Cui Jingyu

    Let Bygones be Bygones

The year I turned seventeen, full of dreams, I decided to go to the city to work. I wanted to make my own mark in that bustling place.[1]

A job advertisement brought me and two other north-eastern girls, Little Wu and Little Liu, to a private restaurant. Since it was the tourist season, business was booming. We started busily selling breakfast at five o'clock every morning, by nine o'clock we began preparations for lunch, at two or three in the afternoon we finished tidying up, and then it was nearly dinner time. In this way, we worked non-stop until ten o'clock at night. Every day we were like machines that were wound up to work. Even when we were exhausted and sore all over, the boss was still unsatisfied, and gave us housework to do. Because we were outsider girls,[2] nobody told us what our rights were. Nor would anyone speak up on our behalf. We had to go on working because we had to survive.

Not long afterwards, in order to compete for customers, restaurants started to employ public relations girls (in reality they were escorts[3]). The boss talked up the advantages of being a public relations girl, and thought up a scheme to invite one to 'demonstrate' to us. It's true she didn't have to work as hard as we did. All she needed to do was dress up like a flower, to accompany rich customers. After a day's work, the tips she got were more than fifty or sixty yuan.[4] But I really felt sorry for her when I saw her being kneaded like dough by the customers. Yes, everyone needs money. But no amount of money can buy back a lost soul.

We didn't want to go on working there, but the boss threatened us by withholding our pay. We were at our wits' end because we couldn't get the money that we had earned with our blood and sweat but we had nowhere to go to seek redress. Who could help us outsiders to seek justice?

In order to get paid, we just had to swallow the insults and keep working. Under the pressure of the boss and the temptations of 'Miss Dough', Little Wu and Little Liu started to give in. I implored them not to lose their integrity for some quick money. The boss learned that I was having an 'adverse' effect on the group, and decided to expel me, the bad apple. When settling the account, he deducted half a month's pay for no reason. I couldn't say anything to this greedy man. Who'd be willing to offend a rich and powerful local boss on behalf of a working sister from outside of town? The punishment I got scared Little Wu and Little Liu from thinking about resigning. In the end they did not escape the boss's penny pinching. I went home full of an unutterable sense of grievance.

Later, I heard that the restaurant had been closed by the authorities. The boss was arrested and the girls were sent away. At long last I heaved a sigh, but I felt sad about Little Wu and Little Liu's misfortune. If it hadn't been for the boss's pressure and blackmail they would never have gone astray. They too were victims! When they needed justice, there was no one there to hold out a helping hand! It was lucky that the mills of God grind slowly but they grind exceedingly small and that boss who grew fat on the blood of outsider girls was finally finished off.

That was my first experience of being a migrant worker, and a memory I never want to recall. I wish with all my heart that other working sisters will not run into similar experiences.


    [1] Cui Jingyu's story was originally published in Nongjianü Baishitong [Rural Women Knowing All], 4, (1999): 32-33, translated by Tamara Jacka and Song Xianlin.

    [2] Wailai mei, literally 'girls who have come from outside' is a term commonly used to refer to rural migrant women. They are also commonly referred to as dagong mei, 'working sisters' or 'working girls'.

    [3] Sanpei nü translates literally as 'women who accompany (male customers) in three ways'. Such women entertain men in restaurants, bars and nightclubs and sometimes provide sexual services.

    [4] One yuan = US$0.1.


    This paper was originally published in Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context, with the assistance of Murdoch University.

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