbers shows that the party pays great attention to female party members, and it's proof that women's participation in politics has grown," said Chen Zhili, president of the state-run All-China Women's Federation, in remarks published in the China Women's Newspaper.

But higher up the party ranks, the percentage of women dwindles. On the outgoing Central Committee (a new one was to be chosen Wednesday), only 13 of the 204 members were women. In the outgoing Politburo, there is just one woman, Liu Yandong, who is only the fifth woman to reach that level.

Before the Congress, Liu, a chemical engineer by training, was touted as a possible candidate for elevation to the Politburo Standing Committee, the select group of seven or nine top officials who in effect govern China.

But many analysts regard her as an extreme long shot to crack China's political glass ceiling. In projections of the Standing Committee lineup compiled by The New York Times, the Economist, Reuters, South China Morning Post, Financial Times, and the overseas Chinese-language news site Duowei, Liu's name does not appear even once.

Tommy Yang in the Times' Beijing bureau contributed to this report.

©2012 Los Angeles Times

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.