Ever since President Xi Jinping assumed power, he made sweeping changes to China and the country entered a “new era” in hopes to restore the nation to its ancient glory.
Just last year, the state media announced Xi's political philosophies, generally referred to as "Xi Jinping Thought" would become part of China’s Constitution and would be added to the curriculum of schools.
However, the “new era” along with abolishing presidential term limits, also meant a more traditional role for women in the country.
According to a The Washington Post, Zhenjiang College in Jiangsu and the All-China Women’s Federation have been teaching female students how to become “wise,” “sunny,” and “perfect” women— all in the name of Xi’s “new era.”
So, what’s on the syllabus for becoming the perfect woman?
“You must sit on the front two-thirds of the chair — you cannot occupy the whole chair,” said 21-year-old student Duan Fengyan while demonstrating. “Now, hold in your belly, relax your shoulders, legs together, shoulders up.”
Along with lessons on how to sit right and apply the ideal amount of makeup, the course, which is offered only to female students, teaches Chinese history and culture, oil painting and etiquette.
The founding and ruling political party of modern China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), does promote female education but with dwindling population, it is also pushing the regressive rhetoric that men are the breadwinners of the house and women are, first and foremost, wives and mothers.
As a result, it is making sure to teach young women the norms that would apparently prepare them to assume domestic roles in their lives.
Moreover, the party also worries the educated women might opt to not marry men which would aggravate the condition of surplus of men caused by the one-child policy and consequently destabilize the country’s population.
“Women’s family role is more important now,” said Sheng Jie, the head for the program New Era Women’s School, which was launched to heed Xi’s call for education in traditional Chinese culture.
Though this sexist mentality has been around for decades, it has raised its ugly head once again following the Zhenjiang program which is reportedly the first college course in feminine virtue under Xi.
The Washington Post was the first news outlet that was granted access to the campus to get a firsthand account of the lessons of propriety being given to the female students.
"According to traditional culture, women should be modest and tender, and men's role is working outside and providing for the family," said Fengyan.
Fengyan’s classmate, Wang Caidie, a nursing student said female nurses are advised to go easy on makeup to look professional, while male students are not given any instructions whatsoever.
Though Xi claims to be a bastion of women’s rights, his words lacked impact considering the policies he has introduced over the years.
Despite of repeated assurances, little has been done to get more women into positions of power and nor has he adequately worked towards curbing the gender wage gap.
Critics argue the party’s idea of culture change is a little distorted as it should make the country look forward instead of shoving them back into age-old practices.
"Our traditional culture is filled with restrictions on - and the oppression of - women," said Lu Ping, a prominent Chinese feminist who ran a website that was recently censored. "Can we push women back into the traditional roles?"
Last year, a disturbing piece of news surfaced that a company in northern China was operating a "traditional culture school" where women were told to "shut your mouths and do more housework" and practiced bowing to their husbands.
"Don't fight back when beaten. Don't talk back when scolded. And, no matter what, don't get divorced," said a female teacher, according to footage published by Beijing's Pear Video.
It is yet to be seen what other changes are introduced in the country in the name of “new-era.” As the one in question clearly has little to do with revamping the society and instead highlights how the country limits the role of women to domestic chores when they have repeatedly proved they are capable of so much more.
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