Working Her Way Through History: Women Front and Center in Lijiang
August 28, 2006 0 Asiance Staff

Working Her Way Through History: Women Front and Center in Lijiang

She took the chicken by its legs and held it upside down for inspection. As it squawked, the customer poked through the feathers and nodded his approval. This one will do. After he paid, the two of them delivered the fowl to another woman who would kill, clean and package the meat.

 

As I walked through the meat section every butcher, with one exception, was a woman.

Jo Ling Kent


From slaughter to sale, women make up nearly all of the merchants at Zhongyi Market, the largest outdoor market in Lijiang. As I walked through the meat section every butcher, with one exception, was a woman. This is a job that has been long dominated by men in the United States so I was slightly surprised to find women in the majority. In Lijiang, however, women dominate most industries, ranging from textiles to tourism. For hundreds of years, Lijiang women have been putting dinner on the table for their families and they've always started well beyond the kitchen.

China is home to 56 recognized ethnic minorities, all of which are portrayed and valued as colorful traditions with diverse backgrounds. At the same time, these minorities are often perceived as backward and primitive compared to the Han majority, which dominate large cities and the densely populated east coast.

But, faraway in southwest China, the Naxi women of Lijiang are a progressive anomaly. A regular stop on the tea and silk routes, Lijiang has long been a major trading post for caravans and villagers traveling from South Asia into China. Traders converged here from Calcutta via Lhasa to exchange goods with Naxi women. The women in turn controlled the brokerage of currency exchange and the distribution goods through Yunnan Province. In fact, prior to 1949, Naxi women ran nearly all of the trading posts in central Lijiang while the men "were left to loaf, lounge and look after the babies," according to Peter Goullart, author of the 1957 Forgotten Kingdom.

Although Lijiang men are certainly no lazy bunch, Naxi women continue to dominate the Lijiang workforce today. In addition to comprising most of the traditionally female dominated industries such as hospitality, food service and education, women also own large businesses, serve in the local government and work in public sanitation and construction. A Naxi woman has yet to be appointed Prime Minister or Chairperson of the Central Community Party but seeing and interacting with a wide range of successful minority (and non-minority) women in a variety of industries is a refreshing and encouraging sign for what the future holds in Lijiang and hopefully the rest of China.

Unfortunately, gender equality has not yet run its entire course. Ironically, at home, many Lijiang women continue to take a secondary role to their husbands. Complete equality between the genders remains a challenge. Hopefully, women's success outside of the home and contributions to it will help tip the balance in her favor.

Ultimately, Lijiang seems to be headed in the right direction. Ironically, traditional clothing aptly symbolizes the Naxi commitment to women leading in the workplace. On the back of the traditional canvas dress, seven small circles of white leather are sewn horizontally across her shoulder blades. These circles represent the stars, which the age-old adage that as a Naxi woman raises her family she also works hard to hold up the heavens with her back as a supporter of the entire community. This longstanding tradition of women at work sends an empowering message, especially because of its deeply rooted belief that women are capable of being decision makers then and now, at home and beyond.

Jo Kent is a current Fulbright Scholar to China. She recently filmed documentary that tracks the cultural evolution of Lijiang (Yunnan Province) over the past 10 years, scheduled for release in 2007. Jo lives in Beijing. To contact Jo and to learn more about her, please visit her MyAsiance page at http://my.asiancemagazine.com/jolingk

Carrie Rosten - Stylist to the Stars

She’s styled hip hop star Nelly’s music video, worked with hotel heiress Paris Hilton, designed dolls for Mattel, and now, Carrie Rosten h...

Feb 10, 2009 0 likes

7th Annual Annual Asian Film Festival of Dallas

Just like the soaring temperatures that hit the metroplex this time every year, moviegoers can once again look forward to screaming-hot movie options...

Jul 10, 2008 0 likes

Brenda's Song: Homecoming Warrior

Packed with spectacular martial arts action, adventure and laughs, "Wendy Wu: Homecoming Warrior" is the story of an all-American suburban girl who le...

Jun 24, 2008 0 likes

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to place a comment

LOGIN

Search

Top rated

Testing

Test Nodevote anoth aoenthu aoeu aoeua Small Yeah...

0 likes Jan 13, 2010

Investing: Short-Term Arbitrage

It's the New Year, and people are looking back, lo...

0 likes Dec 30, 2009

Vacation with the Ex, or "There's no such thi...

I'm not one for budget travel, but I hate spending...

0 likes Aug 04, 2009

Replacing the dollar?

This is so sad and scary to me because this type o...

0 likes Jul 21, 2009

Business as usual for Kimora Lee

Kimora Lee has issued the following statement: "...

0 likes Jul 21, 2009

Recent Articles

Testing

Test Nodevote anoth aoenthu aoeu aoeua Small Yeah...

Jan 13, 2010 0 likes

Investing: Short-Term Arbitrage

It's the New Year, and people are looking back, lo...

Dec 30, 2009 0 likes

Vacation with the Ex, or "There's no such thi...

I'm not one for budget travel, but I hate spending...

Aug 04, 2009 0 likes

Replacing the dollar?

This is so sad and scary to me because this type o...

Jul 21, 2009 0 likes

Business as usual for Kimora Lee

Kimora Lee has issued the following statement: "...

Jul 21, 2009 0 likes