Two Sessions: NPC & CPPCC Ignore Demand to End Xìngbié qíshì

Author: Hemant Adlakha, Honorary Fellow, ICS

 Image: Gender discrimination in Gaokao                       
Summary: For over a decade now, female undergraduates have outnumbered men in    China. However, the country’s gender discriminatory (xìngbié qíshì) policies prefer men over women in entry into higher education and in the job market. Last month, hundreds of Chinese women have written to China’s “two sessions” legislatures to put an end to “gender quota” favouring men.

Over five thousand Chinese elite deputies and national committee members have assembled at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing this week for what is known as “two sessions” or lianghui, to deliberate and ratify the Chinese Communist Party’s social and economic vision for China’s next five years and beyond. “Two sessions” stands for the simultaneous week-long meetings of the National People’s Congress (NPC) – China’s rubber-stamp parliament, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) – largely an advisory body comprising of representatives from public life and non-CPC organizations. The two bodies are known to the people of China as Renda and Zhengxie, respectively.

Chinese state-controlled media has called the event as one of the most important “two sessions” in decades. All national, provincial newspapers and television channels have for days publicized the significance of the event, defining its timely convening as the symbol of political stability and social order under the CPC rule led by Xi Jinping. According to the South China Morning Post’s John Carter, “two sessions” are also seen as “window on the central government’s priorities and plans for the coming year.” However, going by “two sessions” past track record, thousands of Party elite who gather once a year every March are too disciplined to even look at the people’s appeal(s) or any demand not already circulated in the agenda usually decided on and approved months in advance.

China’s premier Tsinghua University: Only Male applicants eligible! 

For several decades, Chinese women have been voicing their frustration and anger against gender discrimination they face while applying for enrolment into certain elite universities and professions. China’s education ministry has finally initiated rolling back of enrolment quota based on gender – but only partially. “Except for some special institutes such as military, national defense, and public security, institutions shall not stipulate gender ratios for admitting new students,” the Ministry announced last January. “Although the new regulation is welcomed by many as relatively progressive for a country as patriarchal as China (Emphasis added), some people are dismayed that the authorities apparently still feel that some study programs should continue to be the exclusive domain of men, calling this discriminatory,” according to recently launched English language “liberal” digital news platform Sixth Tone in Shanghai.

According to recently launched English language digital news platform backed by the Shanghai branch of the CPC, Sixth Tone – described in the foreign media as China’s new model for foreign propaganda under the tightening news censorship at home – as soon as the Ministry announcement was picked up by the domestic media, the news led to public debate, especially on the social media. The controversy centering round “quota for men” in the country’s Project 211 – an official consortium of elite universities which follow a gender-based admission quota and allow either limited number of women to enroll or deny admission to women applicant altogether. Angered by the outrageous gender-based quota regime, a gender equality advocacy group launched a campaign on social media and also wrote open letters to more than 1000 NPC deputies demanding to take up the issue at the forthcoming “two Sessions,” Sixth Tone reported. 

  Lower entry point for men in university enrollment

In fact, the gender discrimination in higher education the Chinese women have been fighting against is of two kinds. Namely, limited proportion of seats for women in elite universities and several programs of study off-limit for women; for various majors such as science and technology, computer science, engineering, public security, seafaring, aviation and military etc, women are not allowed even to apply. Secondly, in China’s highly competitive university/college entrance examination system – Gaokao, not only the male-quota for admissions is higher but the qualifying score for men too is lower than for women. “The gender imbalance in many fields isn’t just limited to education, but employment as well,” the report in Sixth Tone said.  

A NYT article two years ago observed, “Thirty years ago, when the country first began implementing market reforms, Chinese women earned just fewer than 80 percent of what men made. By 2010, according to the latest official data, the average income of women in Chinese cities had fallen to 67 percent than that of men, and in the countryside 56 percent.” Besides, experts have dismissed the CPC belief that by pushing women back to home to produce more babies, saying it is only going to impact China’s demographic scene more adversely. Since Xi Jinping took over in 2012, marriage rate has fallen to its lowest point, the birth-rate has dropped to a level unseen since the New China was established, and divorce rate – initiated mostly by women – has been climbing up. In Beijing, according to data made available by the city officials, one divorce was reported for every two marriages in 2017.  

Mao Zedong once famously declared that women “hold up half the sky.” But that was socialist, egalitarian China half a century ago. Yet despite its many flaws – largely the result of Lenin’s “state capitalism” model aimed at achieving transition from the post-revolutionary economy to a genuinely post-capitalist economy – the Chinese Communist Party replicated the USSR model, observed Richard Wolff recently, an economics professor and radio host. But driven by the Marxist ambition of liberating women, Mao was not deterred by China’s recent turmoil and still persisting centuries-old patriarchal traditions, and mobilized women to enter “the work force in greater numbers and enjoy greater rights.”

     Gender discrimination in employment!

But strangely, although Mao did celebrate Xiang Jingyu (1895-1928), who had joined the CPC within a year after its foundation in 1921, as the only woman comrade among the founding members of the party, no Chinese woman has been elevated to the CPC highest political body – the standing committee of the political bureau, since the establishment of New China in 1949. Now, under Xi Jinping, it is highly unlikely for any Chinese woman to rise to the upper echelons of the party or the PRC. Why so? Because Xi has become the first communist leader to openly call upon women to return home and take care of the families.

In a shocking statement made just a couple of months before starting his second term as the China’s top leader at the last CPC National Congress in October 2017, President Xi said: women should embrace their “unique role” in the family and “shoulder the responsibilities of taking care of the old and the young, as well as educating children.” How Liu Yandong’s hopes to advance further upwards from the 25-member CPC political bureau into 7-member standing committee of the political bureau, the country’s top political body, were crushed by Xi Jinping at the party’s 18th National Congress, serves a good example here. According to a report by The Guardian’s Tania Branigan, Liu was the only woman vice premier during Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao’s regime between 2007and 2012.

What is bizarre and unbelievable is, All China Women’s Federation (ACWF), socialist China’s and the party’s women’s rights organization founded in 1949 is fully behind the CPC leader promoting these traditional ideas.

Image: A women equality advocacy group which invites posters, photos on gender discrimination in China

Accusing the CPC of extolling Confucian filial pities, Leta Hong Fincher, author of the book on gender inequality in China, Betraying Big Brother: Feminist Awakening in China (2018), recently wrote: the CPC “aggressively perpetuates gender norms and reduces women to their roles as dutiful wives, mothers and baby breeders in the home, in order to minimize social unrest and give birth to future generations of skilled workers.” Reacting strongly to the party’s recent campaign to try to stimulate a baby boom, the main reason behind Xi’s drive to send women back to home, professor Wang Zheng, a gender studies professor at the University of Michigan, was quoted in the NYT two years ago as saying: “Instead of making it easier for women to both work and have children, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has led a resurgence in traditional gender roles that has increasingly pushed women back into the home. When the state policymakers needed women’s hands, they sent them to do labor.”

Reflecting on women’s liberation movement in socialist China, Wang (cited earlier above), recently delivered a talk in mainland China, in which she emphasized that social media debates soon die out until the next ‘assault’ on a woman.” Perhaps inadvertently, what Wang further stated was an explicit reference to President Xi’s anti-women remarks. “The origin of this trend [on social media] has a lot to do with the criticism of socialist women’s liberation by China’s elite in the 1980s, demanding women to be feminine and to be good wives and mothers,” she said.

On the other hand, a series of recent social media campaigns – Movement to occupy men’s toilet in Guangzhou, #woyeshi (#MeToo), Gaobie “yuejingchiwu” (Say no to ‘menstrual shame’), Gaokao “xingbieqishi”(Gender discrimination in University enrolment), including the most recent appeal to the NPC deputies to end gender discrimination by abolishing pro-men quota in higher education and in employment, are all resolutely conveying to the male-chauvinist ruling patriarchy: it’s time Chinese women themselves “hold up half the sky!”                                      

This is a modified version of the original article “Two Sessions: Hundreds of Chinese Women Demand End to Gender Discrimination” published by  Nepal Institute for International Cooperation and Engagement (NIICE) on 7 March 2021.

Year of the Ox Brings Cheers for China’s Diplomacy: PRC Scholar

Hemant Adlakha, Honorary Fellow, ICS

Image: China in the international order  


Summary: On China, the US public stands apart and India’s Hindu majority population is described by Beijing as “self-deceptive.” In the wake of the Indian government’s decision to withdraw troops on the border with China and Biden’s recent “twin” failure to rally its European allies against Beijing, a Chinese scholar is claiming a “double” victory over both Washington and New Delhi. 

On February 19, the US President Joseph Biden delivered a speech at the 2021 Munich Security Conference. In his first public appearance in the world, President Biden categorically outlined his foreign policy approach and said: “How the United States, Europe and Asia work together to secure the peace, and defend our shared values and advance our prosperity across the Pacific will be among the most consequential efforts we undertake.” The international media, from London to Paris to Tokyo to New Delhi, applauded Biden’s 15-minute virtual assurance to partners, allies and friendly countries in Europe and Asia that “America is back.”

In Beijing, however, the Biden speech was not only interpreted in a strikingly different manner, but the conclusions drawn in the state-controlled Chinese media too were “out of the box,” so to speak. Commenting on the new US leader’s first “twin” multilateral appearances since taking office – at the MSC and at G7 summit, both on the same day – the sister publication of the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece People’s Daily but widely acknowledged in the global media as China’s authentic official view, the English Language hyper-nationalist Global Times dismissed Biden’s debut “twin” attempt “to rally allies against China” as utter failure.

Chinese diplomacy in the Year of the Ox    Image:


In a signed commentary entitled “Biden fails to pit allies against China in debut at G7, Munich events,” GT staffer Zhang Han wrote: “In a speech to the virtual G7 summit, Biden stressed the need for US and allies to collectively deal with economic threats posed by China. At the Munich Security Conference, Biden said we must prepare together for long-term strategic competition with China and vowed to restart multilateralism after four years of America first policies.”(Emphasis added) But as was expected, Biden’s calls did not gain much traction among US allies in Europe, Zhang Han concluded.

Calling Biden’s efforts to project China as “fabricated enemy” in his twin attempt in one day as gross error, professor Li Haidong of China’s authoritative Foreign Affairs University was quoted in the above GT commentary as saying: “The uncertainty of US politics has weakened Europeans’ own confidence in the former leader of the alliance, not to mention the fact that each country has their own problems to handle and is unlikely to confront an ‘fabricated enemy’.” In another GT story published a day before the G7 summit, professor Wang Yiwei, director of the International Affairs Institute at Beijing’s Renmin University said: “What Biden wants to do at the G7 meeting is like putting ‘new wine into an old bottle,’ but other G7 countries such as Germany, Italy and France, including even Japan, not all of them see China as the ‘enemy’.”

Reporting for the popular news app platform, Zhang Chengjing reminded her readers “Of course, he [Biden] did not forget to mention China in his speech and called on European allies to be prepared for long-term strategic competition with China.” To which, a reader responded by saying “I wonder if Mr. Biden knows about the ancient Chinese idiom Kè zhōu qiú jiàn – ‘silly solutions?’ The humankind has entered the 21st century, is it possible to return to the world pattern of the 20th century?” The reader was obviously jibing at Biden’s remark in Munich that “The partnership between Europe and the United States in my view is, and must remain, the cornerstone of all that we hope to accomplish in the 21st century, just as we did in the 20th century.”

  Biden fails to pit allies against China   Image:


It is pertinent to mention, Beijing’s commentariat meticulously scrutinizes the global media – especially op-ed columns on China related themes. A recent POLITICO analysis on the Europe’s expectations from Biden’s Munich address surely did not go unnoticed in Beijing. Widely influential in the European Union, the analysis said: “Indeed, while there is bipartisan consensus in the US that China represents a   fundamental threat to Western democracy. The Europeans are much more sanguine. That’s due in large part to Europe’s desire to maintain and expand commercial ties with China.”

What is most intriguing or perhaps cynical was the reading of the US leader’s online speech in Munich by Zhang Zhikan, a seasoned US affairs analyst at Beijing’s left-leaning and the CPC sponsored Kunlun Research Institute. In his signed commentary on the Institute’s website, Zhang wrote: “US President Biden delivered a speech at the G7 summit in which he declared that the era of American exceptionalism is over.” (Emphasis added) Zhang didn’t stop at that but went to conclude: “The fact that President Biden delivered such loaded speech on his world’s foreign policy debut is a clear admittance that an era (of the US domination) is over, and that a more complicated struggle is coming.” Indeed Zhang was referring to Biden’s remark that “be prepared for a long-term strategic competition with China.”

Going by the language and substance of the manner in which the Chinese media has been reporting the Biden speeches respectively at the MSC and at the G7 summit, it is quite likely Zhang Zhikan has surely substantially missed a vital component of Biden’s remarks and is a victim of what is proverbially called “lost in translation.” Granted Zhang might have been “misled” by the twisted manner in which the Chinese media reported Biden’s twin speeches at G7, Munich events. What is startling is Zhang claiming Biden has “retreated” from Trump’s aggressive stance on Taiwan. Referring to Biden’s remarks made on China – including on Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan, at the CNN’s town hall event days before the Munich online speech, Zhang said: “[Biden admits] The US has withdrawn from Trump’s past practices on Taiwan and other issues.”

  Biden and Modi: China?   Image:


Let us recall what did Biden say at the town hall in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that Zhang Zhikan was referring to? On February 16 at the town hall event, when asked about his Lunar New Year call with the Chinese leader Xi Jinping, Biden replied: “I point out to him no American president can be sustained as a president, if he doesn’t reflect the values of the United States. And so the idea is, that I am not going to speak out against what he’s doing in Hong Kong, what he’s doing with the Uyghurs in the western mountains of China and Taiwan trying to end the one China policy by making it forceful…”

Implying the Biden administration was climbing down in the wake of China’s amazingly quick economic recovery from the impact of Covid-19 pandemic, Zhang Zhikun’s cynical approach was evident in his claiming “victory” over India too. Attributing the news of the Indian troops withdrawal from the conflict-ridden China’s western border – just a few days before the Biden “retreat” – to China’s formidable national strength, Zhang saw a close link between the two developments. Echoing Zhang’s view, an article in a popular Chinese mobile phone news platform recently argued “the Indian economic asymmetries with China” is why India frequently provokes border skirmishes with China. Citing the news platform Jinri Toutiao, an Indian China watcher wrote: “India dreams to become the centre of the world manufacturing but has been bullied and pushed over by the biggest hegemon China, therefore by way of ‘border provocation,’ ‘flaring up anti-China sentiments,’ and ‘by boycotting Chinese goods’ India wishes to achieve this goal.”

Xi embraces Year of the Ox   Image:


To sum up, Zhang Zhikong rejoicing over China’s “twin” victory over Washington and New Delhi is no doubt reflection of the current mood in Beijing based on “managing” the world situation well. In Beijing’s view, a series of international “China’s diplomatic” victories in recent months, namely China’s success in fighting coronavirus pandemic, China being the only leading world economy to register economic recovery and relatively spectacular economic growth in 2020, signing of the RCEP, inking China-Europe Investment Agreement, more recently and last but not least China’s vaccine diplomacy as well as Xi-Biden telephone conversation – all these have been the key factors resulting in both Biden “retreat” and China’s “psychological warfare” defeat of  New Delhi, respectively.

Finally, if tone and tenor of most international affairs commentaries during the past fortnight in the Chinese media are any indication, the Lunar Year of Ox has proved to be an auspicious beginning for China and her standing in the world. In the words of a Chinese IR scholar: “All the areas where we failed to make breakthroughs in the recent past are now showing our victories. All good things are now being delivered at China’s door. The world is suddenly cheering for us!”

It seems the world had started believing the China story has ended in Shakespearean tragedy. However, Beijing reckons the China story is going to end in a Shakespearean comedy. The Chinese Lunar year calendar cycle is of sixty years. The zodiac animal when the most famous Chinese slogan “The Chinese People have now Stood Up” was first heard in mainland China in 1949 was Ox – many Chinese are reminding the world!                                                         

This is a modified version of the original article “Chinese Diplomacy: Xi’s “Twin” Victory over Biden, Modi?” published by ModernDiplomacy on 7 March 2021.

North Korea’s growing economic dependence on China

Pritish Gupta, Research Intern, ICS

In wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, economic dependency of North Korea on Beijing is set to increase as the country faces an unprecedented economic crisis. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is in the midst of a critical phase where the effort to manage the economy while facing crippling sanctions is impeded with the consequences of the pandemic impacting the overall performance of the economy.

With limited access to the information inside the country and despite Pyongyang’s efforts to cover itself from the spread of the pandemic, the impact on the economic activity in the country is foreseeable. The strict measures undertaken by the regime are having side-effects on its already vulnerable economy. After the closure of borders, trade with Beijing came to a halt, resulting in shortage of supplies and leading to a surge in prices. The situation is much worse in the rural areas. Last year, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that the country was struggling to meet its economic objectives. It was a blow to the dual policy of nuclear weapons development and economic growth known as “byungjin line”.

The punishing sanctions

The sanctions have been progressively expanded by the UN Security Council and US government over the years given the nuclear ambitions of the DPRK, aiming to suppress the ability of the economy aiding its nuclear program. Though, over the last few years, the sanctions have had a negative effect on the internal economic activity, crucial to support the basic needs in health and food security. The sanctions have been partly responsible to the vulnerable state of the economy too. The restrictions on the inflow in the country, while restricting its ability to export to generate foreign exchange to import further has impacted the GDP of the country.

As North Korea found itself cornered on the international stage, Beijing was the only reliable partner for Pyongyang both economically and strategically. In terms of international trade, China accounts for North Korea’s largest trade partner. North Korea’s trade dependence on China has increased over the last few years. One of the most important reason why China is North Korea’s leading trade partner is the increase of Chinese imports of North Korean natural resources such as minerals in the last few years, leading up to 300 percent.

No change in economic policy

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un’s response to the situation is certainly not laudable. Lately, the regime has emphasized more on central planning and rather discouraging the private sector, an important element in country’s quest for a mixed economy. It is not keen on the economic and market reforms that could revive the domestic economic activity and prove instrumental on the road towards improving the situation. In the speeches at the party meeting, Kim stressed on the restoration and reinforcing the system whereby the economy runs under the management of the state. His unwillingness to reform the state- controlled system has exacerbated the economic situation in the country. The state control of the economy is also driven by insecurity in the regime. The rising scarcity of goods in Pyongyang and discontent among the elites has concerned Kim Jong-Un lately. The juche ideology that the leader is trying to implement in wake of the crisis stemming out of sanctions may worsen the economic situation in the country.

Post-pandemic consequences

The consequences of the pandemic on the North Korean economy may further complicate the crisis. The slump in global economic activity would also impact the country’s overseas business interests in China as well as the workers in Russia. Travel restrictions have made it difficult for Pyongyang to send the workers overseas. North Korea’s reluctance to publish the economic data also makes it difficult to understand the impact on the country’s economy. The effect on small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in China are indicative that the North Korean SMEs would be facing challenges with labor shortages, supply chain issues etc. But, with Chinese economy recovering well from the slowdown, it is predicted that with the easing of the border controls, trade with China would be normalized. Though, with prolonged restrictions, the negative impact on the economy may expand widely and last long enough to a full blown economic crisis accelerated by the pandemic.

Economic Dependence on China to stay?

North Korea prefers the Chinese system for banking, trade and business with no alternative in sight. Both the countries are willing to expand these exchanges in the near future. Economic independence and diversification in trade relations for Pyongyang may be beneficial in the long run but given the crisis on the peninsula, it seems a distant possibility. Chinese dominance also remains strong given the close connections between the business communities, despite the sanctions. For China, the bordering provinces with North Korea are the poorest in the country therefore trade and economic exchange is crucial for economic activity. Pyongyang understands the massive advantages of maintain robust economic ties with Beijing. If negotiations with the new US administration in terms of the denuclearization of the peninsula and regime stability are successful in the near future, the sustained economic ties with Beijing would prove to be an important catalyst for opening up of the economy for Pyongyang.


With the pandemic curtailing the economic activity globally and the stalled talks on the Korean Peninsula, it is imperative for Pyongyang to depend on the economic benevolence of Beijing. Economically, North Korea is likely to remain in China’s economic sphere for a foreseeable future until the international sanctions are eased and the relationship with the West is normalized. Pyongyang also understands the consequences of overdependence on China in economic terms, but given the uncertainty on the peninsula it has to sustain its enduring alliance with Beijing.