Some people still refer to women as huaping (vase) - an old Chinese word describing a woman who is employed not for her ability but for her pretty face - in today's leadership groups, and believe that their job is more or less trying to add flavour to this male-dominant group simply by existing.
When Tao Shimei started her career more than 20 years ago, she had set a target for herself to never become just another "pretty face" in the office.
"There is no God who can make sure that we are to be successful," said Tao, now deputy general director of the Bureau of Justice of East China's Zhejiang Province. "Yet, neither is there a God that says that we must be the ones to fail. As women, we are not 'pretty faces' at all; we should do our part, and do it well."
For more than 20 years, Tao has served at different posts. She worked with the Communist Youth League at the county level, as well as women's federations and family planning committees. She rose to become a deputy Party secretary of a Party committee at the county level.
For 10 years beyond that, she headed the provincial Party disciplinary commission in Jiaxing, a city in central Zhejiang.
Last year, Tao's down-to-earth style and her outstanding work ethic enabled her to be selected as the deputy general director of the provincial bureau of justice after public selection throughout the province.
It is the first time in history for Zhejiang's provincial government openly selected a women for senior provincial government posts. Apart from Tao, the other 11 elected women leaders have taken similar jobs in the fields of personnel, high-technology, education, industry, commerce and other postings in Zhejiang Province.
"As a female public official, what I represent is not just myself, but rather all women in Zhejiang. The open selection last year was a great chance provided for women," Tao said.
Tao admitted that women still account for too small of a percentage in public service on the whole, but the situation is getting better.
"In the male-dominated world of public office, it is much easier for men to get acquainted with each other and receive more information," she said.
"And people tend to be more strict with women than men. A bold and resolute female official is often said to be having no 'womanly charm.' Yet, a sociable woman leader somehow may get the notoriety of having no moral integrity.'"
Tao said that there had been many occasions in her work when people were reluctant to co-operate with her, for the simple reason that they just did not pay much attention to a female official.
"Therefore, for women there is really no shortcut to success. What we must do is continue to work hard, with courage and a strong will," she said.
Tao refuses to concede that she has been a successful woman. But she admitted she owed her achievements primarily to the fact that she has never stopped acquiring knowledge.
Having missed the opportunity to attend a college in person, Tao said she has studied all of her college courses independently and got her bachelor diploma through correspondence studies.
"There is no end to learning, especially for a government official. Otherwise, it won't be long before you are behind the times," she said.
Tao said that female officials in China are usually more tolerable, modest, patient, and show more care and responsibility when compared to their male colleagues. But on the other hand, they are not as good as their male counterparts in fields such as co-ordinating departments, and being bold and resolute.
"To overcome these shortcomings, we must keep on gaining more knowledge and new ideas, to see things from a broader perspective. We should stop feeling self-abased because we are women. That will help a lot in our daily work," she said.
Besides, accumulating more working experience is also important for a female official. Tao called for society to train more women to work in government offices between the ages of 35 to 45 and offer them more leadership opportunities.
(China Daily Aug 25, 2003)