You probably know who the first one is, but do you know the second name? You should. You should look her up, look at the work she’s doing in China, look at her life, and then wonder what you’re doing with you own. More about her later.
Yesterday we were delegates to the Plenary Session of the 5th Annual U.S.-China People to People Exchange. Kerry was there, along with Vice Premier Liu Yandong, the highest level female official in China.
Our seats were incredible, and the hall was beautiful.
Because we arrived very early, we chatted with a lot of the other delegates. National Geographic was there as part of the cultural delegation on the U.S. side. Because we have such an awesome group of teachers, one of them actually went to the North Pole last year with Nat Geo and so the head of the education division recognized her and we had an “in” with him. He was such a down to earth guy, and he went to Northwestern for his PhD (Go Cats!) I was speaking to another Nat Geo guy, and it was interesting to hear his perspective on how the talks had gone. According to him, the two countries’ delegations sat on opposite sides of the room during the sessions, spoke about their individual organization’s efforts to introduce cultural perspectives and exchanges about the other country, and it was recording for posterity for the State Department. Not much of a “people to people” exchange, according to him. Perhaps that’s how all meetings at this high of a level are, I don’t know any better. What I do know is that I will probably never be in a room with so many world leaders all at the same time ever again in my life. I’ve peaked before 30! haha.
In the afternoon, we had a talk by a professor from Peking University on the Modern History of China. Wow. Not only were we all struggling to stay awake due to the excruciatingly slow pace of the speech and translation, the information was inaccurate, repetitive, and watered down. Here’s what he said, in a nutshell:
1. China has a long-standing history of over 5,000 years
2. China’s history as a country has continued without any interference.
3. China outperforms other countries.
Yes, you read that last one right.
So then we took a slow, uninteresting walk around campus that ended at the gift shop (like a Disney ride). Our guide was none to informative, but the campus was nice enough. And it was one of the best universities in China, so it was cool to be there. I promised Steve some summertime pics of the campus, since he studied there in January. So here they are.
After the tour, we sat in traffic for at least an hour and a half to get to the Lao She Teahouse. They do a variety show which tries to recreate Old Beijing. Dance, singing, opera, sword fighting, Sichuan opera face-changing, kung fu, and patter. (Musicians, am I alone in never having heard of patter? It was awesome)
This morning we were invited to the Ministry of Education. For once, we felt like we were getting actual answers to our questions. This guy didn’t mince words about the struggles China is facing with regard to a huge population of students, needing to increase their compulsory education to 12 years (currently compulsory ed goes to 9th grade), and the gigantic amount of students who graduate from university every year (5-6 million) and need to find a place in the work force.
And now on to Wu Qing.
A diminutive little lady, Qing is nearly 77 years old. Her mother is a famous writer, her father a famous sociologist. Her mother was a part of the May 4th student protests (1919?) and her father was one of the first intellectuals to speak out against the Communist party (when they were asked to). His pay was cut in half, among other punishments. They went to her mother and tried to get her to divorce him. She would have none of it. So there’s the set-up for Qing, who was born to these amazingly strong people with the bravery to stand up in times of political turmoil. Her mother attended Wellesley College and her father attended Columbia.
Currently, she runs an NGO called the Champing Practical Skills Training Center for Rural Women, where she teaches the women to be kindergarten teachers, stenographers, or small business entrepreneurs. This is done in Northwestern China, where the poverty is high, the opportunities are scarce, and the rivers are dry. Her organization also teaches women to care for the elderly and sick in the poor villages.
Wu Qing has never been in jail, but we were all amazed as to how she has managed to avoid it. She served as a People’s Party Deputy from 1984-2011 (being elected 5 times). When she first received the nomination, she exactly fit the qualifications (a women, middle aged, a good teacher). I bet the party would take back the those quals if they knew how much a thorn in their side she would be. She carries around the Chinese Constitution both in her bag and in her head, and she is absolutely dedicated to trying to increase the rule of law in China. While serving as a deputy, she set aside one afternoon each week to allow her constituents to bring their problems to her (imagine even a state senator doing that…). She became very famous for settling disputes and was very influential. So influential, in fact, that people would come to her and say, “Oh Wu Qing, a word from you and I could have ________.” But she is incorruptible. She dared to give two “no” votes and two “in absentia” votes while she was deputy. That you just do not do.
She is constantly invited to speak at international conferences. Unfortunately, the party has not always allowed her to go, and she was once barred for three years from leaving the country. She has been detained, but never arrested.
I know this is long, but seriously, nearly every one of us was in tears today listening to this woman’s amazing story. So many of our lectures have been pat, party line. To see firsthand how this amazing woman has chosen to give her life over to making things better in China was just incredible.
We finished today with a tour through a market close by our house. Some little girl stopped by our table to practice her English; her name was YanLu (and I have a student named YanLu!) So I took a picture with her :)
Tomorrow we have a free day. I’ll be going to see the Temple of Heaven and possibly an arts and antiques market.
Goodnight from Beijing :)
Mondays in China
Hope you enjoyed another installment of my sister’s 2014 summer trip to China. I’ll be reblogging this trip every Monday until I’ve gone through all of her posts.