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China's 10-Year Plan and a Reflection on Qiao Collective's Recent Conference

Talia Lux

Those of us who attended the Qiao Collective’s recent China and the Left [1] conference left with feelings of inspiration and of hope for the future. We exited—after having listened to the rousing words of speakers like Vijay Prashad, Radhika Desai, Zhun Xu, and others—knowing that we have much work to do here in the United States, especially among the organizations and actions carried out by those of us on the Left.

A few days after the conference, China released their incredible 10-year plan [2], focused on the progress, health, and advancement of women. In contrast, the American Left—for all of its own advances—is still bursting with misogyny. Reading through China’s plan can become a little depressing when contrasting its implicit progress and equalitarianism with the unfortunate status of women in the US, as well as within Leftist circles. We know that women are still very much second-class citizens in the US, as evidenced by the draconian Texas abortion law recently put into place, and even while listening to many self-described Leftist men in the US treating women as objects for their own pleasure. The hyper-objectification of women is not only a problem unique to the patriarchal capitalism of the US, it infects Left circles and Left actions in the US as well.

In contrast, China’s plan starts out with the familiar words of Mao Zedong: “Women hold up half the sky.” Unlike the Left in the US, we know the Communist Party of China truly means it.

Women hold up half the sky.

“Half the Sky” is now a guiding policy. The 10-year plan covers every aspect of women’s lives, focusing on health, education, economy, management, social security, family, environment, and the law. The plan includes goals for each topic, and then explains how these goals will be achieved. This article will be focusing on just three of the aforementioned aspects: health, education, and the law.

In the next ten years, China’s plan includes preventative health care, the building-up of health institutions in both rural and urban settings, a reduction of maternal and infant mortality rates, comprehensive cervical and breast cancer screening, comprehensive sex education, the prevention of congenital diseases, an an increase in women’s mental health services and awareness through community education, and promoting healthy lifestyles for women.

Conversely, when comprehensive sex education is proposed in the United States, it is always heavily contested and more than often voted down. In fact, there are only eight states [3] in the US which include consent as a part of their sex education. In the US, the legislation of the state in which you live will also dictate whether or not you will be able to buy contraceptives with or without having to ask permission of the pharmacist—furthering a potential sense of shame when purchasing contraceptives or Plan B.

In China’s plan, the most controversial of these health initiatives is the call to "reduce non-medical abortion." What does this mean? It means through comprehensive sex education, the number of abortions should hopefully decrease. The Communist Party also wants to push a "shared responsibility for contraception." The western media is already spinning this initiative [4] to say that China is removing women’s right to choose—a cynical claim when the fight for abortion access is consistently under attack in the United States. With Texas’s law making the entire state run on anti-choice vigilante "justice," the legislation makes it legal for any citizen to sue a woman who receives an abortion in the State of Texas.

The media’s attempt to characterize China as anti-choice is nothing more than an aspect of the United States' New Cold War strategy—a strategy talked about at great length during Qiao Collective's conference—to redirect the anger of American liberals from their own country toward China.

In addition to women's health initiatives, China's plan calls for increased educational access for women—emphasizing political education, and aiming to achieve equality between men and women in education, specifically focusing on more women in STEM fields, and pushing for lifelong education for women. To achieve this, the plan emphasizes that teachers must implement courses focusing on gender equality, and to encourage women to enroll in vocational schools. The plan also emphasizes the importance of creating safe learning environments for women, to be achieved through comprehensive sexual assault and sexual harassment prevention policies.

Taking all of this into account, and comparing these progressive pushes to the circumstances of women in the US, who make up only 27% of the STEM workforce, [5] one can see the huge divide between the positions of the US and China on women alone. Not to mention that women in the US also make significantly less than their male counterparts in STEM jobs. The lack of representation for women in the STEM fields can be partly attributed to the well-known sexist culture in the fields themselves. Unlike the US, China is addressing this problematic and regressive culture by focusing on gender equity education early in grade schools.

A sexist environment pervades US educational culture—so much so that 26% of women [6] on American college campuses are sexually assaulted or raped. However, despite all of this, the US government does not have a plan to address these serious gaps in women’s education and the lack of safety therein. With the lack of consent education in US schools, it is not surprising that college rape statistics are so high.

China calls for full equality under the law, whether it be national, local, or city level; educating women about the law and encouraging full participation within it; increasing the usage of the domestic violence laws; halting the trafficking of women, prostitution, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape; a guarantee of women’s property rights; easily accessible legal services; and, finally, full government support and partnership with the Women’s Federation.

In contrast, the US has yet to pass the Equal Rights Amendment(ERA), [7] a constitutional amendment that would guarantee equal protection under the law for women. Introduced by Congress in 1972, women in the US have waited over 40 years for this amendment to pass and to be added to the United States Constitution. With only 38 of the 50 states approving the ERA, American women still do not have full and guaranteed equality under the law. When it comes to domestic violence, the enforcement of such laws run into a snag in the US. Of course, t here is the often-cited statistic that 40% of American police officers commit domestic violence. [8] To whom should women in the US turn for protection if their abuser is the law?

China also wants to combat trafficking, prostitution, and pornography. In contrast, even among the allegedly progressive American Left, the country is not willing to cease its commodification of women’s bodies for the enjoyment of men. In 2019, out of the 11,500 trafficking victims in America, 9,357 were women. [9] Many of these women who are trafficked are forced into prostitution, and while 63% of women are arrested for prostitution, [10] only 37% of pimps or johns (purchasers of sex) are arrested. This rampant sexual exploitation of women generates billions of dollars in America, [11] and does not even include the pornography industry. If the US eliminated the industry of pornography, for example, it would lose up to $12 billion a year, [12] based on 2015 numbers alone. And with the rise of OnlyFans replacing lost work wages at the start of the pandemic, the numbers could very well be higher.

In his closing remarks at the Qiao Collective's China and the Left Conference, Vijay Prashad exclaimed that, “[The US Left] is afraid of freedom”—a statement that cuts to the heart of the matter. The state of women’s rights and struggles in the US have not gotten better over time; they have gotten worse. Sexism and misogyny run rampant, and persist as an insidious social force—even among the Left.

To combat sexism, and the encroachment of the New Cold War—to fight the insidiousness of misogyny and chauvinism—the Left in the US must look to China to see both what is possible and what is to be done. We must struggle to keep women healthy, safe, and to encourage education—even while the US government is fighting tooth and nail against these goals. We must unlearn the harmful attitude and behaviors that US culture has engrained in us through the sex trade and the industry of objectification and commodification. We must look to China for inspiration.

May the Chinese Revolution continue to inspire us all, and may we struggle for the women who hold up "half the sky."





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