Introduction, historical perspective
In China the first attempts at formal education for females came in the late Qing period, as a mean for elite families to raise well educated daughters to facilitate marriages (1). In 1907 the central state formalized the prevision for girls to attend the schooling system (2), thus the girls attendance was extremely low, amounting to the 0.21% of the total.
A second step was achieved during the Mao Cultural Revolution, as Chinese Communist Party began initiatives for female emancipation with the objective of a common, free education for everybody. This achieved gender equality in access to schooling below college level, even if the percentages of female attendance was still considerably lower than males. By the end of Mao's era, the females accounted for 11.8% of the total of university graduates (3).
Beginning of the modern era, Deng's reform
China entered a third phase with its education system with the the counter-revolution started by Deng Xiaoping and the 1978 reform. Deng's focus on university research and scientific advancements resulted in the introduction of a rating system based on academic merits with tough entrance exams for higher-level education. The free market system resulted in an increased gender discrimination among salaries in the workforce which subsequently was reflected into the education system as well (4). Vocational schools became popular alternatives for people who were denied entrance in universities and colleges, and girls were encourages in preparing for jobs which were seen as more feminine, often with lower incomes, mostly in the tertiary services sector (3).
International influences and feminist movements
Differences among areas and one child policy
The feminist movements did not entirely solve the issues of gender inequalities, in 1995 of the 2.48 million children between ages seven to eleven who didn’t attend school, female account for the 86.4 percent (5). A big factor in regional differences in gender education comes from the implementation of the One Child Policy, which has flexible exemptions in rural areas. In fact, families from countryside are able to give birth to a second child five years after the first-born, especially if their first-born is female (6). This creates a deepening imbalance in the statistics of rural families, where in many cases a first born female is followed by a younger male sibling, and commonly, rural girls between ages 16 to 20 work as maids while their brothers are attending high school or college as the families are unable to support more than one child in school and traditional values, especially in the countryside, still heavily favor males; 45.6% of rural mothers think investing in higher education will increase their sons’ future income more than daughters’ (7).
In opposition the One Child Policy in urban areas, with its stricter application, created grounds for a wider gender equality in education, as the family investment is placed on their single child regardless of its sex (8), with statistics showing even a slighting greater investment on girls (9), which can be attributed to families trying to equip females with the best possible education to surpass a gender gap in the job market which still exists.
(1) McElroy, Sarah C. “Forging a New Role for Women: Zhili First Women’s Normal School and the Growth of Women’s education in China, 1901-21.” Ed. Peterson, Glen. Hayhoe, Ruth. And Lu Yongling Education, Culture, and Identity in Twentieth-Century China. U of Michigan Press (2001) : 368
(2) Barley, Paul. “Active Citizen or Efficient Housewife? The Debate over Women’s Education in Early-Twentieth-Century China.” Ed. Peterson, Glen. Hayhoe, Ruth. And Lu Yongling Education, Culture, and Identity in Twentieth-Century China. U of Michigan Press (2001) : 319
(3) Peterson, Glen. Course material. UBC connect. n.d. Web. 1st December. 2012.
(4) Tsui, Ming and Rich, Lynne. The Only Child and Educational Opportunity for Girls in Urban China. Gender and Society, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Feb., 2002), p.77
(5) Liu, Jane and Carpenter, Marilyn. Trends and Issues of Women's Education in China. The Clearing House , Vol. 78, No. 6 (Jul. - Aug., 2005), pp. 277-281
(6) Hesketh, Therese, Li Lu and Zhuwei Xing. “The Effect of China's One-Child Family Policy after 25 Years.” N Engl J Med 353 (2005) :1171-76. Web. 20th November. 2012.
(7) Hannum, Emily, Peggy Kong and Yuping Zhang. “Family Sources of Educational Gender Inequality in Rural China: A Critical Assessment.” Int J Educ Dev 29.5 (2009) : 474–86. NCBI. Web. 20th November. 2012.
(8) Hsiung, Ping-Chun. “The Women’s Studies Movement in China in the 1980s and 1990s.” Ed. Peterson, Glen. Hayhoe, Ruth. And Lu Yongling Education, Culture, and Identity in Twentieth-Century China. U of Michigan Press (2001) : 430-49.
(9) Tsui, Ming and Rich, Lynne. The Only Child and Educational Opportunity for Girls in Urban China. Gender and Society, Vol. 16, No. 1 (Feb., 2002), p.84