For Chen, women hold up half the sky

BEIJING Mon Aug 11, 2008 10:07am EDT

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Olympic weightlifting gold medalist Chen Yanqing launched into a brief lecture on gender equality after a Swedish journalist asked her how she was able to lift heavier weights than most men in his home country.

"In my country, both men and women are on an equal footing and I never thought women were inferior to men," said the Chinese lifter, who is the only woman to have won two Olympic weightlifting gold medals.

Chen's father has been quoted as saying he had originally hoped for a son who could help on his farm, rather than a daughter.

In modern China, women face challenges in all stages of life, ranging from couples who favor boys over girls to employers who prefer hiring men in many jobs.

But the smiling, chatty Chen, who competes in the 58kg class, was adamant that Chinese women need not take the back seat.

"Ever since I was a little kid, I thought men and women were on the same level, so that's why (I can lift as much as men)," she said.

It was after all Mao Zedong, the founding Communist leader of modern China, who famously declared that "women hold up half the sky".

(Additional reporting by Ken Wills; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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