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Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China

 A century ago, Chinese feminists fighting for the emancipation of women helped spark the Republican Revolution, which overthrew the Qing empire. After China's Communist revolution of 1949, Chairman Mao famously proclaimed that "women hold up half the sky." In the early years of the People's Republic, the Communist Party sought to transform gender relations with expansive initiatives such as assigning urban women jobs in the planned economy. Yet those gains are now being eroded in China's post-socialist era. Contrary to many claims made in the mainstream media, women in China have experienced a dramatic rollback of many rights and gains relative to men.

Leftover Women debunks the popular myth that women have fared well as a result of post-socialist China's economic reforms and breakneck growth. It focuses on the far-reaching consequences of the Chinese state media propagation of the derogatory term "leftover" women or shengnü (剩女) to stigmatize professional, educated, urban women in their mid-twenties and older, and pressure them to marry and have a child.

Review excerpts

”Leta Hong Fincher’s ‘Leftover Women’ offers a...chilling account of the pressures on Chinese strivers...One hopes that “Leftover Women” will soon be translated into Chinese, as it is likely to resonate deeply with urban educated women. It seems the party has forgotten the Mao-era dictum: ‘Women Hold Up Half the Sky’.”
— New York Times Book Review by Judith Shapiro
“In ‘Leftover Women,’ Leta Hong Fincher convincingly argues that an orchestrated state campaign co-opts women to marry and buy marital homes, often to the detriment of their careers and financial independence.”
— Wall Street Journal Book Review, by Anjie Zheng
“In this commanding book Hong Fincher argues that China’s international image, celebrating the increasing education and wealth of its women, masks an alarming slide back towards deep gender inequality - and that the very education and wealth of Chinese women is being used against them.”
— Feminist and Women's Studies Association (UK & Ireland) Book Review by Carina Hart
“Leftover Women should carry a health warning: this book will severely raise your blood pressure. Leta Hong Fincher’s subject - researched through statistical analysis, sociological surveys and extensive first-hand interviewing - is the toxic vitality of sexism in China today.”
— The Guardian Book Review by Julia Lovell
“A timely, rich and intricately written book on gender equality in China...Hong Fincher’s work paints a broad and pervasive picture of women’s rights in post-socialist China gradually eroding. She delves into China’s patriarchal culture, the growth of its real estate wealth and the impact of the Communist Party’s central aim of maintaining social stability.”
— The Telegraph, by Marta Cooper
“A powerful — and provocative — argument that China’s female shortage, far from empowering women, has actually resulted in a situation where urban women’s rights are increasingly imperiled....It’s ‘Backlash’, China-style, on a scale Susan Faludi never envisioned, touching the lives of 650 million women, almost a fifth of all the women in the world.”
— L.A. Review of Books, by Mei Fong
“Hong Fincher, a doctoral candidate at Tsinghua University, describes a state-sponsored backlash against economically independent single women in urban China, and the growing wealth gap it enforces, in this highly suggestive study...The book serves as a vital introduction to gender issues in urban China.”
— Publishers Weekly Book Review
“Important and interesting...gender relations, in many ways so much more advanced in China than in India, are going backwards as traditions that were seemingly flattened by Mao re-emerge.”
— Financial Times Book Review, by David Pilling
“A compelling piece of original research...Leta Hong Fincher, an American journalist-turned-academic, argues that the same party that pushed through the elevation of women’s status in the 1950s is now trying to engineer their return to the kitchen.”
— The Economist Book Review



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