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China’s Leadership: Where are the Women?

Mar 13, 2011

China’s lawmaking body, the National People’s Congress (NPC), opened its annual session last weekend to great fanfare.  Watching the delegates pile in and out of the Great Hall of the People, we couldn’t help wondering: How is it that in a country of 1.3 billion, with nearly 3,000 NPC delegates, there are no women of national political prominence?

After all, Tuesday is International Women's Day, and China has a long history of strong women leaders. To name but a few: Empress Dowager Cixi, Empress Dowager Longyu, and of course two of the three Song sisters — Song Qingling (Madame Sun Yat-sen) and Song Meiling (Madame Chiang Kai-shek).

But the last time the leadership included a female official of note was Wu Yi, whom some Americans might remember as a formidable negotiator representing Chinese trade and economic interests until she retired as Vice Premier in 2008. Before Wu, the most recent government figure was the uber contemporary dragon-lady, Jiang Qing aka Madame Mao, who played an instrumental role in steering the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

So where are the Wu Yis or (gulp) Jiang Qings of today?

Adrienne Mong is a Beijing-based digital journalist for NBC News.

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