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China’s letting men pour tea—and no one can decide if it’s to combat sexism or prevent ogling

NPC national people's congress china pouring tea government china party
Reuters/Jason Lee
The usual pouring team.
By Gwynn Guilford
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Women might hold up half the sky, as Chairman Mao famously proclaimed. But in Chinese offices and especially at important Chinese Communist Party meetings, they pour pretty much all the tea.

Or, at least, they did. But change might be afoot at the “Two Meetings,” the government’s two big annual meetings—the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference—during which the government lays out its agenda for the year.

Compare these two pics—this first one, from 2014’s NPC:

Reuters/Jason Lee

And this one, from the 2015 Two Meetings (the photo on the left):

Those are some spiffy-looking men who are now wielding the thermoses, as Bloomberg’s Zijing Wu flags.
The “lead pourers” are now all dudes.

To be fair, there are male attendants at the CPPCC each year. But whereas in the past, only women have been “lead pourers,” now men have taken over, notes (link in Chinese).

One might read this as a much-needed bid to put women and men on equal footing. Discrimination against women is rampant, as we recently detailed—including the notion that no woman should hold a more prominent positions than her husband does. Discouraging career ambitions among women is convenient for the government. Future threats to its stability include the growing number of restless young men who—due to the gender imbalance resulting from the One-Child policy—are unable to find brides, as well as rapidly declining birth rates among couples.

Look no further than the Chinese government’s ranks for proof. The number of women in the party’s Central Committee slipped to 4.9% (paywall) in the current five-year session, which began in 2012, down from 6.4% in the previous session (which ran from 2007-2011).

Of course, slotting men into formerly female-only service roles isn’t the same as promoting women to leadership.

Which points to the possibility that, as one Chinese blogger noted, there might be an ulterior motive (link in Chinese).

Reuters/Jason Lee
Now disgraced Bo Xilai was known for his love of women, er, tea.

Collating remarks from online social media, the blogger hypothesizes that maybe the unprecedented appearance of male “lead pourers” is to reduce the rate of embarrassing scandals involving high-ranking officials. He points in particular to former president Jiang Zemin, whose ogling of tea-pouring beauties is well documented.

Jiang Zemin: also a big tea fan.

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