China’s Footballing Heroines Spark Debate on Equal Pay

By Lars James Hamer, February 8, 2022

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China’s women’s football team recorded a historic win in the 2022 Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Women’s Asian Cup final on Sunday, February 6. The 3-2 victory over South Korea in India has led fans to call for the country’s women’s team to receive equal pay.

One Weibo user called for the women’s team bonus to be paid out at the same rate as the men’s team and demanded equal pay for equal work. As of press time, the post received 170,000 likes, was shared over 40,000 times and had over 4,000 comments. 

Similiar debates have been raised in the USA, whose women's national team went to court demanding the same pay as the men's national team. The US women's national team have historically enjoyed greater success in tournament football than the men. 

Another user criticized the cash prize that the women won: “RMB13 million is not much, they bring commercial benefits much higher than this figure. Regardless of the commercial benefits, it’s the women's fighting spirit that we should study.”

Global Times later reported that the women’s team were expected to receive RMB30 million in prize money. 

The Women’s Game in China

jhfesbdzc.jpgScreenshot via Weibo 

China’s women’s football team has a rich history. In 1999 they reached the World Cup final, losing to arguably the world’s best women’s team and the tournament’s hosts, the USA, on penalties. 

Sun Wen, the national team’s striker won the Golden Ball and the Golden Boot award after scoring seven goals during the tournament. 

China’s women’s team have won the AFC Women’s Asian Cup nine times, finishing as runners up twice. 

Despite success in the women’s side of the game, a 2018 report by the Chinese Football Association showed that fewer than 20% of female football players earned over RMB10,000 per month. 

A League of Their Own

Many football fans used the women’s success as an opportunity to slam the men’s team, who have an underwhelming history. 

A so-called ‘football fan’ went to the men’s football team’s isolation hotel in Suzhou and aimed a number of fireworks at the building. The man was recorded on video shouting “Congratulations to the women’s football team. Men’s team, wake up!”


Despite congratulating the women’s team, the man seemingly didn't realize that using the women’s success as a stick to beat the men’s team takes away from the women’s victory, forcing the conversation onto how below-par the men are.  

Many netizens urged others not to use the women's victory as a moment to discuss men’s football. Other Weibo users commentedwomen cai shi guo zu,” referring to the women’s team as China’s true national team. 

China’s men’s team first and only qualification for the World Cup was in 2002, despite having participated in qualification rounds since 1957. In the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, China finished bottom of their group, conceding nine goals and scoring none. 

Global Times reported that since the victory over South Korea, many Chinese companies, such as Alipay and Mengniu Dairy, have donated millions of RMB to the Chinese women’s football team. 


[Cover image via Weibo]

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