Chinese people’s choice for influential women of 2020 are confident, inspirational leaders

▲Medical team members of the Second Hospital of Shandong University swear an oath before leaving for Hubei Province, in Jinan, capital of East China’s Shandong Province, Feb. 9, 2020. Photo: Xinhua

Who are the most inspirational influential women in China? Thousands of Chinese people named numerous women but none of them singled out Fang Fang or Agnes Chow – who are considered notorious, despicable figures in China- but somehow managed to make the BBC’s list of “100 inspiring and influential women from around the world for 2020.” 

The choice of  Fang Fang and Agnes Chow drew widespread ridicule and disdain from Chinese experts and ordinary citizens who say their selection once again shows the arrogance and ignorance of some Western media outlets.

“The selection of Fang Fang and Agnes Chow on the BBC’s list is based on the biased lens of the West. The purpose of choosing them is to smear China,” Zhu Wei, a communications researcher at the China University of Political Science and Law told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Li Yinhe, a prominent sexologist in China, told the Global Times that the BBC made its 100 women of 2020 list based on its own standards and perspective.

BBC choosing these three characters, who negatively affected the stability of Chinese society, show the West’s “elaborate bias” toward China, Zhang Yiwu, a professor at Peking University, told the Global Times on Thursday. “The choice is totally out of ideology.”

A Chinese netizen said “choosing those two women who have no regard for their own country is a disgrace to all Chinese women. While we respect diversity, we loathe the politicizing,” she wrote. 

Fang was once hailed for publishing diary entries during the on-going COVID-19 epidemic as it unfolded in Wuhan, Hubei Province, but was later criticized for not presenting a complete picture and deliberately making up some entries to appeal to the West. Chow is most well-known as a Hong Kong secessionist. 

On Wednesday, Global Times launched an online poll asking netizens who they thought were the most inspiring and influential Chinese women of 2020. The poll on Sina Weibo garnered more than 12,000 votes in just a few hours.

As of press time, Chen Wei, a prominent coronavirus vaccine developer, had the most votes, followed by China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying. 

Global Times reporters also talked to a wide range of ordinary Chinese people asking them who they thought should be honored as the most influential Chinese women for 2020.

Many chose Chinese internet celebrities Wei Ya and Li Ziqi, who are heavyweights in the e-commerce industry. 

While Chinese women are often portrayed as backward and oppressed in many Western media reports, Global Times reporters found that Chinese women of different ages and different occupations are busting old stereotypes. These women are confident and willing to shoulder more responsibilities as they move to the forefront of the world stage.

Frontline heroines

Of course everyone in China considers the countless women who have been working on the frontline of the COVID-19 battle as the country’s super heroes. These women are doctors, nurses, community workers and volunteers.

Chen Wei, academician at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Academy of Military Medical Sciences File Photo: Xinhua App

Chen Wei, 54, is leading a team developing a vaccine and is an academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a researcher at the Institute of Military Medicine under the Academy of Military Sciences. Chen’s team was the first in the world to have a vaccine begin phase-one clinical trials. The vaccine recently began phase III trials and 99.5% of those who have been vaccinated have developed antibodies.

In September, Chen was honored as a “People’s Hero”, a national title given for her outstanding contributions to the country’s fight against the COVID-19 epidemic.

“Chen Wei is my idol,” a Chinese netizen said. “She is the kind of frontline army officer who uses her intelligence to protect the country.”

▲Sun Chunlan Photo: Cui Meng/GT

Also on the frontline of the pandemic fight is Vice Premier Sun Chunlan. From January to April, Sun led a central government group to guide the epidemic control work in Hubei Province. She stood fast at her post in Wuhan, directing recovery efforts on the ground. Sun has also led teams investigating epidemic prevention and control work after flare-ups in Beijing, Dalian, Kashi.

“Premier Sun is always there to make us feel safe. She is so brave,” reads a netizen’s comment.

Epidemiologist Li Lanjuan and her team treated critically ill patients during the most severe moment of the COVID-19 epidemic in Wuhan.

▲Li Lanjuan Photo: Cui Meng/GT

Li, 73, is an academician of Chinese Academy of Engineering and member of the High-level Expert group of Chinese National Health Commission. When the epidemic broke out in Wuhan, she led a medical support team and was one of the first experts to determine human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus, putting forward specific suggestions such as strengthening controls on the source of the infection and isolation measures.

“These women are pushing society forward,” Zhu said. “They stand out at the toughest time and have made contributions to humanity.” 

“Chinese people’s standard for choosing influential women is based on the candidates’ contribution and the positive energy,” Zhu said.

▲Photo: Cui Meng/GT

Apart from the heroes that are known to almost all Chinese, women on the frontline of the fight against the epidemic won’t be forgotten. 

Zhang Jixian, the director of the Department of Respiratory and Critical Care of Hubei Hospital of Integrated Traditional Chinese and Western Medicine, first discovered and reported the outbreak on New Year’s Eve.

Moreover, women in medical teams from all over the country rushed to Hubei to provide aid. In the face of the epidemic, they left their homes and put aside their roles as wives, mothers and daughters and went to the frontline of the epidemic without hesitation. With their professional medical knowledge and careful work, they saved many patients from death.

“We should give the title to all Chinese women who fought the epidemic,” wrote a Sina Weibo user.

Voice to the world

▲Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying Photo:

Hua Chunying, spokesperson for Chinese Foreign Ministry and head of the ministry’s information department, was also a popular candidate on the Global Times’ list of influential women with an increasing number of young people openly expressing their affection for her.

Some of Hua’s fans reached by the Global Times praised her incisive remarks as a Foreign Ministry spokesperson, which contribute to conveying China’s voice and fighting back against defamation of China in the international opinion, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sun Linna, a 24-year-old woman, who said Hua is her favorite Chinese diplomat, shared a remark Hua made in October in response to US politicians’ slandering of China’s response to the pandemic: “Isn’t the loss of 210,000 lives [in the US] enough to awaken the consciences of those American politicians?”

“Many of Hua’s remarks have been spread widely in and outside China,” Sun told the Global Times Wednesday. “Hua and her remarks have inspired me to become more patriotic and more interested in international affairs.”

Zhu, the researcher, also couldn’t hide his praise of Hua. “She has the beauty of traditional Chinese women – cultured and elegant, and she speaks for her country and is capable at work. She represents the power of women,” said Zhu.

Zhang Weili, a 21-year-old mixed martial artist, is another example of a powerful woman who stands up for her country. 

Nicknamed Magnum, Zhang used her victory to respond to his opponent Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s harsh joke mocking the COVID-19 epidemic in China in early March in Las Vegas.

“My country is being ravaged by the epidemic, and it is not easy for me to be here to fight. I hope China will win the battle. The epidemic is a common enemy of humankind,” Zhang said after winning the fierce competition.

Zhang’s story inspired many in China when the country was at its darkest moment in the fight against the epidemic.

Colorful life

For some Chinese people, the most inspiring and influential women for 2020 are in the business and entertainment fields. 

Many people told the Global Times that they are inspired by Wei Ya and Li Ziqi, internet influencers with a huge  number of followers in the e-commerce industry. 

▲Video blogger Li Ziqi. Photo: screenshot of Li Ziqi’s video

Li Ziqi, a Chinese food and country-life blogger has 13.4 million subscribers on YouTube. She is famous for her mesmerizing videos, shot with the production values of a feature film, that depict her living a life of self-sufficiency and simple beauty in the Chinese countryside.

“Some people say that Li Ziqi is just an internet celebrity and does not deserve so many honors, but I think China has so few bloggers who can export Chinese culture overseas, and she is not just a celebrity but a symbol of Chinese traditional culture,” Zhu Hong, a cloth designer told the Global Times. 

Wei Ya, a 34-year-old cyber celebrity who sells all sorts of goods including a rocket launching service costing $6 million on Taobao, Alibaba’s e-commerce platform, has earned a lot of money and the support of many Chinese women. 

Many fans call themselves as “Wei Ya’s women,” saying they fully trust the goods she sells during her broadcasts. They never miss her every livestreaming and complain when fail to purchase an item they want.

▲Chinese internet celebrity Weiya Photo: Courtesy of Wu Jinzhuo

Wu Shangzhe, a screenwriter based in Beijing, told the Global Times on Wednesday that she was impressed by Wei Ya’s modest personality, stress free demeanor,  clear decision making and goal setting.

“She is always very calm in her videos,” said the renowned live streamer Li Jiaqi about Wei Ya, whom he called his toughest competitor. 

Some Chinese netizens also picked the stars of a hit reality TV competition. Age and wisdom may be important in some industries, but for entertainers, especially women, widespread ageism can deny them many opportunities. The show invited 30 Chinese women including singers and actors in their 30s and beyond to display their talents on stage.

They showed the images of new urban women, who love life in their 30s and are calm, independent and open-minded. 

Many participants in the show appeared happier and were certainly more confident and seemed less troubled now that the shackles of youth have been removed. They showed that women shouldn’t live life according to other people’s expectations, said Chinese netizens.

Zhu said people shouldn’t worry about the BBC’s choice for influential women. “The most inspiring and influential women in Chinese people’s minds do not need ‘titles’ like Top 100. They are simply the heroines of the moment.”

Chinese leader Mao Zedong once said women hold up half sky, but Chinese women today now are an important engine of the country’s development and some are playing active roles on the world stage. They have earned respect through their hard work and are living the life they want. This is the true picture of Chinese women in this era. 

The Western media need to take off their blinders and develop a more informed view of the women who are truly revered in China, instead of celebrating a few hackneyed stereotypes who have come to the fore only because of the West’s peripheral, superficial view of who is really important in the country, experts said.

Zhang said these Chinese women elected by Chinese netizens show a shared valuable charm – they do their best at work and they make contribution to society without any fear to difficulties. “They showed the unique demeanor of Chinese women,” Zhang said.

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