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Women's rights in China: Carma Hinton interviewed

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What do you see as some positive aspects of the old system in China? Strong family ties and loyalties are a positive element if not carried to extremes. A respect for the old -- when the old don't wield absolute power over the young -- should be preserved and continued in the new context, with a more democratic structure of the family.

When I say strong family ties, I don't mean the traditional aspects of the family that tie women down. But with women having equal rights, the loyalty and mutual support that are part of the old system are valuable.

How are recent economic changes affecting women?

I do not believe that economic development automatically brings advancement for women, but poverty certainly does not provide any basis for advancement. In the very poor communities the new economic policy, by bringing improvement in income, provides a possibility for [women's] issues to be addressed.

But in certain communities that prospered [under collectivization], working outside the home did give women more of a sense of themselves as separate beings from the male head of the household and more of a sense of alliance with other women.

When the new policies bring about a dismantling of this kind of collective, and women become just a part of the household, that diminishes their role and their equality. I feel this is not good for women.

Have you been aware of instances of female infanticide where a family who is only allowed one or two children has a girl and wants to try again for a boy?

The only cases I know about are those I read in the Chinese press or learn about through hearsay. It was more frequent when people were more in poverty. It happens in places where the one-child-family ruling has been strictly enforced.

In Long Bow people are allowed two children. If they're both girls, the woman is not sterilized and can try for a boy another time if the policy in the future permits.

The only cure for female infanticide, seeing that China needs a strict population policy, is a concerted effort to raise women's position and reform the tradition where women must always marry into a man's family.

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