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China's very own 'iron jawed angel' continues to serve
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During the 1920s, women's rights activist Alice Paul led "Iron Jawed Angels" in the fight to secure equal voting rights in the US. At about the same time, across the sea, an Asian iron jawed angel was born in China.


In the 40s, Shen Jilan, now an 80-year-old barefoot farmer and the only person to have served as deputy to the National People's Congress (NPC) for 10 consecutive sessions, advocated for and eventually won the right for Chinese women to earn the same pay as their male workers.


And people who know her say the "longevity deputy" is very likely to be elected to attend her 11th NPC next spring.


Her selfless efforts to secure better lives for farmers earned her a "Moral Model" badge, which was bestowed by the country's top leader.


"I was so excited when I got to shake hands with President Hu Jintao," she told China Daily.


Shen has received praise from a veritable who's who of China's top leaders, including Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin.


Born into a poverty-stricken family in the Mount Taihang area of Shanxi, Shen lived the life of a humble farmer until the fateful day in 1953, when, as a teenager, she joined the Chinese Communist Party.


As a grassroots Party member, Shen was one of the first people to cast doubt on the then widely adopted policy of underpaying female workers.


"No matter their gender, people deserve the same pay if they do the same amount of work," she said.


Her iron jawed persistence eventually proved decisive in the fight for gender equality. It also earned her a reputation as a regional leader in agricultural production.


Her courage and unremitting efforts to promote efficiency in rural areas were greatly appreciated by the local people. They have voted for Shen to represent their interests at the country's top legislature ever since the policy was launched.


In a recent interview with China Daily, Shen recalled her six decades of life as a Communist, during which she had a front-row view of the development of China's NPC policy and grassroots democracy in rural area.


"I was selected by the public and should work for their interest," Shen said.


She has for decades been leading farmers in Xigou village, Pingshun County, Shanxi to plant trees on mountains to improve the environment.


After retiring as chief of the Shanxi provincial women's association, a post she held from 1973 to 1983, she insisted on leaving the provincial capital, Taiyuan, in favor of her remote mountainous village. She rejected the urban household registration permit, free apartment and retirement bonus due for all bureau-level Communist cadres.


"All I have today, the achievements and honors, are from the Party, and I'm willing to do everything, at any cost, for the Party," she said.


She has returned to her life as a farmer, tending to a small cornfield of her very own.


(China Daily November 23, 2007)

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