Ian Johnson
Ian Johnson

Journalist Ian Johnson interviewed sexologist Li Yinhe for the New York Review of Books on her work on same-sex marriages, the Party, SM, orgies and the position of women in China. Li Yinhe believes the position of women has greatly improved since 1949. Here a short clip.

The New York Review of Books:

What about women’s rights under the Communist Party? Has progress been illusory?

It’s definitely better than it was before 1949. It started in the 1950s, when all people—male or female—were asked to participate in the workforce. In the past it was “outward affairs handled by men, household affairs handled by women.” But this change—work—changed things for women in the cities and in the countryside.

Even in the countryside? Haven’t women always labored there?

Not always. In the north of China, women very often didn’t do agricultural work. They stayed at home, gave birth to children, and looked after the house. But starting in the 1950s they had to work. That helped their status immensely. They had their own income and didn’t have to rely on men. Now, in rural areas, women accounted for a third of a household’s income. This is quite different than not earning anything. In the cities, in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, women’s income reached 85 percent of men’s. This was amazing. It was really high by international standards. In the US around that time, it was just 60 percent.

But you don’t think that overall the status of women in China has declined since the economic reforms of the 1980s?

There have been some losses but it’s not uniform. Women’s income has slid from 85 percent to 70 percent of men’s. Also, there are more women not working and a lot of companies don’t want women with children, and if women get pregnant they lose their jobs. But it’s not all negative. In the 1980s, for example, the ratio of women to men at university was one to three. Now it’s 51 percent women. In fact, some universities have had to reduce admission standards for men to maintain some sort of equality—because women study harder than men! If you look at the situation of women entrepreneurs, there’s been a big improvement. Some reports say that many of the world’s top self-made female entrepreneurs are Chinese. In the past, managers were all men.

Besides blogging, you’re still writing a lot. What are you working on now?

I’ve written two short story collections about S&M.

Like 50 Shades of Grey?

It’s something like that. But I’m hesitant to try to publish them.

But I’m sure they would sell well.

Right now they would be banned. S&M isn’t acceptable. But I predict that in a few years it’ll be allowed.

Li Yinhe by Ian Johnson

More in the New York Review of Books.

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