Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, after her swearing-in ceremony as the country’s first female president. (Pool photo via AP)
Tsai Ing-wen is a lot of things: a graduate of Cornell University and the London School of Economics, a former professor, a seasoned trade negotiator, a veteran politician — and, as of last week, the democratically elected president of Taiwan.
But in an op-ed published today in a party-linked newspaper, an academic at the People’s Liberation Army’s Academy of Military Sciences said that she is, first and foremost, an unstable and “emotional” single woman.
“As a single female politician, she does not have the emotional burden of love, the restraints of ‘family’ or concerns of children. Her political style and strategy often grows emotional, individualized and extreme,” writes Wang Weixing, a Beijing-based Taiwan specialist.
The piece concludes that China’s Taiwan policy should be framed according to these concerns. “When dealing with Tsai Ing-wen, we must consider the important factors of her experience, personality and mentality,” he wrote.
The piece says nothing new, or true, about Tsai Ing-wen as a person, politician or president. It dresses up rank sexism as psychology, pretending to tell us something about who she is or what she’ll do.
What it really does is trot out the oldest possible tropes about female leaders — that they are guided by emotion, not reason, that they are unstable and unreliable, that they are irredeemably and irreversibly not men.
While this type of reasoning is not new (see: coverage of Hillary Clinton or Julia Gillard) it is nonetheless revealing for two reasons.
First, while the editorial tells us nothing about Tsai, it does say much about sexism and single shaming in the Communist Party-run People’s Republic of China.
There are only a handful of women in the highest ranks of the Chinese Communist Party, and the casual denigration of women is common in the party-controlled press. The women’s organization tasked with promoting women’s rights in China has helped foster the myth that women ought to marry young or risk becoming “leftover” by age 27.
Taiwan is certainly not free of sexism. But there are several high-profile female politicians in Taiwan, including President Tsai. And Taiwanese voters, for the most part, did not make her gender or marital status the focus of her presidential bid.
Wang is a council member of the Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait and chief of the foreign military studies department at the People’s Liberation Army Academy of Military Sciences, in Beijing — a man tasked with teaching others about Taiwan.
Although a single op-ed in the party-controlled press does not represent an official or even a mainstream view, it does suggest that there are people with only the thinnest grasp of Tsai (and Taiwan) in positions of authority on the Chinese mainland — and that is far more worrying than anything Wang raises on Tsai.
WASHINGTON POST, EMILY RAUHALA, May 25