The (Chinese) Girl on the Train

Generally, on my daily commute I am too tired and miserable to make eye contact with anyone, let alone speak to them. I see the same faces every morning, all staring blankly into their phones or their morning Metro as we trundle towards the big smoke together to make some money.

However on this occasion, it was a weekend and I’d spent the day in Cambridge. Spirits were high, the sun was shining and I was sitting on the train ready for departure. Suddenly, a girl with lots of luggage and a slight air of confusion came and sat opposite me. She asked me how she should get to Chester – I pulled out my trusty National Rail app and conversation began to flow.

She was on her way to a wedding; she had never been to an English wedding before and we started to discuss outfit choices. I found out that she is a graphic design student at Anglia Ruskin University and had made the bride and groom a gift from traditional Chinese paper cutting. She is, in fact, originally from China and mentioned that despite the status of women there, she is actually a feminist.

There has been a fair bit in the news lately about women’s rights in China – such as the arrest of the feminists trying to raise awareness about sexual harassment on public transport, swimmer Fu Yuanhui talking about her period at the Olympics and Hillary Clinton’s comments on forced abortions.

So now I’m getting interested – I say, “Tell me all about women’s rights in China! I write a blog about feminism and I would love to interview you.”

She very kindly obliged and so here is her story:

[Disclaimer: Our interviewee is still improving her English, so while her sentiments are reflected below, they have been slightly reworded by yours truly. Our interviewee also wanted to make it clear that her experience with women in Chinese culture is not necessarily representative of everyone’s experience and that maybe she has just been unlucky. Her overall message is one of positivity, self-empowerment and hard work, which we hope will be interesting to read!]

There are some families in China who still believe in the differing status of boys and girls. In remote rural areas, some families do not want girls – even in the very poor mountain areas there will be people selling female children. In my opinion this is because of gender discrimination. [She told me that the status of a woman still seems to be lower than a man in China].

In big cities such as Beijing, this phenomenon is relatively uncommon but in my family, my father thinks that boys are better than anyone. He did not care how good my grades were, because I was not a boy. He was never optimistic about me, he didn’t think I could do anything. He thinks that only a boy is good because they can help the family line continue, the girl is just a drain on money.[She was born when China’s one child policy was still in place and explained that when she was born, her father was disappointed that he had had a girl]. My father did not financially support me. People like to bring up boys for the purpose of being looked after in old age. At least my father thought so. He also adopted a boy – he was really good to that boy. To be honest with you, I am really sad and jealous, but all of this turned into the driving force of my efforts.

With the progression of time, the status of Chinese women has made great progress. They can have their own businesses, but many women in China do not want to marry because when they have children, they would have to sacrifice everything to be at home. [She told me that in some companies, women will be dismissed from their jobs as soon as they get engaged or married, because the employer will be expecting a pregnancy. There aren’t many good laws to protect women in the workplace and it is therefore difficult for women to progress at the same rate as men. Women are still generally expected to be homemakers once they have children or get married.]

Of course, some women will enjoy this life. They spend their man’s money to enjoy their own life, but I think this is a very bad thing because we obviously are equal at the same time. I would hate to be attached to a man. Without a man, I obviously have the ability to get what I want, I enjoy working and believe that young people should be working hard. I will stop working when I get old.

My family is a traditional big family. When I was young, my academic performance was not good and I felt my father’s relatives look down at me in contempt. Then when I started to get good grades, won the national class awards and went to the UK on my own to learn, they changed their attitudes towards me. Before going abroad, my father’s brothers advised him that he must not let me go, because to pay for my tuition is a waste!

Fortunately, I have a great mother, she encouraged me as I grew up and supported me. For me to be well educated would also complete her dream; in her era, a girl’s status is very low. Girls in some families do not have the opportunity to learn – the focus is to marry. I would like to prove that I am very independent. 

I have a positive attitude – maybe I was unlucky to be born in that family, but I have a dream so I do not give up and I fight for life. I do not hate my dad, I know everyone’s values are different. Of course, he gave me a life so I respect his decision. I just need to keep going for what I want and maybe one day I can change his mind.

I now work in several parts of the British Chinese community school and teach about Chinese art and traditional culture. Now I can rely on my own ability to live very happily and I am also learning to progress. I hate China’s money through the back door culture (which means to give money to a leader or some government official to easily get a job). I believe in my ability. [In China, designers (particularly female designers) need to be very careful with their work. She recalled an occasion where she was hired by a company to design a logo. She sent it to them and they used it, but refused to pay her. She said that if a woman puts a design online, it is very common for it to be taken by a man and used as his own. There is very little respect for women’s ideas in that sense.]

The most important thing is that I can get a lot of respect in the UK. Here my life is very happy and peaceful. To tell you the truth, my family led me towards particularly low self-esteem and I do not have that here. I enjoy learning. My father said I could not learn because it was a waste of money and time and that I should hurry back to China to find someone to marry. I don’t want it, so I have to work hard.


An example of our Girl on the Train’s beautiful paper cutting

We hope you have enjoyed reading about our interviewee’s life, background and struggles with the patriarchy! If you have any thoughts on her story or you would like to be interviewed about your own cultural background in the context of women’s rights, please do get in touch.

Thanks for reading,

~ Sanya



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s