Patriarchal Structures – What the Peng Shuai case says about the situation of Chinese women

Disappeared from the public after allegations: The Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai accuses the politician Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. (picture alliance / dpa / Photoshot / Bai Xue)

Those in charge in Beijing would probably prefer to rave about their modern sports facilities. but Almost two months before the start of the Winter Olympics in the Chinese capital, the main focus is on the well-being of tennis player Peng Shuai. The host country is in need of an explanation.

The case also sheds light on the patriarchal structures that still exist in the People’s Republic. Women have long been suppressed in the history of China: For centuries, girls’ feet have been bandaged in such a way that their feet are mutilated. The tying of the feet is only finally outlawed by Mao. “Women carry half of heaven” is a slogan of the communist leader. He needs the labor of women.

Equality between men and women remains an illusion

Real equality between men and women remains an illusion. And since Mao there has even been more of a setback. “Communism is almost an anomaly in the history of China, in which China was very patriarchal and in the end men do dominate,” says Simon Chadwick, economist and sports policy expert.

The Peng Shuai case is therefore special. Because the former number one in the world rankings in doubles has accused the former Vice President of the State Council of sexual assault with Zhang Gaoli. Political heavyweights enjoy a special status and are not surrounded by many women anyway. At the head of the Communist Party, ties and collars are the main ones worn.

Chinese men’s sport in the spotlight

“If you look at the CP, the problem becomes very clear that there are inequalities. For example, within the extended leadership of the Politburo, which consists of 25 members, there is only one woman and she is 71. You can see very clearly that it is thinning at the top. In the state-owned companies it is even the case that a third of the management positions are women, ”explains Ning Wang, editor of the specialist newsletter“ China.Table ”.

However, there are upper barriers for Chinese women. This does not only apply in politics and business. Says Chadwick, “I think the sport reflects that too. Women have done well, but it seems like the Chinese men’s sport is still in the spotlight. Football is a good example of this. The Chinese women’s national team is historically strong compared to the men’s team. And yet investments are made primarily in men’s football. “

No support for Peng Shaui in China

In the vast majority of disciplines, including tennis, the athletes are dependent on the local structures and have to comply with them. One exception is Peng Shuai’s colleague Li Na, who has won two Grand Slam titles in her career. Ning Wang said: “Li Na left the sports squad very early and was able to freely choose her coach. That is perhaps an example of how the sport is very dominated. It is controlled by the KP and if you want to be successful, then you are there. “

Or feel the consequences if you rebel against the system: Despite her successes, Li Na is ignored in her home country. Peng Shuai has long been firmly integrated into Chinese tennis and has not shown any tendencies towards dissidence. But now her life has inevitably changed. The women’s tennis association WTA is trying to support them with a boycott, but Peng Shuai can hardly hope for support within China.

In private anyway, as journalist Ning Wang says: “A bigger problem is that women have no trust or support in one another. In the Peng Shuai case, Zhang Gaoli’s wife knew about it and even supported it. That shows how little women value themselves in Chinese society. “

Desired social harmony

As expected, there is also silence among the wider public. “It is indirectly required within Chinese society that social harmony must prevail. And so groups like MeToo shouldn’t rebel and express their opinion publicly because that’s not how things should go.

If MeToo rebels, it poses a threat to the political establishment. And I’m not even saying that the political establishment is against gender equality, but the political establishment does object to people coming together and expressing their opinions, ”explains Chadwick .

The leadership in Beijing would prefer that nobody abroad would talk about Peng Shuai or the patriarchal structures – especially since the Olympic Games are just around the corner.

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Patriarchal Structures – What the Peng Shuai case says about the situation of Chinese women