Tension Between the Privileged and the Ordinary

Tension Between Female and Male Officials

As noted above, hedonism has gender dimension. By drinking, singing and being flattered by female companions in nightclubs, men are both creating and enacting a particular version of masculinity associated with being a man of status and wealth (Osburg 2013: 31). Participation in these networks as both patrons and clients was in the days before the introduction of the anti-corruption and anti-hedonism campaigns fundamental to Chinese masculinity (43). Many hedonist activities require entering spaces (such as nightclubs and saunas) and participating in activities (drinking, gambling, sex) that are not viewed as appropriate for “proper” women. These networks, built on ideologies of male solidarity, not only constituted a key component of officialdom but also provided the foundation for corruption in China (38). As a mid-level official from the provincial department told us:

As the head of the delegation was a female director from Provincial Federation for the Disabled People, there was no ordinate program for her entertainment. But with this trend, for example, if she was a man, she would have other requests in the grassroots units, as she dares not do it in the province. Then she would ask local agency to arrange entertainment like singing, drinking alcohol and would be very drunk.

These elite masculine forms of entertainment and leisure came to form the core practices for the cultivation of personal relationships with leaders, which also usually involved the exploitation of women (10). As we have discussed in Chap. 4, women, as mistresses or paid hostesses, play a crucial role by projecting an idealized masculinity onto the men they accompany (33). In this discursive field, the masculinization of the sphere has generated many challenges for women, who are often accused of using their sexuality to get ahead, and has given rise to a new class of young women who live off the patronage of male officials (3). As a female official working in higher education told us:

Talking about women, as you said if there is no crack in the eggs, there won’t be flies around them. You may even find some women in the workplace who may take the advantage of their beautiful images to attend some important events that she is not officially qualified to. Now if the leader is a little more careful, he won’t provide such chances and therefore, those women will restrain themselves as well.

In this discourse, there is a metaphor of “flies” to denote female subordinates who are around the “egg with cracks” (i.e., high level officials). The metaphor of “flies” is clearly a derogatory discourse to denote some female officials. Because of the masculine associations of the elite networks, the sexual virtue of female officials is constantly under scrutiny by many of their peers, and they regularly face accusations that their success is based on the manipulation of men rather than their own work and talent (35). In turn, female officials are thus highly critical of the masculine networks that form the patriarchal structure and hierarchy of Chinese officialdom. They are dismissive of male officials whose political success derived from the power of theirguanxi rather than their own abilities and they are also critical of young women who exploit their feminity and sexuality. Invoking notions of individualism and self-reliance, female officials claimed that they, unlike male officials, were the “real” officials in that they relied solely on their individual talent and hard work rather than their guanxi to succeed (26).

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