QING WU, Women’s Rights Activist, People’s Politician and Social Entrepreneur

Wu Qing, PortraitThough modern in technology and art, Chinese society is backwards in its treatment of women’s roles and rights. Wu Qing draws upon the rule of law (Constitution) and democratic rights: freedom of speech and gender equality, to achieve true progress. She believes,

“when everyone has the right to speak, there will be harmony.” 


What gave this woman the courage to use her strong and truthful voice? Both her mother and father operated outside the status quo: her mother, Bingxin, was a student activist in 1919 and later became a celebrated female author, while Wu’s father introduced sociology to China and was in 1951 labelled a “rightist” (opposed to Communism) and was subsequently removed from his teaching position. Both had studied in the US and decided to return to China to serve its people. Wu decided to study in China, graduating from Beijing Foreign Studies University where she taught in the English Department for forty years.

Recipient of numerous teaching awards, Wu’s success in government has likely resulted from the same qualities. She is patient and genuinely concerned for the education and welfare of her students. She states, “Teaching is powerful; I had the opportunity to encourage many students to take responsibility, to think, to be good citizens.” In government, she has an open-door policy where every Tuesday afternoon her constituents are able to air their complaints and concerns and can be advised about their rights according to the Constitution. Within China’s authoritarian regime, Wu believes the supervisor must be supervised because power corrupts. As a result of her great determination, vision, openness and transparency, Wu was elected as The People’s Deputy to the Haidian District People’s Congress starting in 1984 for six consecutive terms, and subsequently became an integral part of the Beijing Muncipal People’s Congress for four terms. She acknowledges, “it’s going to be a long term struggle,” to bring sustainable change to the Chinese system, yet she willingly devotes her life to this cause. “I am on a long long march,” she calmly states, “to fight against 2400 years of feudalism.” In nearly all interviews that Wu has carried out, she cites patience as a key quality for change makers and draws upon an environmental metaphor, “Good irrigation is slow and continuous – otherwise you just wash away the fertile top soil.”

In 1988 Wu co-launched China’s first English-language university-level feminism course, and a year later she became a gender expert on China for a Canadian International Development Agency. In this period she traveled in rural areas and witnessed the ill treatment of women locked into traditional roles. In an interview for New York’s Asia Society, Wu cited 6 indicators of women’s poor status in China: (1) the imbalance of women in politics; (2) the ratio of girl to boy babies, (3) the inequality of education; (4) the percentage of women and men in a fruitful labour market; (5) women’s ability to make decisions at home; and (6) the women’s private property against a nation’s GDP. When these indicators equalise, when women in China discover that they deserve equality and greater access to education, change will occur: “If you change a woman, you change a whole family and a whole generation.” The Beijing Cultural Development Centre for Rural Women, of which Wu is Director, raises awareness of the importance of encouraging women to develop their own potential and improve their health and skills to enhance productivity.

Her promotion of equality and democracy – “The rule of law must override the rule of men” – has not always been well-received. For three years due to her outspoken activism, she was forbidden from leaving her country, whose system she still works tirelessly to improve. For decades she has remained resilient, and swears by the words her mother told Wu when she was little: “I am a human being before I am a girl.”

Additional Quotes

“Because we are human beings, we are the only species that can choose to make changes.”

“There are many obstacles, of course. But, in a way they are nothing. Life is not meant to be easy. And even in most difficult times there is hope, when there is rule of law.”

On Interconnectedness: “The world is getting smaller and people need to learn from each other. I am engaged on many international boards to exchange experience and because I believe foreigners help us and so we need to give them something back.”

The numerous boards and positions she has held th

She is on many national and international women NGO boards, these include:

  • Board member of the Global Fund for Women from 1996-2002
  • President of the Women’s World Summit Foundation
  • Honorary President of the Women’s Trans-Culture Network
  • Board member of Gender Action, a committee member of the
  • Member of Program Committee of Oxfam Hong Kong, and
  • Member of the External Gender Forum of ADB

For a more thorough list, see Wu Qing’s Speakers Profile on the Global Competitiveness Forum, here.


Country: China

Type of Education: BA English Department of Beijing Foreign Studies University

Awards:  Schwab Foundation Network as the World’s Outstanding Social Entrepreneur for 2003; 2001 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service. For her teaching, she was awarded the Excellent Professor Award, Excellent Teacher Award twice from the Municipality of Beijing and Margaret Turner Award for Best Teacher.

Foundation Affiliation: Schwab

Pathway to Impact: Path of Effect

Impact Area/s: Security – Personal safety; Basic Material Needs – Adequate livelihood; Social Relations – Social cohesion, mutual respect, ability to help others; Freedom of Choice and Action

Organisation Type: Government; NGO

More interviews

Jim Middleton interviews Wu for Radio Australia, 2013: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WilIo47SEnM

If you have 105 mins available, watch National Committee President Jan Berris interview Wu: http://www.ncuscr.org/programs/creative-women-contemporary-china-wu-qing

About the author Helena Rosebery

After completing a Master of Communication (Food & Culture) from Slow Food’s University of Gastronomic Sciences, Italy, Helena Rosebery followed her heart to Zürich where she is inspired everyday by the resilience and greenness of her home-grown herbs. Helena employs words and coloured pencils to professionally communicate all that is – and is not – in the pursuit of a more ethical world.

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