THE LOOT OF ALL EQUAL
An age-old Chinese saying goes that "A capable general is thought of when a country is involved in turmoil, and a good wife is in great need when a family gets into poverty."
This once oft-quoted saying has once again been confirmed by a survey conducted by the newly established Chinese Women's Consumer Guidance Centre.
The Beijing-based centre is China's first and only non-governmental organization committed to guiding urban women's consumption.
According to a survey among 1,000 Chinese women aged from 20 to 70 living in eight large cities, about 77 per cent of married women take charge of shopping for food, clothes and other daily necessities for their families.
"The result shows that urban Chinese women are the decision makers of consumption in their households and as such enjoy high status within their families," said Han Xiangjing, executive vice-chairperson of the organization.
Among the 1,000 respondents, 77.3 percent of married women decide what to buy after consulting with their husbands, but it is the woman who makes the final decision.
Only 22.7 per cent of married women make the decisions entirely by themselves.
"This shows that most urban Chinese women are not arbitrary and are good at listening to their spouses' suggestions," joked Shu Chunrui, a 37-year-old female white-collar worker.
Although Shu was not one of those questioned, she is happy with the outcome of the survey conducted by the new centre.
"I think, the results confirm the status quo of urban Chinese women's lives," smiled Shu.
Just like 46.5 percent of the 1,000 respondents, Shu has the right to spend her own earnings within her family. She does not have to get special permission from her husband before buying an expensive item for the home.
"It's a good thing that only 2.7 per cent of the respondents give their earnings to their husbands who have dominative power when using money," Shu added.
However, in the eyes of Shu's friends and family members, Shu is very much a qualified wife and mother.
"As soon as she finds the clothes of her husband and daughter are worn-out, she buys new without hesitation. It is true that she controls the money but she spends most of it on family members," Shu's mother-in-law praised.
But Shu is just part of a growing trend in today's urban China.
"In today's Chinese cities, women have become the decision makers of consumption in the home, so our investigation and analysis of their consumption styles is of great significance," said Shi Zhengxin, vice chairperson of the centre.
According to Shi, Chinese academic organizations have never carried out such a large-scale survey on women's consumption for the purpose of research.
"In the past, investigations on consumption covered both men and women. But our survey is focused on urban women," Shi emphasized. Shi believes that such a trail blazing survey will guide Chinese women to consume in a more scientific and rational way in the future.
In the past, Chinese urban women focused most of their attention on buying food and other daily necessities. But the recent survey shows that fashions, cosmetics, health products, tourism and books, account for most of their personal expenditure.
"This means that urban women have focused more and more attention on improving the quality of their lives and, especially, the quality of their spiritual lives," stressed Han.
But it's not just women who benefit from this, Cheng Yu, a 29-year-old woman physician, believes that everyone benefits from more egalitarian spending:
"I think that if the woman of the house looks and feels good then the people surrounding her are happy and comfortable too."
In addition to buying high-quality fashion items, Cheng is keen on travelling throughout the country, and has been to Tibet, Yunnan and Hainan.
Cheng said that she is just like the 90 per cent of the respondents who are attracted to other cultures and eager to go abroad.
"I am happy to know that seeking new, exotic cultural flavours has become the chief aim of urban women's tourism," she said.
The centre is now planning to conduct another survey on the consumption of rural women.
"Only in this way will our work provide people with a panoramic view of female consumption patterns in modern China," Shi said.
(China Daily 12/30/2005 page4)
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