IAC Culture Talks 3: ‘Innocent Young Girls’: The search for female provincial leaders in China by Dr Minglu Chen

Date:  Wednesday 4 October 2023

Time: 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm (Sydney time)

Online Seminar. RSVP Essential. Please RSVP HERE.


The 20th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) National Congress, held in October 2022, caught the world’s attention — not least because there was not a single woman among the Politburo’s 24 members, breaking a tradition of two decades. While the number of women in key political roles globally is steadily improving, female representation in the CCP has worsened over time.

Patriarchal norms undoubtedly contribute to Chinese women’s underrepresentation in political leadership, but this is not a situation that Chinese women alone face. In many societies, women pursuing a career in politics are challenging their traditional gender roles. Hence they are often seen as lacking the necessary credentials or criticised for not being ‘real’ women. There are several factors that have made the absence of women so severe in Chinese politics.

In the presentation, I will discuss these contributing factors through an examination of the ‘Innocent Young Girls’ assumption about female political leaders in China. This assumption argues that Chinese female political leaders are simply tokenistic representatives of the marginalised: female, intellectual, ethnic minority and non-Communist Party members.  My research analyses those women who have served in provincial leadership positions over the period of 2011/2012-2016/2017. It suggests that the ‘Innocent Young Girl’ characterisation  of female political leadership is misleading. Rather, the evidence indicates that women have been appointed on the same grounds as male leaders in terms of age, education, CCP membership and experience.

Therefore, the gender differences in China’s leadership representationare mostly due to the lack of institutionalised policies and processes and women’s ongoing disadvantages in education, political networks and training. As a result, introducing an effective gender quota system, addressing barriers such as recruitment criteria and educational disparities, diversifying the CCP and providing more opportunities for women in leadership positions are crucial steps towards increasing female representation in Chinese politics.

About the Speaker

Dr Minglu Chen is a senior lecturer in the Department of Government and International Relations and a member of the China Studies Centre at the University of Sydney. Her research concentrates on social and political change in China, especially the interaction between entrepreneurs and the state and women’s political participation. She has published her research in The China QuarterlyThe China Journal and Journal of Contemporary China and is the author of Tiger Girls: Women and Enterprises in the People’s Republic of China (Routledge 2011).