China launched its first human spaceflight mission in 2003. 9 years later, in June of this year, Liu Yang, a 33-year-old major in the PLA Air Force, became the first Chinese woman to travel in space. The Central Politburo Standing Committee of the CCP has existed since 1927 and has never had a female member.
That situation may be about to change. China watchers are widely predicting the elevation of State Councillor Liu Yandong in next month’s one-in-a-decade* leadership transition.
Liu is a smiley 67-year-old with a degree in chemical engineering and a penchant for pearls and red lipstick. Her portfolios include education, sports and cultural affairs. Experts say she is well-connected and state media paints her as a diligent civil servant with a human touch.
NB: In Chinese politics, having a ‘human touch’ applies to anyone who doesn’t physically attack or spit upon members of the public.
“It’s relatively easy to have a Chinese female astronaut because that’s only about winning glory for China and not about actually divvying up political power,” said Feng Yuan, a Beijing-based women’s rights advocate.
Former Vice Premier Wu Yi, was widely tipped to become the first Chinese woman to rise to the upper echelons of the CCP, but failed to advance beyond the Politburo.
“To become a mayor of a big city or a governor of a province you have to be sort of one of the boys, you have to drink a lot and maybe womanize a bit and also be reasonably corrupt,” [according to Willy Lam, a historian at Chinese University of Hong Kong]. “There’s no lack of corrupt women in China, but this to-be-one-of-the-boys phenomenon, I think, is holding some promising female cadres back.”
The number of women in the Chinese parliament has fallen since the 1970s. In 2009, female cadres accounted for only 11% of leadership positions at the ministerial or provincial level.
*The use of this phrase is a vital requirement of any English-language article about the CCP.
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