Besides Liu, the only woman on the 25-member Politburo, the list of women in top positions in China’s Communist Party hierarchy is remarkably short.
China has 22 provinces, five autonomous regions and four centrally controlled municipalities, but only one — Anhui province in the east — is run by a female governor, Li Bin, who was appointed in February. And there is only one female Communist provincial chief, Sun Chunlan, the party secretary in Fujian province, on the east coast.
In the past 30 years, the Chinese Communist Party has appointed only four women as provincial governors. And Sun is only the second female Party provincial chief in the 63-year history of Chinese Communist rule.
Since China’s top party ranks, the Politburo and the more important Standing Committee, are most often filled by officials who have served as provincial chiefs and governors, the future for women here does not look bright. The latest statistics from the party’s Organization Department show that, at the minister level or above, 11 percent of officials are female.
“If we talk about power-sharing, they don’t want women holding up half the sky — or even one-third of the sky,” said Feng Yuan, a women’s rights activist.
“Generally speaking, I think more women want to be involved more than the positions they already have,” Feng said. “On the other hand, many women don’t want to adjust themselves to the current political culture — the boys’ club, the drinking culture.”
China’s women, in their minuscule numbers in the top party jobs, fare better in one respect than ethnic minorities. Han Chinese make up more than 90 percent of the population of 1.3 billion people, and the country’s 55 other minority groups have no chance of getting one of their own anywhere near the Standing Committee.
China’s five ethnic-minority autonomous regions do have minorities in the governor’s positions, and the party has been trying to recruit more minorities into the provincial governments in Xinjiang and Tibet as a way to ease tensions. But the minorities are Communist stalwarts who have undergone intense scrutiny and are largely there to help the party maintain its grip. Also, the more important party secretary jobs typically stay in Han Chinese hands.
Progress in the private sector
Women have had more success advancing in the private sector. Although women still languish in the Communist Party’s lower ranks — more likely to be serving tea in local or provincial offices than leading the meetings — many have climbed to the top in the businesses world.