Where are the Women’s Voices among Chinese Establishment Intellectuals?
Selena Orly and David Ownby
Of the 642 intellectuals whose work is showcased on the Aisixiang website (in March 2021, when we checked), which presumably represents “the best” of China’s thought world, only 24 are women, which comes to a pitiful 3.7% (we know because pictures are provided in the mini-bios that accompany every intellectual’s page). As the list below reveals, our site does slightly better—7 out of the 56 authors are women (12.5%) and 9 out of the 92 texts translated were written by women (9.8%)—but if gender equity is a goal then we are not achieving it.
Of course, the achievement of gender equity is not a widely shared goal in China—which is not to say that calls to achieve such equity do not exist—and it is completely obvious that the world of Chinese establishment intellectuals is overwhelmingly masculine. This does not mean that there are no women establishment intellectuals in China, but it does mean that they are harder to find.
We have decided to look. Our suspicion is that the numbers of women among the occupations that produce establishment intellectuals---university professors, journalists, artists—is probably trending slowly upward, but that it perhaps remains more difficult for women to break through whatever “glass ceiling” stands between them and the public status of a Wang Hui or a Qin Hui. Qin Hui’s wife, Jin Yan 金雁, is one of the women with a page on Aisixiang, but the titles of her texts suggest that the questions she addresses are more technical or academic than the broader themes her husband regularly addresses.
Of course, Aisixiang may well “screen out” women intellectuals, consciously or unconsciously, and its selection of intellectuals skews toward older Han men, which, again, accords with our experience of the composition of the world of establishment Chinese intellectuals. There may be other forums where women’s voices are more accessible that we have yet to discover (to the best of our recollection, we found Wen Jiajun, an author translated here, by googling “women establishment intellectuals 妇女公知”). An additional problem is that it is often impossible to tell solely from the name if an author is a man or a woman.
Tips from readers are more than welcome. N.B. We intend not to focus on Chinese feminist writings, not because they are not interesting, but because these texts and authors are already the focus of a considerable body of Western scholarship, which there is no need for us to duplicate. We prefer women speaking about the world to women speaking about women, although we will not be doctrinaire about it.
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