China in 5 Words: Sajiao (撒娇)

One of the hottest issues of the past year has been that of territorial behavior over the vagina, especially by people who don’t have one. Despite its media being controlled by a government that has no desire to see large numbers of powerful men fall from grace, China has been influenced by the #MeToo movement.

This represents impressive progress for women in a country where concubinage and foot-binding were common practices within living memory. In Chinese business, the position of women appears to have overtaken the West.

There are 78 self-made female entrepreneurs worldwide with wealth exceeding US$1 billioneach, of whom 49 come from China. Among the top firms in the United States, women make up 10 percent of the investing partners and only half of the firms have any female investing partners at all. In China, 17 percent of partners are female and  80 percent of firms have at least one woman investing.

However, the increase of women in business can be partly explained by the fact that the government and The Communist Party remain good old boys’ clubs. And within business, there is an income gap. On average, women earn 22 per cent less than their male counterparts.

This is partly explained by the fact that women devote 15 per cent more time to family than men, while men spend 9 per cent more time at work, a symptom of the vast political and cultural apparatus that aims to keep women in their place.

The government has long seen unmarried men as disruptive, predatory, and ill-disciplined. The gender imbalance caused by the One Child Policy has led it to use its power to promote the institution of marriage.

State media has given females who remain single after age 27 the degrading title of “leftover women”. Headlines run by national wire service Xinhua News have included: “Overcoming the Big Four Emotional Blocks – Leftover Women Can Break out of Being Single”; “Do Leftover Women Really Deserve Our Sympathy”?

In her book “Leftover Women”, Leta Hong-Fincher claims that blame for the large number of birth defects in the People’s Republic is usually directed at women for marrying too late instead of the severe environmental degradation caused by the economic miracle. A popular rhyme tells women to marry a man so they can have food to eat and clothes to wear. Moreover, masculinity is defined by home ownership, so women who buy their own property can scare off potential husbands.

Cultural expectations about women’s behavior in China are best encapsulated by the gloriously stupid 2014 film “Women Who Flirt”. The tomboyish heroine spends the film learning to sajiao, a word with no English equivalent, to attract a man.

Both a verb and an adjective, sajiao is a kind of cutesy

tantrum that East Asian women are known for being particularly good at. Whereas in Rocky, the central character spends the film learning how to box, in “Women Who Flirt”, she works hard at learning how to say “taoyan” (which as a verb means “hate” and as an adjective means “annoying”). If one really knows how to say “taoyan” with the right tone, it can have a similar effect to Austin Powers saying “oh behave”.

It may be unwise to read too much in to such a silly movie, but its message is a reflection of its state funding. Being single is unequivocally a defeat, and a woman’s salvation lies in doing whatever it takes to get a man.

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