Rock 'n’ roll and flowery shirts

Pakistan, before it was overtaken by General Zia’s Islamisation programme, had a swinging, chilling vibe and a vibrant intellectual scene.

"Good and bad, this too will pass" is the way that so much is accommodated in the subcontinent. Columnist Nadeem Paracha is Pakistan’s walking, blogging archive of the country’s ups and downs – also its coolest dude - and has composed a brilliant pictoral series for Dawn online entitled "Also Pakistan". Here is Ava Gardner filming Bhowani Junction in Lahore, the Queen in a rather beautiful and stylish dress visiting Karachi in 1961, adverts for whisky and cabaret, adoring screaming fans as the Beatles land at Karachi airport, the entire crew of NASA’s Apollo 17 given a welcome motorcade procession, promotional material to encourage the hippy trail and buses that proclamed "Enjoy the love".

Freer than India, which was struggling against Soviet repression and prohibition, Pakistan was a country that was swinging and chilling in equal measure. Dizzie Gillespie played sax with a snake charmer in a public park in Karachi in the 50s. Imran Khan went shirtless in a post-match celebration in Sydney in 1977 as batsman and captain of the winning Pakistan team happily and deservedly share a beer.

There is also a reminder of one of the world’s great particle physicists Abdus Salam, who was awarded the Nobel prize in 1979 with Steve Weinberg, and whose joint works in electromagnetic fields predicted the Higgs Bosun. Dr Salam belonged to the long harassed Ahmadiyya community in Pakistan which was declared non-Muslim by decree of the state in 1973.

Worth remembering that there was a vibrant intellectual scene in the late 60s and 70s in Pakistan, not unlike Calcutta’s fiery Marxist and literary addas (coffee-house society). Quickly the reactionary military junta of General Zia which was backed and funded by Saudi Arabia silenced discussion and dissent and closed down clubs, cinemas, social meeting places and bars up and down the country. The pictures finish with a headline from Dawn about the military takeover of General Ziaul Haq in July 1977. “The elections did not take place ‘next October’,” Paracha writes. “Zia ruled for 11 years. Pakistan was never the same again.”

In the west, the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by the military regime marked the end of Pakistan’s international reputation. The rise of the oil-rich Gulf and Wahhabism would change the geo-political landscape of the region. In Iran the revolution of 1979 and the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviets brought America into the frame.

Thirty years on, as these pieces show, Pakistan is yet to recover its economic prosperity. But in an age of social media, it is to be hoped that there is still an opportunity for a diverse and talented younger generation to lead the country back to normality.

 

Dizzy Gillespie playing with a Sindhi snake charmer at a public park in Karachi in 1954.
Photo: Getty
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The age of China's female self-made billionaires – and why it could soon be over

Rags to riches stories like Zhou Qunfei's are becoming less common.

Elizabeth Holmes, 33, was the darling of Silicon Valley, and the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire. Then, after a series of lawsuits, the value of her healthcare firm plummeted.

Holmes might have abdicated the billionaire crown, but another tech queen was ready to take it. Only this time, the self-made female billionaire was not a blonde American, but Zhou Qunfei, a 47-year-old from China. She dropped out of high school and began working at a watch lens factory as a teenager. In 1993, when she was in her early twenties, she founded her own company. Her big break came ten years later, when Motorola asked her to develop a glass screen for smartphones. She said yes.

Zhou is in fact more typical of the SMFB set than Holmes. Of those listed by Forbes, 37.5 per cent come from China, compared to 30 per cent from the United States. Add in the five SMFB from Hong Kong, and the Middle Kingdom dominates the list. Nipping at Zhou’s heels for top spot are Chan Laiwa, a property developer who also curates a museum, and Wa Yajun, also a property developer. Alibaba founder Jack Ma declared his “secret sauce” was hiring as many women as possible.

So should the advice to young feminists be “Go East, young woman”? Not quite, according to the academic Séagh Kehoe, who runs the Twitter account Women in China and whose research areas include gender and identity in the country.

“I haven’t seen any of these self-made female billionaires talking about feminism,” says Kehoe. Instead, a popular narrative in China is “the idea of pulling yourself up by your boot straps”. So far as female entrepreneurs embrace feminism, it’s of the corporate variety – Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In has been translated into Mandarin.

In fact, Kehoe believes the rise of the self-made woman is down to three historic factors – the legacy of Maoist equality, and both the disruption and the opportunity associated with the post-Mao economic reforms.

Mao brought in the 1950 Marriage Law, a radical break with China’s patriarchal traditions, which banned marriage without a woman’s consent, and gave women the right to divorce for the first time.

In Communist China, women were also encouraged to work. “That is something that was actively promoted - that women should be an important part of the labour force,” says Kehoe. “At the same time, they also had the burden of cooking and cleaning. They had to shoulder this double burden.”

After Mao’s death, his successor Deng Xiaoping began dismantling the communist economy in favour of a more market-based system. This included reducing the number of workers at state-owned enterprises. “A lot of women lost their jobs,” says Kehoe. “They were often the first to be laid off.”

For some women – such as the SMFBs – this was counterbalanced by the huge opportunities the new, liberal economy presented. “All this came together to be a driving force for women to be independent,” Kehoe says.

The one child policy, although deeply troubling to feminists in terms of the power it dictates over women’s bodies, not to mention the tendency for mothers to abort female foetuses, may have also played a role. “There is an argument out there that, for all of the harm the one child policy has done, for daughters who were the only child in the family, resources were pushed towards that child,” says Kehoe. “That could be why female entrepreneurs in China have been successful.”

Indeed, for all the dominance of the Chinese SMFBs, it could be short-lived. Mao-era equality is already under threat. Women’s political participation peaked in the 1970s, and today’s leaders are preoccupied with the looming fact of an aging population.

“There has been quite a lot of pushback towards women returning to the home,” says Kehoe. Chinese state media increasingly stresses the role of “good mothers” and social stability. The one child policy has been replaced by a two child policy, but without a comparable strengthening of maternity workplace rights.

Meanwhile, as inequality widens, and a new set of economic elites entrench their positions, rags to riches stories like Zhou Qunfei's are becoming less common. So could the Chinese SMFBs be a unique phenomenon, a generation that rode the crest of a single wave?

“Maybe,” says Kehoe. “The 1980s was the time for self-made billionaires. The odds aren’t so good now.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.