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Yue-Sai, the look revolution

2008-08-20 | IL SOLE 24 ORE

It's a rainy day and Yue-Sai asks her assistant how long to her next appointment.

She's expected at Goldman Sachs. She has to speak with the CEOs of the great Chinese firms, and moving around Beijing with the rain can be difficult.

But there's plenty of time and Yue-Sai is relaxed. In the bar of the Ritz-Carlton, where she has just arrived from Shanghai for the Olympics, all eyes are on her and remain fixed on her look: Yue is one of the most famous women of China, a face well known through television by the general public but also by the chiefs of industries, of which she has been part of for over twenty years. Entrepreneur, owner of a television and cinema production house, and of the House of Yue-Sai, a brand of designer furniture, home accessories and fashion, Yue is one of the richest women of the country, Honorary Vice Chairman of L'Oreal China from 2004, since she sold to the French her makeup and cosmetics production plant in Shanghai.

Thirty years ago women like Yue-Sai Kan were only the other half of the sky, now they've entered the button rooms of modern China, they've conquered 34.5% of the seats in the boards of directors and supervising positions of companies, they've made their way, with more struggles, to the top of the Communist Party and of the Assembly of the People, were they represent 20.2% of delegates and are mayors of 670 major cities of the country. Yue-Sai Kan is part of this change, and probably, in part, has been its soul.

The medals won by the Chinese athletes during the Olympics have been the result of a progress that fortunately cannot rewind, and Yue knows this well: Women have radically changed since I transmitted my first television program in China in 1984  she whispers  society roles have been modified, so has their look, and their consideration of themselves. Once they were only teachers, employees, doctors. Managers and entrepreneurs were not even to be considered. Today they lead important firms such as Haier and they make networks.

How can one forget the asexual women of the Maoist period, in grey and green uniforms and without a touch of makeup. But today one only has to walk the streets of Beijing to understand that, at least in the cities, all has changed. The explosion of fashion Yue excitedly describes  has been a strong fuel for the sexual liberalization of women, this freedom has opened the road towards a greater trust of ones potential in society and in the job market. If you go to a club you will note that they dress like in anywhere else in the world. Yue has been the picklock for Chinese women to affirm their diversity from men. Her television shows met audiences of 800 million viewers and her cosmetics line created in the 80s has been for long the most desired by Chinese women.

Strange but true, the first cultural revolution was the lipstick one, and only she could be its creator. All her life has been intertwined with China's recent history: Yue was born during the time Mao announced the institution of the Peoples Republic of China, the 1st of October 1949.At the beginning of the 70s she moved to the States, and moved back to China, as a US citizen, half way through the 80s with her TV shows. Her style in describing the relations between Asia and the West were so appreciated by the Chinese government that she was invited to make a series by CCTV, the state-run television channel. The Communist Party wanted to open China to the world, and what better tool than to use television to explain Western culture to the Chinese? Her programs were even shown in schools. Meanwhile society was changing. Women wanted to be more similar to their Western counterparts, so she writes: Yue-Sai Kans Guide to Asian Beauty: a bestseller. The policy of open doors needed internationalized men that knew how to behave and that had good manners, and so: The Bon-ton of the Modern Chinese and The Chinese Gentleman. And finally: The Complete Chinese Woman. The signature is always by Yue-Sai, her face enters the homes not only through television but also on the bookshelves. "My every single television program and book," Yue says satisfied, "has helped women evolve, has changed the Chinese morals. Twenty years ago relations with men were very conservative, today major self assurance permits women not to have problems by being either single or by living as a couple out of marriage. When I divorced in 1996 the Chinese were very embarrassed, no one asked me anything about my marriage, everyone skipped the subject. Today women speak of it freely even on TV."

The sign of transformation can be described through numbers: in China marriages are growing, but so are divorces, at 0.15% in 2006 against 0.09% ten years earlier. Women that marry between 25 and 29 are now down from 4.6% of 1990 to 1.3% of today, and work conditions are improving even if unemployment hits them twice as much as men: 62% of unemployed are women against 38% men. And then there is the salary gap, a non secondary issue. In urban areas women earn 71.4% of male retribution. Differences are still high but the trend is in improvement It's a positive situation if compared to other Asian countries  explains Jiang Guiping, vice president of the Women of Beijing in 2007 female university students in the city were more than male students by 57%. Now female researchers are 44.2% of the total. Ca Lin, vice president of ACWF the All Chinese Womens Federation, gives some data regarding the female representation in political life Eight leaders of the Central Government, three vice presidents of the Assembly of the People, four of the Senate. More than one third of the Communist Party are women. If we widen our focus we can see that in 2006 the 33.9% of college graduates were women while in 2002 they were only 21%, and as entrepreneurs the female part has reached 20%.

Giant steps, even though much has still to be done to reach a real equality. Yue-Sai Kan doesn't hide it. But she knows that Maoism is dead and buried and that new generations are looking to the future without looking back. She prophesizes: You know what will push women more and more ahead? The optimism of the younger ones. Yes, optimism. Since they were born our kids have seen that every day has been better than the one before, they are sure of this, and have a trust never seen in the past. The reason is one and only: today, in the whole world, there is no other place with more opportunities than China.

This article is originally in Italian. Above is translation.


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