China's female astronaut quandary

Chinese space candidates The shortlist for female candidates has been narrowed down to two contenders

China's space programme is preparing to make its own small piece of history by putting its first female astronaut into space, and China's internet has been buzzing with talk of some unusual selection criteria.

At a launch site in the desert the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft is being readied. It may blast off this weekend, and one of the three crew is likely to be a woman.

In the year that the Communist Party wants to showcase its achievements ahead of a once-in-a-decade leadership change in the autumn, you might expect China's national media to be in overdrive about the event.

Not yet, it seems. The People's Daily's brief announcement with photographs about the two women who have been shortlisted for the mission was noticeably brief.

'Heroines of today'

It may be that everyone is waiting for a safe lift-off before they hail a new national heroine. China is poised to join a small club. Seven nations have sent a woman into space, and only two, the Soviet Union and the United States, have done so using their own spacecraft.

China's Shenzhou-9 spacecraft China has an ambitious space programme

But China's internet users, websites and regional papers have been fired-up by the announcement.

The Netease website published photos of the two candidates, who are both airforce pilots.

More than 76,000 people added comments to the story, and on Monday it was the second most talked about topic on Sina's Weibo microblog.

"Finally, we are going to have our first female astronaut. They are the heroines of today. It means Chinese women have occupied another place in history," said one internet user from Shanghai.

"No matter which one gets chosen, China's proud of them both," wrote Xiaolongfei from Urumqi.

China National Radio News and Phoenix news website said both women are members of the Wuhan Aviation Troop, describing them as "outstanding pilots with super-strong mental qualities who have passed a rigorous selection procedure".

Some reports have described the women as "fighter pilots". But Zhang Jianqi, former deputy commander of China's manned space programme, is quoted as saying that the women are both from the "transport aviation troop".

He added that the selection criteria for female astronauts is similar to that used for men, "the only difference is that for female astronauts, married ones are preferred because they are more mature both mentally and physically".

'Baby eagles'

The first candidate is Major Liu Yang, 34, from Henan Province. She was honoured as a "model" pilot in March 2010 and showed a "rare calm" to land her plane safely after it was struck by 18 pigeons. On the QQ instant message service she goes by the name "little flying knight".

A Chinese father and son near the Long March-2F rocket carrying the Shenzhou-9 spacecraft Many Chinese are proud of their country's space programme

The Shenzhen Special Zone Daily says she is an only child with a penchant for making patriotic speeches.

In a letter home after her first parachute jump, she explained why she never let her parents visit her during her four years in pilot training.

"Baby eagles", she explained, "can never soar under their family's wing".

The paper adds that once, during an English speech competition, she said: "As a female pilot, the sacred rose garden in my heart is the motherland's blue sky."

Up against her is Captain Wang Yaping, also 34, from Shandong Province. She can apparently fly four types of aircraft. She flew missions delivering relief supplies after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, as well as cloud-seeding aircraft to ensure clear skies over Beijing during the Olympics.

Major Liu and Captain Wang both have one child each.

Little World, a Weibo user in Shanghai, posted a blog saying: "I heard on the radio today female astronauts must not have body odour or decayed teeth. More importantly they must be married and have had children. It must have been a natural delivery. They won't qualify if they have delivered their babies via caesarean-section."

The reasons are apparently that scars could open up in space, dental problems could cause serious complications, and body odour must be avoided in a confined spacecraft.

But the Jinghua Times says Wang Xianmin, an official with China's space programme, has insisted that there is no requirement that female astronauts must already be mothers.

Some on the internet have been quite taken by the photos of the women in their military uniforms. "Wow, they look so cool," said "Kaykay 1013" in Hangzhou.

But "Rayfish" from Beijing was not so impressed, commenting "Their uniforms are really ugly. Can we not design something better to impress the world? Our astronauts' uniforms make them look like fishery workers."

And "Arm2012" from Guangzhou was even less patriotic, writing: "The photos of our female pilots are really not as pretty as American ones."

Whatever you think of the uniforms, if the mission goes off as planned it will also mark another significant milestone.

The astronauts are aiming to complete China's first manned docking with the Tiangong-1 module already in orbit, an important first step towards China's aim of creating a working space station by 2020.

Damian Grammaticas Article written by Damian Grammaticas Damian Grammaticas China correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 158.

    155John D Rockerfeller once said anyone who bets against America will go broke.It was true 100 years ago, it's true today.Nobody can see into the future but in the long run America's future looks bright, China's looks bleak.China depends on the rest of the world for most of its resources, food, markets.The USA in the past was able to depend on only itself and could again should it decide to.It appers in the next 5 to 10 years the USA could be energy self sufficient, that is independent of imports.It has vast natural resources, enough coal for 200 years, enough gas for 100 years, vast farmland

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    If you weren't born in China odds are nil you'll learn Chinese in your lifetime, it's a very difficult language.China is not a good place to live.On the other hand even if you don't speak English, many from all over the world will come to the USA to live and work.Many even in China who make a lot of money live elsewhere, many go to the USA. China cannot attract the world's pool of talent from outside its borders the way the US can.It was no accident that in the "Tiananmen Square demonstrations" the students chose as their "Goddess of Democracy" the Statue of Liberty, iconic symbol of the USA

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    China still has over 500 million people living on $2 a day or less.You cannot have a technologially advanced society that is not free, the USSR found that out.If you give them freedom in some areas but not others, the freedom to explore technology but not political ideas they will rebel.The more brutal the repression the more their motivation for change either from within or to leave and live elsewhere will be driven.They'll all wind up in the US.For the West China is a cheap slave labor camp now.How long before it evolves?Nobody knows but today its technology is no match even for Japan

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    19th century was the british century, 20th century was the american century NOW the 21st century is the chinese century.

    This pace of this countrys progress will leave the USA & the rest of the western world in its wake.

  • Comment number 154.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 153.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.


    Your reply is simply repeating what i said, not an effort. Come on, you can do better than this, if you can't, go ask your american daddy what to say in this situation? maybe they'll tell you, or maybe not :(

  • rate this

    Comment number 151.

    149"Chinese scientists working in the USA...."

    There's your answer.

    "which country in the world never had a train accident?"

    The one that never had many trains until recently? How many bicycle accidents were there instead? But how would anyone know in a society so secretive that the penalty for telling the outside world could be prison, even death?

    150"100 years ago most Western countries still had sweatshops, workhouses & child labour."

    In that respect China is 100+ years behind.In some other respects related to social development even further behind holding it back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 150.

    It's easy for us to sneer at China, but less than 100 years ago most Western countries still had sweatshops, workhouses & child labour. It may not be a nice concept, but they were vital in bringing us the lifestyle we enjoy today & are equally as vital to China's development. All throughout human history, the previous generations suffer in order to make the world a better place for the future generations; that's just how we progress.
    A rocket launch such as this is an important part of that development, as it shows the country is still striving forward, even if they are a little behind others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.


    I don't where you conjured up your image of China, but in my opinion you are not a realistic man. "primitive'? i seriously doubt that. learn some history, and some scientific journals before you speak, Chinese scientists working in the USA contributed to today's world much more than you think!

    And to your argument, which country in the world never had a train accident? name one please. and BTW the high speed train didn't blew up, it's a signal failiure

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    China may be the biggest trash dump in the world, if not already then soon;

    Among China's countless problems, this one is as real as any of them and in the long run seemingly as hopeless. So much trash, so little space.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    Good place to put the mother-in-law :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    Chinese people have the intellegence to develop the most advanced technology in the world, why do we go to space alone? because USA blocked China from joining the international space programmes in fear of us getting senstive technology for free and use it against them. In the eyes of the USA, China is a threat to it's throne, the biggest dictatorship in the world!

  • Comment number 145.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    @ Joseph_F China, focus on bringing your billion and a half poverty stricken people into the 21st century before catching up to what we in the west did in the 60's.

    + others saying its a dictatorship

    IT HAS Changed!have you been to China recently ?,i suspect not, 20-30 yrs ago you be right,but china is a big place its like europe wrong judge it by the same stick,i just believe what i see,i just know,ppl protest there over a toxic factory, they shut factory down, corrupt mps ,they jails em,ppl wanted help with health care, they kept there promise and did,does our government do same?

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    139"You mean to tell me that 50 years ago, the technology aboard either US or Russia spacecraft is that advanced."

    Yes, sufficiently advanced to regularly launch people into low earth orbit for many revolutions around the earth and bring them back safely.On July 20, 1969 the Saturn V rocket with 7 1/2 million pounds of thrust safely delivered it's human payload to a soft landing on the moon, the first of 3 successful US missions.Nobody else duplicated that feat once

    We do not expect China to ignore advances in materials and technology public and stolen in its effort but it's ancient news

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    I am not one to put China down ,I am just glad someone is doing what needs to be done,to push this world forward!,Go Go China!,i am british ,i have lived in china ,surprises me ppl putting china down,to them i say this,don't believe what media tells u,don't believe me even,just believe what you see with your own two eyes only,go live in china,then only can you judge a tiny bit if it is bad or good,never trust anyone who tells you these ppl are good or bad,find out yourself

  • Comment number 141.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    From the number of comments and the very much polarised nature of these compared to articles from correspondents from other places (India, Africa etc), the following can be concluded:
    1. There is a certain amount of looking-down on China.
    2. Some "negative" comments may just seem like harmless banter to westerners, but is taken too seriously by Chinese people due to their cultural background.
    3. Although government mouthpieces / 50cent gangs do exist, most commenters who defend China are simply people who are proud of their country's achievements.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    You sound like a jealous puss.
    You mean to tell me that 50 years ago, the technology aboard either US or Russia spacecraft is that advanced. Would you says the same thing if another nation e.g. India perform a similar feat? Would you be singing a different tune then? You are just a troll.
    Outsourcing to private industries, LOL.
    Face it USA is broke! Even her Space Shuttler is already retired and send to the Smithsonian Institute due to lack of funds.
    We will talk about NASA space program to Mars when USA manage to convince China to lend her more MONEY. Iraqi war almost bankrupt US


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