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Why is International Women's Day such a big deal in China?

Short answer: because communism

When compared to the West's celebration of International Women's Day, which normally consists of a Google Doodle and clicking 'like' on a few feminist posts on Facebook, China seems to be really into the whole hooray-for-IWD thing.

We weren't entirely sure how commemorating the gender that was famously considered to 'hold up half the sky' translates into hotel deals and discount gym memberships, so we did a bit of digging. Consider this your primer.

The first organised observation of a day especially for women came about on February 28 1909, and was devised by the Socialist Party of America and held in New York. August 1910 saw an International Women's Conference being held as part of the second Socialist International in Copenhagen: basically, it seems that the kind of people to belt out the 'Internationale' and 'The Red Flag' at the beginning of the 20th century were also pretty big on raising the profile of women worldwide.

german IWDHooray for blurry turn-of-the-century cameras – these are German women protesting in 1911.

The first observance of something actually slapped with the label of International Women's Day came a year later, when over a million women across Northern Europe hit the streets to protest on behalf of women's suffrage and sex discrimination issues. It was even held in March, albeit on the 19th, and by 1914 the commonly-accepted date of March 8 was firmly in place worldwide. Sylvia Pankhurst, the British suffragette (and later anti-fascist activist), was even arrested outside Charing Cross station on her way to speak in Trafalgar Square.

This wasn't how it went down, alas. [VPNs on]

However, on March 8 1917, some hardcore Russian women went on strike, calling for 'Bread and Peace' in light of World War I and kickstarting the February Revolution (it's not called the March Revolution due to the use of the Julian calendar by the powers-that-were in Russia at the time).

international womens day feb revolution
Petrograd (now St Petersburg), 1917.

As well as forcing the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, Leon Trotsky – yes, the ice-pick-through-the-head, lover-of-Frida-Kahlo Leon Trotsky – considered this protest of women against the state instrumental as a catalyst to the October Revolution which put the Bolsheviks in power. Looking back on the turbulent events of 1917, he wrote that 'we did not imagine that this 'Women's Day' would inaugurate the revolution... despite the orders to the contrary, textile workers left their work in several factories and sent delegates to ask for support of the strike'.

socviet stamp
Soviet stamp commemorating International Women's Day, 1949

Lenin made International Women's Day into an official holiday in the Soviet Union, with Communist countries around the world – oh hello, China! – and Communist movements worldwide following suit. The Communist Party of China started to mark the holiday in 1922, making this the 95th time that IWD has been marked on Chinese soil.

sino soviet pact 1954
Soviet poster celebrating International Women's Day in both the USSR and the PRC, 1954

At the end of the civil war in 1949, when the People's Republic of China was founded, the State Council declared that International Women's Day would be made an official holiday in the new state, with people of the female persuasion granted a half-day off. In light of this, we're planning to break out the herbal tea and Pocky sticks here at Time Out Towers: not every day's a holiday when you live this dangerously.

Soong-Ching Ling celebrating International Women's Day in 1960

Oh, and Western countries caught up in 1977, when the UN declared 8 March to be a day for campaigning for women's rights and just a kinder world in general. Happy International Women's Day, guys and gals!

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