Written on January 19, 2012 by Banafsheh Farhangmehr in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Women in China have long been silenced or sidelined—if they weren’t smothered at birth. But now a booming economy has transformed their lives. Hilary Spurling sees the changes for herself …

From INTELLIGENT LIFE Magazine, Summer 2011

“Impossible is nothing,” said my Chinese host in March, when I told her the English proverb “you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear”. She had just passed me a plateful of what looked like tiny, shiny, caramel-and-white striped silk purses. They turned out to be sliced pig’s ear, one of many traditional delicacies at a banquet that included fried ants, sea slugs and geese feet.

Of course almost nothing is impossible in a country where acrobats still juggle wooden chairs as if they were feathers or ping-pong balls—and where the gristle and cartilage of a pig’s ear turn up on your plate as an absurdly elegant appetiser.

What makes foreigners gasp and stretch their eyes in China now is the almost inconceivable speed and scale of the changes that, in the past ten years, have swept people off the land like a giant magnet. In 1990 three out of every four people still lived and worked, as they always had done, on farms. More than 40% have now moved to the cities. By 2015, according to an article I read in China Daily, based on a United Nations forecast, half the population will be urbanised.

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