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Chinese Women's Entrepreneurial Spirit Surveyed
What is known of the Chinese entrepreneurial businesswoman? How does she fair in a sector dominated by men? What are her strengths and weakness? What of her motivation? The survey published by Invest Scientifically recently attempts to answer these questions.

Facts: How, When and Why?

According to the survey, the Chinese entrepreneurial spirit has been found to have a dominant stake in the working lives of many Chinese women. This survey has shown that of the total number of entrepreneurs in China, women account for 20 percent of the total and, more significantly, that they represent 41 percent of the private sector in China.

The survey has shown that the majority of women entrepreneurs in China began their businesses in an age range between thirty and fifty with 28 percent of them in their thirties, 53 percent in their forties with 16 percent over the age of fifty. Only 3 percent of the total were under thirty years old.

These statistics show that after the reforms in business and public life of the 1980s, women entrepreneurs began to prepare themselves for a life in business through participation in work, study and social practice. The figures show that before 1980, roughly 10 percent of these women had registered a business enterprise. Thereafter, 17 percent registered in the 1980s with the remaining 73 percent after 1990. The majority of these entrepreneurs then went into business at the end of the 1980s and start of the 1990s with a marked acceleration in start-up business during the late 1990s.

Pattern of ownership in this sector is interestingly revealed with 28 percent of these businesses being state-owned enterprises or SOEs. The remainder is composed of collective ownership and joint stock enterprise at 28 percent, private and individual enterprise at 41 percent with foreign funded enterprise, making up the total, at 3 percent. The survey shows that the ratio of private sector ownership by women entrepreneurs in China’s overall ownership structure is comparatively high. In 2000, the private sector represented 25 percent of the total business equity in China. The current favorable environment for the development of private enterprise in China is attributed to the 15th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC).

The motivational factor for entrepreneurial start-up is shown to favor self-realization at 80 percent, with nearly 10 percent of respondents attributing other factors such as preparation for the next generation, development of family wealth and desire for cooperation with family members. About 0.4 percent of women claimed that they wished simply to change the fortunes of themselves and their families through successful business activities.

The size of these enterprises varies considerably, where assets of 1 million yuan (US$120,957) or under represent 34 percent while 38 percent have assets worth between 1 and 10 million yuan. The upper level is represented with 19 percent having assets between 10 and 100 million yuan and just 10 percent with assets over 100 million yuan.

The total output of these businesses divides as follows: 33 percent have an output level of 1 million yuan or under, 33 percent between 1 and 10 million yuan, 21 percent between 10 and 100 million yuan while just 13 percent have an output worth over 100 million yuan.

In the sector, employment figures are also revealing with at least 63 percent of the businesses employing over 50 percent of women, with 25 percent employing 25 to 50 percent of women as staff for their companies. The enterprises that represent a lower percentage of women employees, that of under 25 percent, was just 12 percent.

According to the survey, although these highly successful businesswomen account for 41 percent of the sector, business ownership was not seen as their main activity. These women were senior executives, with chairwoman or general managerial status, in SOEs and had gained stake and share options. They were women who had built up their companies using their own skills and capital outlay and had successfully converted them into large successful companies. These were women who also had completed their studies abroad or had just graduated from domestic Chinese universities. A number were women who had started to develop their business without any great business intentions. Finally, there were women who had maneuvered themselves, as either technologists or executives in foreign funded or domestic enterprises, into the position of establishing a business. This they did using considerable expertise in management and other areas in order to go into business.


Taking the sector as a whole, the business that these women ran was comparatively successful. In terms of profit, loss-making business accounted for just 2 percent, that was down 1.6 percent from the time that they began. It is suggested that it is women’s unremitting effort in lowering costs that enhances their profit levels in business. Roughly 50 percent of these businesses are in the manufacturing sector while the remaining 45 percent work in the services sector.

The survey shows that reward does not come without considerable effort with at least 50 percent of the entrepreneurs working over 10 hours each day, none less than 8 hours. The average longest working day was over 17 hours with 80 percent sleeping for less than 7 hours. The survey showed that this high level of industry left little time for entertainment or exercise. However, over 70 percent of these women said they were satisfied with the running of their business.

In order to start up their business, over one third used private capital as collateral with a third raising funds through family contacts. More than 50 percent of these entrepreneurs attributed business difficulties to a lack of capital.

As might be expected, the subject of what their husbands thought of their business activities was revealed in the survey. Nearly all the husbands supported them with 27 percent of women running the companies jointly with their husbands. In the case of where the business is solely operated 66 percent of spouses stood behind them whereas just 6 percent gave limited support.

Attitudes to education became an important focus of the survey with 61 percent of the businesswomen stating that they believed a school education was best for their children with 25 percent wishing to educate their children privately. The elderly too were a subject of the survey with 60 percent of these women stating they would look after their elderly relatives while one-third said that other family members would take care of them. At home, over one-third of these women had to do all the housework with 60 percent part sharing this work and only 6 percent abstaining from any housework at all.

Competitive Advantage

According to the survey, the majority of women entrepreneurs in China consider themselves very adaptable to business in general and not just to one sector. However, over one-third of them felt that the service industry was more suitable for entrepreneurial start-ups, a fact that perhaps reflects a sectoral hesitation after all.

For women entrepreneurs in China, the primary considerations for starting a business was management experience where at least 50 percent thought this important, professional knowledge (one-third), family support (one-third), the right positive attitude (one-third) and capital outlay (a fourth). They all agreed that government information and support, as well as public relations help, were very important factors for successful start-ups.

As far as having competitive-edge, or the quality that makes these women so successful, 53 percent put it down to correct financing, with 45 percent to personal tenacity and one-third to successful public relations.

All the women in the survey wanted to develop their enterprises further and half of them said that in order to do that they needed greater capital with over one-third stating the need to re-train management and to create a more productive business environment. Naturally, these businesswomen regarded the rewards and honors of their field as an incentive to continue to develop and expand.


One-third of businesswomen in the survey regarded a shortage of professional knowledge as their greatest limitation with 13 percent believing it to be administrative skills. Eight percent identified the fact that they were discriminated against while only 3 percent said they lacked confidence in certain areas of their business lives. The survey shows that perhaps greater attention needs to be given to some of the difficulties experienced by women in entrepreneurial business in China.

After initial start-up, these women said that they experienced the limitations of further development through a lack of up-to-date administrative experience (with at least 50 percent saying this to be the case), and 34 percent without adequate market information and 28 percent lacking professional skills. The survey pointed out that women in business need to be informed, knowledgeable and skilled in order to continue to develop their business after initial efforts have paid off. Ten percent cited the lack of government help and support as a considerable business limitation.

Finally, the survey showed that few transnational companies were established by these women entrepreneurs. There are companies with established international export interests, but with less than one-third of their total product sale was either directly or indirectly sold on an international market. The survey showed that 70 percent of these businesses have export volume of US$100,000 with only 3 percent over US$10 million.

It is clear from the survey that the Chinese female entrepreneurial spirit is strong and that endeavors in the private sector are particularly impressive. However, the survey does show that limitations in growth are attributed to lack of support and pre-emptive professional knowledge as well as administrative experience.

(china.org.cn by Tang Fuchun October 8, 2002)

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