LETTER FROM BEIJING
The National People’s Congress that just closed its doors in Beijing has already claimed its first victim: women. Of the 2,977 delegates, 791 (or 26%) were women, a percentage slightly lower than their presence in the party (29.1% of the 95 million members of the CCP are women). This is because, as soon as you go up the hierarchy of the administration or the party, women disappear. Since October 2022 and the 20th CCP congress, there are no longer any women among the 24 members of the political bureau, a first in 20 years.
Those who hoped that a woman would finally be among the seven members of the standing committee of the political bureau were left wanting. Not only have no women been admitted to the first circle of power, but they have even disappeared from the second. Since all promotions are partly through seniority, it will now be necessary to wait until the next congress, in 2027, for a woman to enter the political bureau again, and then another five years, to 2032, for her to have a small chance of entering the holy of holies. So much for the party.
The situation is not much better on the state side. Unsurprisingly, the new premier, Li Qiang, who is also the CCP’s number two, is a man. But the four vice-premiers are also men, whereas in the past 10 years two women, Liu Yandong (2013-2018) and Sun Chunlan (2018-2022), achieved this rank. You have to go down to the N-2 level, state councilors, to find a woman.
Only two women among 26 ministers
Among the five state councilors – a rank lower than that of vice-first but theoretically higher than that of minister – there is now one woman: Shen Yiqin, who, until the fall of 2022, was party secretary in Guizhou province. She was the only woman to lead a province. Logically, this woman, who belongs to the dai minority, had been tipped to enter the political bureau in October, but she did not get it. Her appointment as state councilor may be seen as a consolation prize, but it is legitimate to wonder what exact weight she will carry.
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The other four state councilors are indeed senior members of the Xi team and hold important positions at the same time. Qin Gang is also Minister of Foreign Affairs, Li Shangfu Minister of Defence, Wang Xiaohong Minister of Public Security, and Wu Zhenglong Secretary General of the State Council, the equivalent of the government. Shen Yiqin has not been given any portfolio to manage.
At the next level down, there are only two women among the 26 ministers: He Rong, Minister of Justice, and Wang Xiaoping, Minister of Human Resources and Social Security. In shorts, in the Great Hall of the People, half of the sky, as Mao defined women, has only one seat.
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