Feature: China's longest-serving lawmaker ends life-long service

Source: Xinhua| 2020-06-29 21:46:03|Editor: huaxia

by Xinhua writers Lyu Qiuping, Lyu Mengqi

TAIYUAN, June 29 (Xinhua) -- Shen Jilan, China's longest-serving national lawmaker, passed away on Sunday at the age of 90 in north China's Shanxi Province.

The provincial publicity department said Shen died of diseases when she was 91, as the Chinese traditionally calculate the age as the year of death subtracted by the year of birth.

Shen was the only person who had served all the 13 terms of the National People's Congress (NPC) since 1954. She was not able to finish the current five-year term which started in 2018.

According to China's Electoral Law, citizens aged 18 or above are eligible to be NPC deputies. Shen was elected to the NPC 13 times in a row.

Shen was the one who proposed the clause on "equal pay for equal work" between men and women, which was written into the first Constitution of the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1954.


Shen was born into a farmer's family on December 29, 1929 in a remote village in the mountains of Taihang, a revolutionary base of the Communist Party of China in Pingshun County of Shanxi. At the age of 17, she married a man from the village of Xigou of the county.

It was a time when most women still had "lotus feet," the former custom of foot binding. Her mother-in-law kept telling her to stay at home. Only men worked on the land.

In Xigou with mostly barren land, villagers struggled to survive. In 1951, two years after the founding of the PRC, the village formed a cooperative to expand farming to make ends meet. Li Shunda, head of the co-op, asked women to join in farm work.

Shen was appointed deputy head of the cooperative and managed to mobilize women through door-to-door visits and persuasion, only to find they would not get the same pay as men.

No matter how much work women did, each of them could only get a daily maximum of five work points, half of those earned by a man doing the same work.

The work point was a labor pay system during China's planned economy, in which grain and other materials were allocated to farmers based on the work points they earned on the collective land.

To prove that women and men should be equally treated, Shen organized a manuring contest, in which women won while many men paused to smoke. As a result, Shen and other women obtained equal pay with men.

Li and Shen gained national fame in 1953 due to media coverage of the village co-op. As a role model for women's liberation, Shen attended the World Congress of Women in Copenhagen the same year.

Elected as a national lawmaker, she attended the first session of the First NPC in 1954. It was during the session that the first Constitution was passed, legitimizing "equal pay for equal work" as she had proposed.


Shen served several posts including deputy Party chief of Pingshun County, head of the provincial women's federation and deputy director of the standing committee of the People's Congress of Changzhi City.

While China was in transition from the planned economy to a market economy under the reform and opening-up drive since 1978, Shen grew a new identity as an entrepreneur.

In 1985, she started a collectively-owned ferroalloy plant with the bank loan, the first enterprise in Xigou. A walnut oil factory and a cannery were later built. Now, the village has more than 10 enterprises, with the villagers' per capita annual net income exceeding 10,000 yuan (about 1,413 U.S. dollars).

Villagers' efforts in forestation led by Shen and other cadres have transformed Xigou into a tourist attraction with the green landscape and red revolutionary history.

Shen volunteered to receive tourists, telling stories of the revolution in the Taihang mountains as well as her own tale.

The lawmaker also insisted on farming in her whole life.

In 2008, she was selected as a carrier in the Beijing Olympics torch relay at the age of 79.

Last September, Shen was awarded the Medal of the Republic, the highest state honor, for her significant contributions to the country ahead of the 70th founding anniversary of the PRC.

Over the past decades, Shen had rendered hundreds of proposals and suggestions to the NPC on issues such as poverty alleviation, rural development, education and anti-corruption. She refused to stop working even when she was seriously ill.

In May, she headed to Beijing to attend the third session of the 13th NPC.

"The biggest mission this year is to win the hard battle against poverty alleviation. As a farmer deputy, I know what farmers care and expect. We have the confidence and resolution to win this battle," she was quoted as saying during a group discussion at the session.

She also called for national efforts for drug control in a video, which was released ahead of the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on June 26.

"Drug use does harm to society and family. All-out efforts should be made in the fight against drugs," she said in the video.

A farewell ceremony will be held on Tuesday morning at the memorial hall of Changzhi City. Enditem