China does not lack notable female entrepreneurs, publishers, social activists, educators or commentators. Prominent businesswomen include Zhang Lan (b. 1958), founder of the South Beauty (Qiaojiangnan 俏江南) chain of restaurants and Dong Mingzhu (b. 1956), CEO of GREE air conditioning company. Hu Shuli (b.1953), the financial journalist at the helm of Caixin Media has an international reputation that has seen her win awards including the World Press Review’s 2003 International Editor of the Year and a listing in the US Foreign Policy magazine’s 2008 as one of the world’s top one hundred intellectuals alongside Noam Chomsky and Umberto Eco. The independent journalist and historian Dai Qing (b.1941) was one of the forces behind China’s nascent environmental movement in the mid-1980s and continues her tireless advocacy for human rights, democracy and environmental protection. Hong Huang (b.1962) is a well-known media mogul, microblogger and television host whose projects include the high-profile promotion of Chinese design brands. The list is long. Yet Chinese women’s representation at the highest levels of the Chinese political sphere has rarely been more than token. There has not been a woman in the politburo since Wu Yi (b.1938 and named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2004) retired from her position as Vice-Premier on the State Council in 2008.
The last few years have also arguably seen a stumble backwards when it comes to the representation of women in the media and on the Internet. The most prominent Chinese Internet celebrity of the first decade of the twenty-first century was, arguably, Xu Jinglei, an unmarried film director and actor. After long-form blogging became the medium du jour from 2005 to 2008, tens of millions fans logged onto Xu’s blog daily for her independent, down-to-earth take on life and her willingness to share non glam photographs with her fans. In 2010, Xu directed Go La La Go! (Du Lala shengzhi ji 杜拉拉升职纪), a film about a young professional woman’s struggle to balance work and life.
But the era of the microblog that started with the launch of Sina Weibo in 2009 is also one that seems to celebrate brashness and materialism, and the subservience and sexualisation of women over the sort of qualities that have brought the likes of Hu Shuli, Dai Qing and other such women to prominence. Although there are still independent female voices of authority and intelligence, the ones who appear to get most of the attention in this new ‘micro’ climate are women such as Guo Meimei Baby (see the 2012 Yearbook) and Zhou Rui Emily (see Chapter 7), mistresses who boast of gifts from their rich lovers. Perhaps most notorious was Ma Nuo, a twenty-year-old female contestant on a TV dating show in 2010 who famously said that she would ‘rather cry in the back of a BMW than laugh on the back of a bicycle’ (Ning zai Baoma cheili ku, ye bu zai zixingcheshang xiao 宁在宝马车里哭，也不在自行车上笑).
In contrast to Xu Jinglei’s 2010 film, the biggest hit film with young women in early 2013 was Tiny Times (Xiao shidai 小时代), directed and produced by male pulp novelist Guo Jingming. Tiny Times depicts four young women whose main aim in life appears to be snagging a rich husband. Writing in the Atlantic magazine Ying Zhu and Frances Hisgen noted that the women’s ‘professional aspirations amount to serving men with competence’ and that the only ‘enduring relationship’ in the superficial world portrayed by the film is ‘the chicks’ relationship with material goods’. Zhu and Hisgen call the male-scripted film ‘a great leap backward for women’ that portrays ‘a twisted male narcissism and a male desire for patriarchal power and control over female bodies and emotions misconstrued as female longing’.