Progress, Symbolism and the Future
As previously noted (in my third, Weekend Update), last Saturday, Major Liu Yang became China’s first female taikonaut to go into space, on the craft, Shenzhou 9. She made history again, two days later, by being part of the first manned craft to successfully dock with the, Tiangong 1 space station on the twenty-ninth anniversary of her American predecessor‘s first flight.
But whilst a lot of the initial European & North American news coverage of the historic launch focused on rumours surrounding the selection process of China’s new hero (summarised and debunked in this article); and though it is true that the leading line of state news agency, Xinuha, described Liu, primarily as, “a wife,” in their coverage. There is one aspect of the whole spectacle that has only been mentioned, at best, fleetingly in Western media, and that is the symbolism demonstrated by this launch.
In a time when NASA is having to rely on commercially built spacecraft such as SpaceX’, Dragon (pictured below), China’s determination to persevere with a highly ambitious series of launches, projected to culminate in a manned moon-landing sometime after 2020, is a grandiose display of China’s growing desire to be viewed as a serious world leader. The rate of progress on display is already a talking point amongst critics and enthusiasts alike, and the cost of the operation stands as a statement in its own right in these economically turbulent times.
However, as much as the economic and political implications of the fanfare surrounding Shenzhou 9’s launch fascinate me, it is the historic significance of this mission that has me enthralled. In an age where war, politics, economic collapse and reality TV are all vying for the ultimate title of, ‘World Destroyer’, it’s reassuring to know that there are still people out there trying to reach the future amongst the stars that our parents were promised.
The fact that China, long-remembered in the West as an oppressive patriarchy*, is sending its first woman into space, and is celebrating this fact proudly, is just the icing on the cake.
*(even after significant progress toward gender equality had already been made)