In late August 2003, John and I returned to Hangzhou to reunite with our friends — including my former Chinese coworker Jane.
This was the same “almost vegetarian,” sprightly young twentysomething with a zen chime ringtone, and a grin that could breath even a little humor and grace into the ultra-serious “technical room,” where the two of us used to work. Jane even worked her own hours, and wore edgy outfits, defying the usual “good-girl” pastels most Chinese women wore. Jane reminded me that, even in China, there are girls who just want to have fun — their way. My inner feminist adored her.
If only this were the same Jane I’d known. That day, she served up Hangzhou-style, stir-fried veggies — and a surprise helping of [email protected] G0ng.
“[email protected]lun G0ng is the reason for my newfound inner peace and strength,” she beamed, with the kind of radiance you usually find in a woman with child. But Jane’s gestation was all about bringing a new spirit, and not a child, to birth in her own life.
Before John and I knew it, the conversation morphed into a sales pitch, as Jane praised [email protected] G0ng as the one and only pathway for salvation.
What? The one and only?
Well, it’s not like I’ve never heard that one before. After all, in the Catholic tradition I knew as a girl, Catholicism was the way. And if you’ve been in any other religion, most say the same — good marketing, I suppose. If people thought there was a better way, they might start “shopping around” with other religions.
But I guess I’ve never believed there was just one right belief. And I’ve been skeptical of anyone who would say so — just like all of the born-again Christians I met in high school, telling me to embrace Jesus or face hell (so, does that mean all of the Buddhists, Muslims and Jews just end up in hell, because they “were wrong?”).
I couldn’t believe this was [email protected] G0ng. But maybe I only knew one side of [email protected] G0ng, the Western media point of view. I always thought anyone had a right to something that brought them peace and happiness. I just never thought they’d expect everyone else to embrace their same vision of peace and happiness. And, especially, I never thought I’d hear it from Jane.
“Here, take this home and read it,” Jane suggested, as she slid a nondescript, blue book my way.
“I promise to read it,” I replied, smiling in the hopes I would bury the churning of my emotions within.
Sometimes I wondered why [email protected] G0ng, and thought I lost Jane. But [email protected] G0ng was, in a way, a very Jane-like choice. Jane had always lived at the fringes of life in China — ready to buck the mainstream at any moment. I just hope that Jane wasn’t bucked away by her choice. After all, I never heard from Jane after that.
Have you ever discovered a different side to a major news story or controversy in China (or elsewhere)?
Memoirs of a Yangxifu in China is the story of love, cultural understanding and eventual marriage between one American woman from the city and one Chinese man from the countryside. To read the full series to date, you can start at Chapter 1, or browse the Memoirs of a Yangxifu archives.