On October 19th, a sociology professor at Zhejiang University, one of the most prestigious universities in China, began to be bombarded online with criticism over remarks that he had posted on Weibo back in 2013. In his controversial post, Professor Feng Gang (冯钢) wrote about his experience interviewing candidates for a master’s degree program.
“I was surprised by the unbalanced gender ratio of five women to one man, and unexpectedly the top three candidates with the highest scores were all women,” he wrote. “Less than 10% of women in the master’s program will actually continue on the academic career path and most of them don’t really focus on their studies during the program. They are only here for the degree.”
Rather than back down in response to the sudden backlash over his past remarks, Feng instead decided to double down by replying to criticism with an even more explicitly sexist statement: “History has proven that academia is not the domain of women.”
Since October 24th, Feng’s Weibo posts have become inaccessible amid a viral firestorm of outrage.
The day before that, Douban user 食菠萝, a student pursuing a PhD in sociology at Tunghai University in Taiwan, launched a petition calling for Feng to apologize for his sexist remarks. The petition was signed by more than 20 people who were pursuing their master’s or PhD degrees in universities across the world before it was removed from the website. You can still view the petition in cached form.
That same petition was also posted onto Weibo by a prominent feminist activist and sociologist who goes by the username @一音顷夏. However, her post has been removed as well.
On October 24th, Feng responded yet again to the controversy in a defiant interview in which he claimed that he had no prejudice against women, saying that he was merely discussing the way in which candidates are selected for the master’s program. Feng went on to declare that his opponents were trying to twist his words, alleging that this was all a premeditated and organized attack against him falsely made by the mob under the guise of political correctness.
“I will not apologize even in 10 afterlives. I didn’t do anything wrong, why should I apologize?” he maintained.
This far from the first time that someone in Chinese academia has ignited outrage by voicing old-fashioned views. In 2010, Han Han, a massively popular writer, blogger and youth icon, said in an interview with Elle magazine that he would not allow his girlfriend to go out and take a job. In 2013, He Guangshun, associate professor at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, told his students that women ought to skip the morning classes to dress up so that boys would be more motivated to study. In 2014, Lin Shaohua, a renowned Chinese translator of Japanese writer Haruki Murakami, warned on Weibo that men should keep from doing chores around the house or otherwise risk hurting their masculinity. In 2015, Zhou Guoping, a research fellow at the Institute of Philosophy of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, wrote on Weibo that the only ambition women have is to love and to bear and raise children. Zhou also gave a speech on “Philosophy and Women” at Beijing’s Renmin University of China in 2004, in which he claimed that “women studying philosophy is harmful for both women and philosophy.”
There are more women in China pursuing higher education than ever before, but they are also subject to more and more harsh criticism and ridicule from professors, peers and society at large. In China, unwed women with a PhD degree are often mocked as a sexless “third gender” that men don’t want to marry.
Since China’s one-child policy was abolished in 2015, women in China are increasingly being seen as reproductive tools, now capable of bearing at least two children, helping to preserve the future of a nation which is facing an impending aging crisis and an overloaded pension system. Recently, state media has been buzzing with articles urging its people to get married, and, in one Hubei city, local cadres are even being called on to set a good example for the people by having a second kid.
This all partly helps to explain why conservative attitudes toward women continue to persist in Chinese society with those women who dare to put their career and education before starting a family being ostracized as “leftover women” in IKEA commercials.
By Alex Tang
[Images via ChinaDigitalTimes]
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