- In 1984, she sought and won a seat in the Haidian District People’s Congress, to represent the university. The following year, she formed the Women’s Studies Forum, one of China’s first nongovernmental organizations.
- In the countryside, she discovered the appalling plight of China’s poor rural women, who contribute 65 percent of the country’s labor yet who are often illiterate and subject to arranged marriages-a fate WU likens to sexual slavery.
- Her copy of the constitution is worn from constant use. After all, she says, “My power comes from the constitution.”
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “her path breaking advocacy on behalf of women and the rule of law in the People’s Republic of China.”
For more than two thousand years, as WU QING reminds us, China was ruled by men, not laws, and women were subject to men. These are stubborn traditions. China’s communist revolution sought to eliminate feudalism and brought women the right to vote and be educated. Yet in the People’s Republic of China today, many women cannot exercise these rights and people still strive for the rule of law. Wu Qing, teacher and People’s Deputy, speaks out for the rule of law and is helping China’s women take their proper place in the national society-an equal place.
The daughter of prominent intellectuals, WU came of age in the early years of the People’s Republic and studied English at the Beijing Foreign Language Institute, now a university. Graduating in 1960, she joined the school’s faculty and became a beloved professor in a career spanning forty years. In the late 1970s, she became famous as China’s TV English teacher on state television.
A program in community leadership at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology led WU to activism. In 1984, she sought and won a seat in the Haidian District People’s Congress, to represent the university. The following year, she formed the Women’s Studies Forum, one of China’s first nongovernmental organizations.
Through the Forum, WU began actively to address women’s issues in China. She traveled widely to promote gender awareness and women’s self-improvement and, in 1989, helped launch China’s first university course on feminism. With colleagues in Beijing, she set up a hotline to help women confront problems of family planning, childcare, sexual harassment, and divorce. In the countryside, she discovered the appalling plight of China’s poor rural women, who contribute 65 percent of the country’s labor yet who are often illiterate and subject to arranged marriages-a fate WU likens to sexual slavery. In 1999, WU helped establish a training center where rural women and out-of-school girls learn livelihood skills for economic independence; nearly eight hundred have attended. WU’s recent efforts focus on grassroots literacy, micro-credit, gender, and legal training projects. “After Professor Wu spoke in my village,” says one young woman, “I came to her school. She saved my life.”
The women’s movement, WU stresses, is part of China’s democratic movement. This is why she urges women everywhere in China to become literate, to vote, and to stand for election.
As a People’s Deputy herself, WU vowed not to be a rubber stamp. She studied the Constitution and discovered that deputies are powerful. Indeed, they are explicitly mandated to supervise the work of government officials. WU thus began asserting herself, insisting that China’s laws be honored and not casually overridden by the authorities. In her district, she took up a hundred small but urgent matters, from improving safety on campus to repairing the faculty bathrooms. WU met with her constituents weekly and, working without a salary or staff, meticulously recorded and acted upon their concerns. She still does, having been reelected four times and elected three times to the higher Beijing Municipal People’s Congress. In Haidian, when some long-ignored problem is suddenly put to right, people are apt to say, “Ah, Deputy WuU is on the job.”
Deputy WU is frankly outspoken and has occasionally challenged China’s senior authorities. But for the most part, she works at the grassroots. Her copy of the constitution is worn from constant use. After all, she says, “My power comes from the constitution.” But with a keen eye to the everyday ways of democracy, she also says, “I have to work for my constituents. Otherwise, why should they vote for me?”
In electing Wu Qing to receive the 2001 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service, the board of trustees recognizes her path breaking advocacy on behalf of women and the rule of law in the People’s Republic of China.
Your Excellency President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, members of the Magsaysay family, distinguished guests, trustees, fellow awardees, ladies and gentlemen:
I feel very honored to be an awardee of the 2001 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service. In honoring me, you honor countless women and men who advocate and fight for gender equality, the rule of law, and the involvement of people at the grassroots level in making changes for a better China and a better world.
My thanks go first to my deceased parents, who not only gave me life, but also instilled values in me – integrity, honesty, caring, and sharing. They were my first teachers, who taught me with their words and with their actions that China needs people who are willing to dedicate themselves to her and to the people. I learned from them that I am a human being first and a woman second; that as a woman I can have my own career and a family. They also taught me that as a social being, I should respect and share with others, reach out to help, and to make changes.
Next, I say “Thank you” to women, especially rural women whom I have had the good fortune to know, serve, and learn from. Women in the remote areas in China have taught me of their valiant struggle to overcome poverty and deprivation. This has empowered me. I want to join forces with them to make the needed changes. Though many of them are illiterate, they know their priorities – equality, development, environmental protection, and peace. Without their advice, wisdom, and support, I would not be receiving this award.
It is those courageous women who have helped me decide that placing women’s issues firmly on the Chinese agenda is a cause to which I will dedicate the rest of my life.
All my constituents who have supported me for seventeen years also deserve my heartfelt thanks. My experience as a deputy has matured my capacity for participating in politics. Those constituents have helped me to learn about the Constitution, the system and functions of the People’s Congress, and the rights and responsibilities of an individual and a People’s Deputy. As China changes from a planned economy to a market economy, our understanding of democracy and the rule of law will grow. The people insist that their views be reflected by their deputies, and they demand accountability from us. I am especially encouraged by the amendment to Article 5 of the Constitution, the first paragraph of which provides: “The People’s Republic of China governs the country according to law and makes it a socialist country ruled by law,” which was adopted on March 15, 1999.
I want to thank my husband, Chen Shu, who has come with me to receive this award, and our son, Chen Gang. Without their inspiration and help, I would not have had time to do this important work.
And finally, I thank the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for giving me the award. This recognition empowers and encourages me to work still harder for women and men in China. I hope it will do the same to all the Chinese people and people throughout the world.
The mission is clear. It is equality, peace, democracy, and justice for all peoples.
You are a human being first, then a woman.” With those words, Wu Qing learned her first powerful lesson in gender equality. That lesson was to guide her many years later in her crusade to help the women of China secure their rightful place in society.
Wu Qing was fortunate to have been born into a family that made no distinction between male and female in terms of duties, rights, opportunities, and privileges. Her maternal grandfather was an Imperial Navy officer and fought the Japanese during the Sino-Japanese War. He also served as president of a naval academy in Yantai. His wife, in contrast, wrote poetry and told her daughter, Xie Wanying, that she should have not only a family but a profession as well.
The couple eschewed many Chinese traditions of child rearing. For example, Xie Wanying, who was born in the twentieth century, was spared the Chinese traditions of binding a girl’s feet and piercing her ears. When she was growing up, her father always introduced her as “my daughter, as well as my son.” He relished dressing her up in a naval captain’s uniform and taught her how to ride a horse and row boats.
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