Shen Jilan represented her fellow Xigou villagers at the first National People Congress in 1954. They chose her to vote on their behalf for Mao Zedong as President of the People's Republic of China.
When Shen Jilan married into Xigou village in 1947, she never dreamt it would bestow on her such an honor. At that time she was protesting against the old belief that 'a good man can make his way to the county, a good woman only to the courtyard.' Shen once declared, "Women are living at the bottom of the deep dark abyss of the old society."
Her assiduous work in agricultural production earned Shen election to the post of deputy director of Xigou Elementary Agricultural Production Cooperative. Shen used this position of relative power to elevate women villagers' status.
As Xigou was short on labor force at that time, Shen set about mobilizing women villagers to do farm work. Many had stayed at home for half their lifetime. Some even said: "It won't be long before I die, and it doesn't seem to matter now whether I'm liberated beforehand or not."
Shen Jilan particularly tried to persuade women whose husbands treated them badly to work in the field. One villager suggested that if Shen could persuade the woman in the village most bullied by her husband to work in the field, others would follow. Shen observed when she went to see the woman, "You stay at home, wearing patched clothes and eating poor food, and your husband often scolds you. Why not come to work with us? You'll get pay, better food and your husband might treat you better too." Shen also talked to the woman's husband. After a day or so, the woman began going to the fields each day with her hoe, fork and scoop. Other women soon followed her lead.
Motivating women to earn greater respect was more difficult. Men earned 10 marks and women 4 marks for the same amount of work, which aroused complaint among women villagers. When Shen brought the matter up, the marker replied: "Men do the technical work in the fields and so merit them higher mark."
Shen Jilan's response was to insist the next time she went to work on guiding the plough instead of just leading the horse. After a day's work, her skill was plain for all to see, and the marker, albeit unwilling, gave her 10 marks. This marked a victory for the women of Xigou, and earned Shen respect from the whole village.
Shen struck while the iron was hot in proposing to her fellow villagers the principle of equal marks for equal work. As the men were still unwilling, the village held a competition in all aspects of field work. The women proved equal to men in shepherding and plowing, and quicker at planting seedlings. The competition ended with nine women and 12 men being named as model workers. This result convinced men in the village to adopt the 'equal pay for equal work' principle, instituted after due discussion at the Village Committee.
News of Shen Jilan's efforts for women quickly spread. The People's Daily published in January 1953 the article, Labor is Emancipation and Fight Leads to Rise in Status in direct reference to the women of Xigou's fight for their rights. It generated ripples throughout the country. Xigou now appears in contemporary records as 'China's first village to realize equal pay for equal work.' This principle spread throughout the country and was incorporated into the Constitution in 1954.
Having become nationally famous as a result of her efforts for women, Shen Jilan brought further honor to Xigou when she received notice to attend the First National People's Congress. There she and other representatives who stood for the rights of their village would elect the first leaders of the PRC. The villagers of Xigou charged Shen with voting for Chairman Mao.
In the autumn of 1954, Shen Jilan, set out on a donkey for Beijing to attend the first NPC.
Apart from leaders, the 1,200 or more NPC participants mainly comprised workers, farmers and soldiers. As Shen remembers, farmers were the majority. Most, like her, were illiterate and many among them not cognizant of the full weight of the NPC. All, like Shen, were thrilled at the prospect of meeting Chairman Mao.
This was Shen Jilan's first time in Beijing. It never occurred to her that she would in future make regular journeys to the country's political, economic and cultural center. Shen Jilan is the only NPC representative to have attended all eleven NPC sessions. She is witness to the country's growth and to improvements in the NPC system. The media indeed refer to Shen as a 'living fossil' of China's NPC system. Member and secretary of the Secretariat of the CPC Central Committee Political Bureau and minister of the Organizing Department of CCCPC Li Yuanchao once praised Shen as a 'national treasure' and 'witness to China's socialist democratic political construction.'
2009 marked the 60th anniversary of the founding of PRC. Shen Jilan, then 79, said: "The Party has bestowed on me this high honor of being a woman NPC representative. Nothing could be greater."
(Source: lady.163.com/ Translated by womenofchina.cn)