Ancient Chinese Proverb: "Women Hold up Half the Sky"

About the Author: Kelley Osterthaler is a Presidential Management Fellow serving for five months overseas at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, China.

Today I had the privilege of attending one of the Secretary’s last engagements here at the Embassy in Beijing – the Women Leaders Forum. While it’s always great to be asked to “cover an event” for an “S” visit, this unique roundtable discussion between the Secretary and 22 courageous female leaders will, for me, be a lasting memory of my time at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. I arrived early to escort the women into the Embassy’s auditorium, which was set up “living room” style, with sofas and chairs at the front of the room. I heard a few shrieks of delight from some of the participants as they ran into colleagues and friends. Soon the room was filled with women doctors, lawyers, professors, and NGO founders and board members. I felt truly humbled.

It was clear from the minute she entered the room that Secretary Clinton was among friends. In 1998, when our Secretary was First Lady, she met some of the women leaders on a trip to Beijing. Now, almost eleven years later, Secretary Clinton seemed thrilled to reconnect with her old friends, and make some new friends doing advocacy work in China. One participant was especially pleased to finally meet the Secretary in person, as she had tried to do so in Washington, D.C. when receiving her 2007 Vital Voices award, but couldn’t. Instead, she went to Madame Tussauds D.C. and got her picture with “the Secretary” there.

A candid 25 minute discussion on women’s progress in education, healthcare, legal rights, and political participation in China followed this warm opening. Many of the women shared their personal stories of how they got interested in their topics, which ranged from HIV/AIDS advocacy work, to rural women’s issues and gender equality, to energy and climate change. A few of them went as far as to describe the difficulties they have trying to work in a country where open discussion on these issues is not always welcome.

Secretary Clinton mentioned the recently passed Lilly Ledbetter Act to highlight that the U.S. is still working on women’s equality issues. The Secretary shared her view that change comes from millions of little decisions made by courageous individuals, and said that they should not get discouraged about their own capacity to overcome obstacles that stand in their way. In the end, the resounding message from the women to Secretary Clinton was, “We hope you come back.” I have no doubt she will.



New Jersey, USA
February 23, 2009

Rosemary in New Jersey writes:

Thank you, Kelley, for sharing this experience with us. How exciting it must have been to be among so many strong women! I don't wonder that you will always remember this forum. I know that Hillary is in her element in company like this, and this kind of connection is an important part of her work both at home, as First Lady and then Senator, and abroad in her new post.

I have followed Hillary for a long time. Being able to get these updates from this trip was great. Thanks so much for helping the visit go smoothly for her. I am sure your help enabled her to do her job without unnecessary concerns and distractions.

California, USA
February 24, 2009

Wendy in California writes:

Dear Ms. Osterthaler,

Thank you so much for the glimpse of this wonderful meeting. It brought tears to my eyes. Today I heard that Hillary & Sheila Jackson Lee had spear-headed getting a statue to Sojourner Truth in the Capitol and I was recalling (I'm 64) that when I was in school I never heard one word about Sojourner Truth nor Elizabeth Cady Stanton nor Susan Anthony. I did not even hear their names until I was in my 30s.

I'm so glad that SoS Hillary met with these women in the Women Leaders Forum. All over the planet including in our own dear country, women and girls have many miles left to travel before their half of the sky is respected actually equally. Step after dogged step, like Frodo, brave in our own hero (her-o) stories, we will change the world. I love that SoS Hillary spoke of how 'millions of little decisions by courageous individuals' change the world or as Margaret Mead put it: "Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. It's the only thing that ever has."

February 25, 2009

B.H. in China writes:

Thank you for sharing, Kelley.

But the famous saying "Women hold up half the sky" is not supposed to be an "ancient Chinese proverb". Actually, it's Mao Zedong who said it in 1968, and lots of Chinese know about that.

DipNote Blogger Kelley Osterthaler writes:

@ B.H. in China -- Thank you for your comment. The proverb "Women Hold up Half the Sky" is variously attributed to Confucius and Mao Zedong, among others. I respectfully note that this proverb could or could not indeed be "ancient." Thank you again for bringing this to my attention.

Minnesota, USA
February 26, 2009

Dianne in Minnesota writes:

Thank you for sharing this experience with us. It's wonderful to learn more about Secretary Clinton's trip to China but also her engagement with women's issues around the world. This makes me hopeful, indeed!

Women Perform Tai Chi in Beijing
February 23, 2009


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