61% Chinese companies have at least one woman among the board of directors, in the US only 34%. Helen Feng, Nova Heart’s frontwoman, is the symbol of powerful women “Made in China” who are striving to change the country and the whole world
Forget the women subordinated to their husbands. Forget the Sheng nu 剩女 – a woman who remains unmarried in their late twenties and beyond. Forget the stereotype that depicts Chinese women as weak and unheard.
Independent, entrepreneurs, scholars, polyglot and travelers: these are China’s women today. The PRC’s society has changed a lot in the last 20 years and while some “good husbands” – as the Shanghainese husbands are called – are keen to share the daily chores, women are leading the revolution to gain back their role in the society.
Among them, there is Helen Feng 冯海宁: singer, music producer, VJ, tour manager and the “Queen of Beijing Rock”. Helen, with her multiple credits in the music scene and education in the States, represents the “pink” movement that is shaking the whole world with just one difference: she is settled in China.
Daughter of a new Chinese generation, Helen Feng embodies both the history of her country and the freshness of new creative youth. Her parents met at a work camp in Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution, where they fell in love after singing revolutionary songs in their free time.
© Fakemusicmedia. Dubbed as the “Queen of Beijing Rock” or “Blondie of China” Helen Feng, born in Beijng and raised in the US, has been a staple in the Chinese music scene.
Born in Beijing, she grew up in Canada and the United States but moved from Los Angeles to the Dragon in the early 2000s when she was hired as VJ for MTV China. Thanks to this gig, she brought the skateboarding trend in the country when a board with wheels was still seen as odd.
Since then, she founded many popular indie-rock and electronic bands with which she toured Europe three times – a fact that until this day very few Chinese bands have achieved – winning several of the most prestigious Chinese Music Awards. In 2011, Helen Feng founded her first solo project, Nova Heart that quickly gained prominence, and with which she has toured the world, being the first Chinese band to play at the UK’s Glastonbury Festival.
She did not stop at underground music, though. She also hosted The Rockshow, a very influential program on China Radio International, created her own record company, FakeMusic Media, and sang the theme song for Hollywood blockbuster The Mummy III.
Over the years, Feng grew increasingly interested in non-music subjects such as science, technology, and politics. Therefore, she managed to create with her Nova Heart partner, Philipp Grefer, the event NEU China, which gathers the brightest minds from a range of sectors for lectures and discussions on many topics.
Helen Feng defines herself as a feminist. She represents the flag of a new generation of women who identify with their own roots feeling like they are part of something that can motivate a massive amount of change in the country: the unique powerful women “Made in China”.
Called the “Blondie of China”, Ms. Feng is the symbol of the emerging woman “Made in China”. She is able to recognize contradictions of her country but she still holds hope of a brighter future. “Just when you think you’re ready to give up hope that it could be any better, something unexpected happens and it keeps you hanging on for that much longer,” Helen Feng said about China.
The singer defines herself as a feminist and in her Facebook profile, she often expresses her disappointment in front of sexism. For example, when she read a surprised expression on the face of a guy who was making her listen to an electronic production of a girl, a gender who is not thought to be able to deal with engineering and technicalities.
For what concerns gender challenges, despite a traditional man-oriented society, in an interview, Feng confessed she actually found China to be less sexist than the US where she feels women were strongly objectified during the late 90s. According to the Chinese experience, although she found a better environment in the musical scene, Feng told it all started to change when she decided to become a label head and build her own business instead of being just a musician.
China has a very long history, but it has been only recently that women have been given the opportunity to live their lives. In the 1930s, when women in the West were already claiming gender equality, in the PRC they were just beginning to challenge the male-dominated society, refusing marriage arranged by older generations.
© Pixabay. Because of China’s unprecedented fast social changes, the generation gap between Chinese Millennials and their parents is enormous compared to the Western one.
Nevertheless, Chinese society was originally born as a matriarch system where the mother represented the core of the family and men used to carry her name. According to contemporary scholars, Confucianism is blamed for creating the patriarchal system that has oppressed women in the Imperial age.
Even today, the cultural abyss between those who live in the cities and the inhabitants of the countryside, still too often abandoned to themselves and lacking adequate access to education, makes the women’s condition extremely complex in these places.
However, after many decades of women containment on the margins of culture and society, nowadays they are taking back their place in the Yin and Yang where the feminine and masculine principles are considered equal and one can not exist without the other.
Today, more and more female students achieve second level degrees. Out of 7.3 million graduates a year, more than half are girls, compared to 30 years ago when the female graduates only reached 10%. The status of women has changed a lot in the Dragon and things like girls studying abroad or mothers being the head of enterprises were unthinkable a few years ago.
According to the Chinese government, women have found 55% of the country’s new technology companies building a country where the female labor force participation is among the highest in Asia.
Silicon Valley Bank, very active in China, wanted to investigate the gender difference between the Chinese and US technology centers to evaluate the role of women in the highest spheres of management. What emerged is that, for what regards the boards of directors, only 34% of US companies said they had at least one woman among the directors, a number that reaches 61% for Chinese companies.
Therefore, women in the Middle Kingdom have a definitely higher representation at the top of large companies. In addition, the number of Chinese enterprises that have programs for gender equality is higher than those from the States.
The fact that companies with only one female partner have twice the chance to support women entrepreneurs has generated a virtuous circle about the role of women in this sector. The Chinese government claims that women have found 55% of new internet-related businesses and that more than 25% of all entrepreneurs are women.
The result is that a record number of women in China are studying at university and a female labor force participation is among the highest in Asia, with 70% of women working or seeking employment.
© Unsplash. For the second year in a row, Chinese startups claim to have more women in prominent positions than in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Helen Feng is thus the flag of this “new” Dragon, where women rule businesses and are widely accepted as a successful leading force. She is the voice of those who do not accept to be victimized by men but who want their daughters to grow up thinking they are destined to run this world.
“There are injustices that need to be out, but they can only end when women feel there is an alternative version of them out there. . . not the victim, but the champion,” told Helen to China-underground.
She is Chinese but she was raised in the States. She lived in China long enough to see and being able to read the change in society. She experienced the Beijing underground scene moving from Nanluoguxiang to be spread out. And she saw the changes occurring faster than any other place on earth.
Helen Feng strongly believes in the difference of China compared to other countries, as the new generation does. At the same time, she embodies the will of identifying with her own roots while building a new environment with confidence. The youngest population now feels like they are part of something that can motivate a massive amount of change and the singer with her contribution to the Chinese music scene is the emblem of this feeling.
“Sexy, provocative and confident, she’s perhaps more like a femme Jim Morrison, constantly feeling out the boundaries of appropriateness in order to nudge them that bit further,” Christen Cornell wrote about Ms. Feng.
Like Alec Ash told in his novel/reportage “Wish Lanterns: Young Lives in New China”: over 320 million in their teens and twenties – more than the population of the US – are going to change China. They were born after Mao in a nation on the rise and are destined to transform both their country and the world.
Among this groundbreaking youth, there is Nova Heart’s singer, Helen Feng, the new woman “Made in China”.
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