Intersections: Gender, History and Culture in the Asian Context
Issue 4, September 2000

Wang Xiangfen

Looking Back
I am Proud

Time is a river, forever flowing.[1]

It was September 8, 1996, when I got on the train to Beijing and started my life as a migrant worker. Two years have passed, and I have gone from being a lively junior high school graduate to a housemaid capable of any kind of domestic work. If someone were to ask me whether I regret my choice, I would reply 'no' without hesitation.

The first time I left home to work, I came across a kind family. During the day there was only Auntie and I.[2] At first, I was unsure of myself and often made mistakes, but Auntie was always very understanding. Occasionally I missed my distant parents. I remember that every time I wrote letters home my tears flowed non-stop. When Auntie saw me she would say: 'My child, everyone misses home when they first leave. At home you're the first born, and you have to set a good example for your younger brothers and sisters'. I haven't shed any tears since then. When Auntie said that I am clever and reliable and can be trusted to do any task, I took it as a compliment on my work and it encouraged me to do even better. Auntie gradually became my good teacher and close friend. As far as my wages were concerned, she has always given me a rise before I requested. I consider that wages are the reward of labour. Good work will naturally lead to a pay rise from the employer. There should be mutual understanding and mutual respect between the employer and the housemaid. Now I feel very much at home in this family. If there is a job to be done I do it. If I have something to say I say it. Whoever is right is heeded. I'm always in a good mood.

Although I have left school, I have not left my studies behind. I feel that though it's true that it's important to work and earn money, it's even more important to learn skills and broaden one's vision. It's hard to survive without some skills in the throes of the market economy. There's no return ticket in life. I must seize the opportunity while I'm young and spend as much time as possible studying. I'm not prepared to be mediocre all my life.

My spare time is rich and colourful. Uncle works in a newspaper publishing agency and he brings home lots of newspapers every day, such as Beijing Evening News, People's Daily and China Youth Daily. I really love reading them. I cut out the important articles, copy down all the elegant phrases and write them in my diary. I like learning English, and I bought an English-Chinese dictionary and other English textbooks for self-study. Listening to the radio and watching television are integral parts of my life. Watching the national news everyday is a must for me. I cook and listen to the radio at the same time, and that way I kill two birds with one stone. On my days off, I like to take a camera to Beijing's tourist sites and go sightseeing. I'm also actively involved in the seminars run by the 'Working sisters' club'[3] Auntie is full of praise about this, and I feel it has given me a sense of purpose and self-confidence.

In my time as a migrant worker, when people from my home county have run into difficulties and come to see me, I have always done my best to help. Many sisters don't get on well with their employers. I advise them that there are conflicts everywhere, and there's noone who is perfect in this world. You must see other people's strong points and be tolerant of their shortcomings. I also apply this strictly to myself. I've been in Beijing for two years now, and I've hardly bought any clothes. The clothes I wear all come from Auntie's children. My parents endured all kinds of hardship to bring me up. It really wasn't easy for them. Now I send basically all the money I earn back home to pay back my parents for their kindness in bringing me up.

One's work is always rewarded. In 1997 I was awarded the title of 'outstanding housemaid' by the domestic service company. And Auntie's household was awarded the title 'outstanding employer'. Standing on the platform holding my gold certificate, tears of happiness poured down my cheeks. I knew myself that this honour had not come easily. I hastened to send the happy news to my parents at home, hoping they would be proud of me and understand that their distant daughter was doing well working away from home.

I'm thankful for my life as a migrant worker. It has given me the opportunity to make myself strong, and it has taught me how to get on with others, and that if you try you can do anything. The long journey of the migrant worker presents even more opportunities than it does challenges. I wish all those who are working away from home more success and happiness and less unhappiness and worries: I wish that through their diligent work they will realise their dreams!


[1] Wang Xiangfen's story was originally published in Nongjianü Baishitong [Rural Women Knowing All], 1, (1999): 33-34, translated by Tamara Jacka and Song Xianlin.

[2] I.e. her employer. 'Auntie' is a term of address. It does not refer to a relative.

[3] Dagong mei zhi jia - A club for migrant women in Beijing, run by the editorial office of Nongjianü Baishitong [Rural Women Knowing All].


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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