8 min read

Brief #14: Women, gratitude, media, modern slavery, KMT

Hi all, hope you are having a good weekend (long weekend in Canberra). Best wishes from hot air balloon-filled Canberra and rainy Leipzig. Thanks for reading!

- Yun and Adam

1. Women

According to Mao, “women can hold up half of the sky (妇女能顶半边天)”. But women never achieved true equality under Mao, despite their high contribution to the workforce. During his time, sexual assaults were rampant in China, including during the Up to the Mountains and Down to the Countryside Movement (上山下乡). Women were also largely absent from political life, except the infamous Jiang Qing 江青, who took the most blame for the Cultural Revolution and became the archetypical woman who led man astray.

Fast forward to the present day, the seven members of the Politburo Standing Committee are all men. The 25 member Politburo has only one woman. In the bigger Central Committee, only ten out of 204 members are women.

In the workplace, women still face overt gender discrimination, right from recruitment. Many job ads specify a requirement or preference for men. A common question during interviews for women candidates is their plans for having children.

On marriage and personal life, women are still expected to marry early or risk being labelled a “leftover women” (剩女). Women still face legal restriction (two-child policy) and family pressures for the number of children to have. Domestic violence is still often seen as a family affair not for others to intrude (清官难断家务事). However, attitudes are changing, especially in urban areas.

Lives for women of minorities background are even more difficult. There are some reports that Uyghur women are being pressured to marry Han men.

Feminism movements are gaining steam in China, but they are facing crackdowns from the government. On the eve of International Women’s Day in 2015, the authorities jailed five women activists, now known as the Feminist Five. To read more about the feminism movement in China, we recommend Leta Hong Fincher’s Betraying Big Brother: The Feminist Awakening in China.

2. Thank you, no fuck you!

Chinese social media went into full rage at the news that Wuhan party boss Wang Zhonglin 王忠林 said that "[i]t is necessary to carry out gratitude education among the people of the whole city, so they are express gratitude to the General Secretary [Xi Jinping], express gratitude to the Chinese Communist Party, heed the Party, go with the Party, and create strong positive energy.” He added that “the people of Wuhan are heroic people, they are also grateful people.”

Wang’s tone-deaf words have now been scrubbed from the Chinese internet, probably due to fears of provoking further anger. His words came a day after China’s vice-premier Sun Chunlan 孙春兰 toured a high-rise apartment community and was heckled with residents shouting “Fake! Fake!” These residents were protesting the way in which they were being neglected by the local authorities, which had put on a show for Sun’s visit.

Journalist Chu Zhaoxin 褚朝新, in a now-censored Wechat post, wrote:

2349 lives, 2349 deaths, their bones are not yet cold, their family members, friends, classmates are still in grief; their family members, friends, classmates and even themselves are still lying in the hospital waiting to be saved; while they have no energy even for sorrow, someone want to strengthen their gratitude education. This is an inhuman act.


If Wang Zhonglin has this kind of thinking, I feel he should be the one receiving the education: you are the public servant of the people, your job is to serve the people, and now the families of the people you serve are broken, the skeletons of the deceased are still not yet cold, and the tears of the living are not yet dry. The sick are unhealed, and their dissatisfactions are completely reasonable. Instead of blaming the people in Wuhan you serve for not being grateful, you should reflect and be ashamed because your and your team’s work is not up to standard.


This concept of the People’s “gratitude” 感恩 towards the rulers is a feudal idea that has no place in China in 2020. As many have already pointed out, the government is there to serve the people and not the other way around.

The idea that the people of Wuhan needs to be “grateful” to the party-state for doing its job in managing a disaster is ludicrous.

“Serve the People” (为人民服务) is the most important and quintessential political slogan of the CCP since Mao’s times.

Do it.

3. US-China media war

There have been further developments in the US-China media war. Following on from the US designation of five Chinese media outlets as agents of the Chinese state and the expulsion of three Wall Street Journal journalists by China, the US Government has placed two further restrictions:

  1. a duration of stay on all Chinese media workers in the US; and
  2. the five designated Chinese state media outlets will have a cap on the total number of Chinese nationals working in the US.

The second restriction effectively forces 60 or almost 40 per cent of their Chinese staff to leave the US.

The US administration argues that the restrictions are based on the principle of reciprocity. However, reciprocity may not be an effective mean to achieve an outcome. If the aim of the US Government is to increase press freedom in China, it is unclear how placing restrictions on Chinese journalists in the US would achieve that. It can only work if China deeply cares about these Chinese journalists enough that it would reverse its course. That appears unlikely.

Reciprocity only works if the other country cares about the same issue to the same degree. Otherwise, focusing on another point of leverage might be more useful.

4. Forced labour in Xinjiang

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute published a report Uyghurs for sale, shining more light on human rights abuses committed against Uyghurs in China. This time it traced those who have “graduated” from internment camps to factories around China, which supplies to some well-known global brands. The Washinton Post investigated one particular factory.

The evidence presented is not surprising, as we have seen plenty of evidence before that prison labour or forced labour is used in China. But the report provided more details of the systematic efforts targeted at Uyghurs in particular.

Globally, there were an estimated 25 million people in forced labour in 2016.  Governments around the world have made commitments to eliminate modern slavery in global supply chains. For example, in Australia, the Modern Slavery Act took effect last year. The Act requires big businesses to report on the risks of modern slavery in their supply chains and actions they have taken to address these risks. At the international level, in 2017, the G20 leaders (which includes China) committed to “take immediate and effective measures to eliminate child labour by 2025, forced labour, human trafficking and all forms of modern slavery”.

At the moment, it appears that there are not sufficient incentives for businesses to assess and investigate their supply chains for modern slavery. Governments may wish to look into imposing tougher penalties on businesses for non-compliance.

Within China itself, the result of such investigations may not raise an eyebrow, as deep-seated prejudice against Uyghur remains. There are popular perceptions among the Han majority that Uyghurs are mostly violent or degenerate. “Educating” them and making them work may be seen by those with such prejudices in a more positive light.

5. KMT and 1992 consensus

KMT elected Taichung legislator Johnny Chiang 江啟臣 as its new chair yesterday.

The Party suffered a major defeat in January’s Taiwan elections, in part due to its pro-China image and its pro-unification stance. Electing a young chair that advocates a shift in the party’s approach to cross-strait relations is the first step in the many that will be required to rebuild its political support.

Taiwan’s public opinion on cross-strait relations is definitively against “unification” on China’s terms. In fact, young people in Taiwan see themselves as exclusively Taiwanese rather than Chinese. This shift in self-identity is going to have long term political consequences, including making “unification” a non-option for the major parties.

Currently, Beijing’s position is that “unification” is inevitable, and that cross-strait relations can only be conducted on the so-called “1992 consensus” (九二共识) of “One China Principle” (一个中国原则).

This so-called consensus is not accepted by Tsai. In her 2019 New Year’s Day speech, she laid out what she saw as foundations for healthy cross-strait relations:

“[Beijing] must face the reality of the existence of the Republic of China (Taiwan); it must respect the commitment of the 23 million people of Taiwan to freedom and democracy; it must handle cross-strait differences peacefully, on a basis of equality; and it must be governments or government-authorized agencies that engage in negotiations. These “four musts” are the most basic and crucial foundations that will determine whether cross-strait relations develop in a positive direction.

A day later, Xi gave a major speech on Taiwan that offered nothing new except to reinforce Beijing’s existing positions on the fundamental importance of the “One China Principle” as the basis of official cross-strait relations.

So, we have two key questions here. First, KMT needs reform and reorientation if it is to arrest its political decline and rebuild political support. To do so require it to change its policies vis-a-vis Beijing. Is the KMT party establishment willing to make changes to its long-held ideas about unification, cross-strait relations, and Taiwan’s nationhood?

We think this is going to be a long and messy fight. The first step would be for Chiang to ditch the 1992 consensus, and move closer to Tsai’s Taiwan consensus of “four musts.” But he will encounter massive internal resistance.

Second, how will Beijing deal with Taiwan going forward? On the one hand, coercive tactics are not working, and the Tsai and DPP’s landslide victory in January is seen by many in China as a big foreign policy blunder by Xi. On the other hand, given the KMT appears to be recalibrating their cross-strait policies (whether this will happen or not is another matter), will Beijing continue to stubbornly insist on “1992 consensus” and “One China Principle” as the basis for official relations? We think that Beijing’s intransigence will continue due to internal dynamics.

In fact, Xi has been shooting himself in the foot on Taiwan in recent years by becoming increasingly strident, employing coercive measures, and associating and equating “1992 consensus” with “One Country, Two Systems.”

Taiwan does not want to be the next Hong Kong. None of us wants that. It is time that Beijing wakes up to the reality of cross-strait relations: unification by peaceful means is all but impossible unless China’s political system changes.

Briefing | Analysis | Events | Media | About