George Yeo, Singapore’s former foreign minister, shares his thoughts on China’s evolution with Lianhe Zaobao on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party. He sees the milestone as just a pitstop in the long journey of the Chinese nation. Fresh thinking and innovation will be needed as the country progresses. Equally important, developing a “broad-minded and big-hearted nationalism” which is humble and learns from others will keep China on the path of being a great nation. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.
Respect. Lorna Wei says the nub of the issue in the low fertility rate in China lies in that one word. Growing up in a patriarchal society, daughters in China have for years been looked upon as second to sons. When they become wives, mothers and daughters-in-law, they shoulder the bulk of familial duties while trying to keep their jobs. Any fertility policy should first address greater equality between the sexes. Only when parents are assured that their burdens will be shared can they look forward to having more children.
Providing better support for families to play effective co-parenting roles is more likely to improve birth rates than sending women back to the kitchen, says Chen Jing.
When Chinese economics professor Li Jingkui sent his daughter for extra classes regularly, he noticed that he was surrounded by mostly female parents. He started thinking about the roles of men and women in raising children throughout history and of his own experience growing up in an agricultural town in northern China. He came to the conclusion that the traditional division of labour between men and women is defined by productivity and the status of the sexes which are changing rapidly in modern society. So what should be the best mode of raising a child in the 21st century?
The Soong sisters — Ai-ling, Ching-ling and Mei-ling — born in Shanghai and educated in the US, are some of the most well-known personalities in Chinese modern history. All of them were supporters of the nationalist revolution; two of them went on to become the wives of revolutionary leaders Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek, and political figures in their own right. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao examines their impact through his collection of photos.
Chinese academic Lorna Wei notes that there have been several strong and powerful women throughout China’s history, but their political achievements have often been dwarfed by stories of their love lives. It’s not more women leaders China needs, but better ways of telling their stories, she says.
PDI-P, the political party in Indonesia with the most Chinese parliamentarians and heads of local government held a virtual Lunar New Year party to usher in the Year of the Ox. Party members paid tribute to Ibu Megawati Sukarnoputri, general chairperson of the party and former Indonesian president. How did this party put itself forward as the strongest guardian of Chinese interests in Indonesia? Leo Suryadinata listens in.
A mischievous saying goes that there are no ugly women, only lazy women. The care one puts into one’s beauty regime determines the beauty standards she can attain. But in the days of ancient China, such effort went to extremes: young girls were forced to have their feet bound. After tremendous pain in pursuit of mignon dainty feet, they attained short yet ironically bulbous “golden lotuses”. Are such unreasonable demands of beauty foisted on women by men, or a shackle that women put on themselves? If it seems unimaginable that foot-binding continued in China for a thousand years, just think of the pain some go through in modern cosmetic surgery.
Nothing but Thirty, a Chinese television series that hit the sweet spot among a largely female audience last year, seeks to dispel stereotypes about women. Rather than having to fulfil all her obligations by 30, a woman is just embarking on her life’s adventure. How freeing, this thought. However, in a society trapped by deep-seated expectations of women as a wife and mother, such dramas provide but a moment’s respite from the perpetual stereotypes of being a woman in China.