Doctoral defence: Equality in law ensures the fulfillment of fundamental rights in China, Pia Eskelinen, 9 September 2022

M.Sc. (Admin.) Pia Eskelinen will present her dissertation on the legal status of women in China, especially regarding land rights in rural areas, for public review on 9 September 2022 at 12:00. The The public examination will take place at University of Turku, Calonia 1.

The public examination can also be followed remotely at

Docent Anja Lahtinen (University of Helsinki) will serve as opponent and Dean Johanna Niemi (University of Helsinki Faculty of Law) as the custos. The event will be held in Finnish.


In recent years, Chinese society has progressively begun to be defined by Confucian values and society’s interference with media freedom. This has also affected the working /operational environment of Chinese women. In her doctoral thesis, Eskelinen examines the legal status of rural Chinese women and women’s legal position in Chinese society. The thesis shows that the application of legislation in China has become more unequal, with women and their basic rights being placed in a more disadvantageous position.

Eskelinen uncovers what the legal status of rural Chinese women is in relation to land rights. Alongside this question, Eskelinen considers and examines more in general, the question of women’s legal status and the equal status of women in Chinese society and how President Xi Jinping’s political discourse has affected the status of women in China.

News concerning the Chinese rural women often goes unnoticed due to bigger news. News related to the economy and dissidents is important and must be made visible. Eskelinen, however, states that rural Chinese women form a large individual group whose contribution to China’s economic and social development often goes unmentioned.

“The everyday life of ordinary women forms an integral part of China’s gross national product and well-being”, Eskelinen points out.

President Xi Jinping’s impact on the state of China’s gender equality

In recent years, under the leadership of President Xi Jinping, China has returned to a society where Confucian values ​​increasingly determine how society works. In addition to this, society’s interference with media freedom, for example, has alarmingly increased. According to Eskelinen’s doctoral research, the turning point was in 2016. At that time, President Xi gave a speech in which he emphasized that Confucian values ​​are engraved in the hearts of Chinese people.

“After the speech, China began to move back to a more patriarchal society and women’s operating environment narrowed. It was considered that a women’s place is to take care of the family”, Eskelinen says.

In addition to this, women’s organizations in different regions started offering different courses to women, which focused on how to be good wives and daughters. Eskelinen regards the most worrisome is that the application of legislation has become more unequal, as it places women and their basic rights at a disadvantage.

Women’s appreciation and problems from the point of view of equality

Eskelinen wants to highlight the appreciation of women and the problems in equality, because women’s role and contribution to the well-being of different countries are often ignored. Finland is no exception.

In Finland, the “Lotta’s” contribution to the war effort has been downplayed, and a solution to the wage gap in female-dominated fields has still not been found. “It’s easy to appeal to the lack of money”, Eskelinen reminds.

According to Eskelinen, however, it is important to see beyond the money, attitudes and structures.

“It is not enough, for example, to light buildings in blue in honor of nurses. The idea is beautiful, but it only creates an illusionary appreciation, not a real one”, Eskelinen reflects.

Eskelinen hopes that societies from China to Finland would pay more attention to ordinary people and ordinary women and give them real value.

Contact information:
Pia Eskelinen
050 323 7296

The blogpost was written by the Center’s intern, Annette Rapo.

An interview with PhD student Pia Eskelinen on Chinese women’s rights and gender politics research

The Finnish China Law Center had the opportunity to interview Pia Eskelinen, a PhD student at the University of Turku. Her current PhD is titled “The legal status of women in China, especially in rural land rights”. Eskelinen has carried out extensive research and published numerous pieces on the Chinese hukou system, women’s land rights and gender politics in China.

Could you tell us about your background?

I was working as a managerial director at a golf course and decided to study business law at the open university to support my work. My initial fascination with China originated from my interest in Chinese food, architecture and calligraphy. In 2011 our family adopted a daughter from China and after eye-opening visits to the rural parts of China, my fascination only grew stronger. I was intrigued to learn more about what is behind the traditional Chinese culture and pictures of rice fields. Once I got accepted to the University of Eastern Finland for a master’s program, I started to research the Chinese hukou system. My master’s thesis on the Chinese hukou system was so interesting and I found the topic easy to write on, I then chose to conduct my doctoral research on the topic. Evidently, my studies to help with my managerial skills in the golf environment got out of hand so to say.

Could you share your motivation behind your doctoral research on Chinese women’s land rights and Chinese gender politics in general?

My interest in Chinese women’s rights and gender politics blossomed when I visited China and first-hand saw the hardship and reality of the lives of rural Chinese women. Adopting a girl from China was really the eye-opener to the difficulties that women and girls face. I wanted to clarify and make these difficulties visible. Regarding, women’s land rights, in my research for my master’s thesis on the hukou system, women’s land rights kept on popping up and I thought it was strange and different compared to Finland, naturally I wanted to learn more. Generally, there is research being done more broadly on employment and migration in China, research in women’s land rights especially those of rural women seems scarce.

Your master’s thesis examines the Chinese hukou system and rural women’s rights, could you tell us more about your findings?

The hukou system is divided into a rural and an urban one in, which a person’s location is registered to the correct system. The hukou system essentially dictates what benefits a person will receive from the state. These benefits include things such as pensions and housing benefits. Commonly a person in a rural area will belong to the rural hukou system. Similarly, a person located in an urban area will belong to the urban hukou system. There may be cases in which, however, a person holds a rural hukou in an urban area or an urban hukou in a rural area. In reality, the two systems are not equal as those of a rural status are not entitled to the same rights of social security and healthcare compared to those with an urban status. Those with a rural status are entitled to a piece of land, which essentially accounts for their income and social security. However, in cases of a bad year, i.e. a bad harvest, this income may be lost.

Even though the Chinese Government and local level councils have done improvements for the hukou, it remains a discriminatory system.

Especially for women in rural areas, the hukou system is particularly unfair. In many areas, contracts that entitle women for their piece of land are often under the name of their fathers or the sons, and not themselves. The hukou system is thus especially discriminatory against women with a rural status, since they are vulnerable due to being economically dependent on their families. There are certainly substantial differences in the rights that women possess in China depending on their hukou system.

In your article “Tackling intimate partner violence is not of interest of China” you discussed the state of women’s rights in China, where do you see women’s rights heading in China?

From a political standpoint, President Xi Jinping’s political discourse is not gender-neutral. The rhetoric, words and narrative are very old-fashioned, and it seems that the government believes that women should be housewives and their place is at home taking care after children. The political leadership as such is not hostile towards women, however, women are put in a box and their lives are getting narrower. Recently, the All-China Women’s Federation came out with the statement, that it is much better for women to marry someone rich than for them to get an education. Those women who educate themselves waste their years and after finishing their education they are as good as a “yellow pearl”. Discouraging women from educating themselves is a strong statement and a worrying one. Although within the communist party equality between men and women is approved, feminism beyond the communist party’s guidelines doesn’t seem to have a place in China. Unfortunately, the state of women’s rights and gender politics is not good and there is little evidence of it improving in the near future.

The interview and report were done by the Center’s intern, Annette Rapo.