China’s Shenzhou-14 crewed spacecraft was successfully launched on 5 June. Among the three crew members, Liu Yang attracted the most attention. She is not only China's first female astronaut to go to space, but also a vice-president of the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF). Some netizens deem her to be a deputy ministerial level official.
High-flying ‘Heroic Astronaut’
In June 2012, then 34-year-old Liu completed the Shenzhou-9 mission in her first space flight. It made her a household name and she was awarded the honorary title of “Heroic Astronaut”.
In March 2013, Liu participated in the National People’s Congress (NPC) as part of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) delegation. Chinese Communist Party Secretary General Xi Jinping met with Liu and other rank and file military personnel.
He praised Liu and said, “You are a hero and a symbol that women can ‘hold up half the sky’ [hold their own]. And now you are an ambassador for the image of Chinese women!”
Praise from the country’s top leader put Liu on the fast track to the top. In August 2016, she was among the new faces to join the ACWF’s leadership and was appointed a vice-president (part-time). She was re-elected in 2018 and currently ranks 11th out of 14 vice-presidents.
Representative of rank and file
The ACWF is a ministry-level organisation headed by a deputy state-level cadre Shen Yueyue, who is also the vice-chair of the Standing Committee of the NPC. Meanwhile, Huang Xiaowei, vice-president and the first member of the ACWF secretariat, is a ministerial-level senior official.
Other vice-presidents and secretariat members Zhang Xiaolan, Xia Jie and Wu Haiying are also deputy ministerial level senior officials. So, this is the basis by which netizens regard Liu as holding a deputy ministerial level position.
Indeed, after the 18th National Congress, the authorities called for a reorganisation of the ACWF and other national civic groups to be more wide-reaching and representative. In line with these requirements, the ACWF established part-time positions for the roles of vice-president and standing committee member, whereby these part-time ACWF office holders can remain in their full-time employment and do not participate in the ACWF’s day-to-day operations. Therefore, Liu has continued to work as an astronaut during her past six years with the organisation.
Furthermore, there has always been a representative from the military among the ACWF vice presidents. Before Liu, the military representatives were all senior military leaders, such as Lieutenant General Nie Li (daughter of PLA Marshal Nie Rongzhen) and vice-president of the PLA Academy of Military Science Lieutenant General Xu Lili.
Over the past decade, apart from attending regular training and various meetings, Liu also received her master’s and doctoral degrees, and became a mother of two children.
In comparison, Liu is a representative from the military rank and file, which does not match the administrative rank of an ACWF vice-president, and so in fact, she cannot be considered a deputy ministerial level senior official.
Nonetheless, Liu’s election as a vice-president of the ACWF at the age of 38 has already made her stand out from her peers. Now that she is on her second space mission, she has again become the centre of attention and also laid a solid foundation for her future political endeavours.
Clearly, being an astronaut is a high-risk occupation that has high demands on an individual’s overall qualities. Over the past decade, apart from attending regular training and various meetings, Liu also received her master’s and doctoral degrees, and became a mother of two children. Indeed, she has both a successful career and family life, with a bright future ahead of her.
Difficult mission ahead
The Shenzhou-14 marks the first crewed spaceflight mission to the China Space Station during its on-orbit assembly stage. Liu, along with Chen Dong and Cai Xuzhe, will be on orbit for six months to complete the assembly and construction of China’s space station.
The three astronauts will test nine different formations for the space station’s assembly, conduct five dockings and three separations and evacuations, and make two changes to the capsule position.
Their main tasks include monitoring health; conducting manual rendezvous and docking when necessary; entering the Wentian and Mengtian lab modules to ensure that the environment is suitable for their stay, and unlocking and installing a dozen scientific experiment boxes for both modules; as well as other assembly, construction, maintenance and repair work.
Huang Weifen, chief astronaut system designer of the China Manned Space Programme, said that the three astronauts selected for this mission each have different traits. As commander of the mission, Chen is “always confident and decisive and focuses on details”, and a keen contributor during training and experiments; Liu is “very friendly” and has strong communication skills; while Cai is “really, really, smart” and adept at learning new things and comprehending new information.
During an interview with CCTV before taking off, Liu said that her children have made her promise to do three tasks: one, safely and successfully complete the space mission...
Huang added that following the construction of the space station, the combination will get increasingly complex and flight times will be extended as well, which increases the risks involved. Thus, astronauts must undergo emergency and troubleshooting training such as drills and hands-on exercises to strengthen their ability to handle emergencies and faults and to ensure that the astronauts are able to stay calm and collected to handle these situations effectively should they occur.
During an interview with CCTV before taking off, Liu said that her children have made her promise to do three tasks: one, safely and successfully complete the space mission; two, take many photos of the universe for her children to share with their classmates; and three, “write my blessings to them ‘in the stars’ during the space trip”.
She added, “I will do what I promised them.”
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