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Int'l Women's Day Gifts, Celebrations Smack of Social Changes in China

Yang Xiaobo said she didn't appreciate an apron as Women's Day gift, although she may have needed it.

"That was about ten years ago, we were given a day off on March 8, International Women's Day, but the only gift we got were aprons, which we never really wanted because they were intended to make us work even on our festival," the 46-year-old woman recalled.

For this year's International Women's Day, Yang, an accountant at a company that exports farm produce in Jilin City of northeastern China, received a VIP shopping card and decided to go for a facial and some shopping with her daughter.

Some women still receive detergent and brooms from their employers on Women's Day now, and still grumble about the "unjust connotations of the gifts", but they are seeing more diversified presents, like free tours, gym classes, hairdressing, and legal counseling.

The women's festival, established in 1910 when women demanded shorter hours, better pay and voting rights, has taken root in China over the past decades, especially after Chairman Mao Zedong's famed catchphrase of "women hold up half the sky" and decades of modernization that brought freedom and equal chances for women. Popular text messages that circulated among mobile phones read something like "women should just watch soap opera and enjoy life, leaving husbands to do the cooking and chores."

The pro-women sentiments have been so palpable that Chinese men have been calling for a "men's day" to offset the feminine feeling that prevails, at least on Women's Day.

Today, diversified ways of celebrations are seen as a symbol of a better life and better status for the millions of females compared to the past.

The Finance Department in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province offered international business etiquette courses to its female employees ahead of the occasion. Zhang Dasheng, course lecturer and a professor at the Heilongjiang University, said "Women's Day celebrations changed with the times: gifts like aprons bore distinctive planned economy hallmarks decades ago when people were given what they needed rather than what they wanted."

"They have more and better means to mark the occasion now," he said.

Sports activities like rope-skipping, jogging and Taijiquan, a kind of traditional Chinese shadow boxing, contests were held almost on a nationwide scale, with some banners reading "Fitness for women, Fitness for the Olympics". Awards that came with the competitions, like flower bouquets and shirts, drew envy from maleco-workers.

In the central Chinese city of Changsha, women threw pillows at each other, rejoiced amid flying feathers and vied for the gifts hidden inside. In Shijiazhuang, capital of Hebei Province neighboring Beijing, more than 1,500 women displayed their Taijiquan moves, pummeled drums and performed traditional folk fan dances to celebrate their day.

In several cities including Beijing, Guiyang and Chengdu, career fairs were set up for women, and no males were allowed.

Environment protection, which now figures strongly in the daily lives of the Chinese, was also shoehorned into the celebrations. In the Qianfoshan Primary School in Jinan, eastern Shandong Province, mothers received cloth shopping bags on Thursday, made by their children and fathers. Down in south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, women held a "marathon jog" advocating the use of phosphorus-free detergent, cloth bags and to water-saving tips.

(Xinhua News Agency March 8, 2008)

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