On Wednesday, after a week of speeches and praise for the president, the Chinese Communist Party announced the names of the cadres who will lead China for the next five years.
At a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People, on the western edge of Tiananmen Square, Xi, now seen as the most powerful leader since Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, marched across a stage with members of the party’s highest body, the Politburo Standing Committee.
Enter Xi Jinping. Li Keqiang. Li Zhanshu. Wang Yang. Wang Huning. Zhao Leji. Han Zheng.
In the decades since the Communists swept to power in 1949, no woman has been named to the party’s highest body.
Of the 25 members of the Politburo, the second-highest body, there is now one woman, down from two. The party’s 204-person Central Committee is once again graced by 10 women.
Mao famously quipped that “women hold up half the sky.”
More like 4.9 percent.
China, according to its own constitution, is committed to women’s rights. The country prides itself on being a leader on poverty alleviation, health and education.
While Chinese women are, on average, wealthier, more educated and healthier than they were before, experts say they are losing ground relative to men, with, for example, a widening wage gap.
Xiong Jing, executive director of Feminist Voices, an NGO in Beijing, said this year’s numbers were “outrageous,” but “not surprising.”
Xiong said that more female delegates would not necessarily bring gender equality, but a mostly male leadership is highly unlikely to make it a priority. “This is indeed a problem,” she said.
Heading into his second five-year term, Xi’s record on women is decidedly mixed.
In 2015, five Chinese feminists were detained while planning a peaceful act of protest to mark International Women’s Day. Months later, Xi delivered a keynote speech at the U.N. Women’s conference in New York, vowing to “reaffirm our commitment to gender equality and women’s development.”