I was born a few years after the founding of the People’s Republic of China (1949) in Beijing and grew up an equal of everybody else—judged, at least, by one important criterion, gender equality. My sisters and many friends shared with me their sense of seldom experiencing discrimination for being female in those years, however partial or even, sometimes, false that sense might be.
I have two sisters and no brother. My parents (who are largely self-educated intellectuals among the Communist rank and file) were evidently not unhappy that they did not meet the traditional Chinese ideal of having a son; indeed, they were very proud of each of us. While we were Young Pioneers, whenever we sat at the dining table with them, we used to call our father, the sole man in the family, the “party representative.” In one of the most popular movies of the time (later made into a ballet and modern opera as well), based on a true story called “The Red Detachment of Women,” the party representative among women soldiers in Hainan in the 1930s was a man, a hero. With the female company commander, he helped to raise class consciousness and to win battles against the White army and the local despotic landlords (both were, so to speak, all male). The theme song of the movie remains today a favorite of mine: “Advance, advance! We bear heavy duties as soldiers; we fight deep injustice as women. . . .”...
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