China Daily just published my latest column titled Guiyang Legal Clinic Serves Up Remedy of Justice, detailing my encounter with a legal aid clinic nestled within a community in Guiyang, Southwest China’s Guizhou province. Here’s an excerpt:
On a tour of the comprehensive service center for the Jinyuan community in Guiyang, the capital of Southwest China’s Guizhou province, the last thing I ever expected our guide to say was, “This is our legal clinic.”
A red sign with the Chinese characters for “legal clinic “hung just above the door, and inside, behind a desk, sat a middle-aged man wearing a military green button-down shirt. As I peered inside, I noted the curious smile on his face, as if he were just as surprised to find a foreigner observing him from the hallway as I was to discover this clinic. Never before had I seen a lawyer within the walls of a community service center anywhere in the world.
“Pardon me, but could I ask you a few questions?” I said to him, as I stepped into the clinic with an outstretched hand and my fascination.
He introduced himself as Liu Yuanhe, the head of the clinic’s legal team and a retired soldier from the People’s Liberation Army. While his career as a lawyer dated back to 1996, when he passed exams to become certified in the profession, he had been involved in legal aid service in the community over the past year. Liu said the clinic, which had officially opened its doors in January, helped people free of charge with anything at all involving the law. While typical cases involved matters like contract disputes and recovering unpaid wages, he emphasized they handled any legal problem and would even file lawsuits, if needed, at no cost. In his view, the work he did at the clinic was part of a selfless dedication to give back to society.
Moreover, he stressed the importance of justice to people’s well-being. “What do people want? They want some form of happiness. What is the essence of happiness? I think it is a kind of social fairness and justice.”
The National Day of Action and Healing on March 26 was launched in the United States to galvanize individuals, businesses and organizations to take steps to tackle anti-Asian racism and hate incidents. As organizers have called for efforts to make streets and businesses safer for Asians, they’re also asking that business leaders work to address the long-standing problem of anti-Asian discrimination in areas such as the workplace.
I’m encouraged that people are also seizing this moment as an opportunity to shine a light on the pervasive problem of anti-Asian bias, which often acts insidiously through systems and institutions and doesn’t usually produce the kind of shocking video footage that commands more attention in the media.
The 2019 study Discrimination in the US: Experiences of Asian Americans published in Health Services Research found 37 percent of Asian adults said they had experienced racial discrimination. That number jumped to 60 percent for the overseas Chinese in a recent survey highlighted by the US-based World Journal in a March 26 article. Such discrimination may not necessarily inflict physical harm, yet can be devastating.
Imagine being prosecuted by the government for alleged espionage you never committed. Racial profiling under the guise of national security has long threatened the livelihoods of scores of Chinese scientists in the US. Most are familiar with Wen Ho Lee, who was later exonerated, but more recently many others have been wrongfully targeted－including Cao Guoqing, Li Shuyu, Sherry Chen and Xi Xiaoxing.
More often, though, anti-Asian workplace discrimination occurs in subtle ways. Consider the news in February 2021 that Google agreed to a settlement with the US Department of Labor, after an investigation exposed problems including “hiring rate differences “that impacted not only female but also Asian job seekers.
Meanwhile, Asian students can have their education and careers harmed at the hands of instructors and faculty, who may disguise racial animus behind pretextual explanations.
The arrival of March inevitably turns my thoughts to this tea, as this month sees the first harvest of the spring longjing. The leaves, plucked off the bushes before the coming of Qingming Festival in April, are considered the most tender of the year, and command the highest prices. I’ve sampled it a handful of times, luxuriating in its delicately sweet fragrance and flavor.
Nearly two years ago, I traveled back to Hangzhou for a video shoot that included a visit to the restaurant Charen Cun, nestled within the city’s longjing tea fields. I walked through the terraces of jade-green bushes along with the owner of the restaurant, who had inherited the fields and tradition of tending and appreciating longjing tea from his own father. Hovering over one of the bushes, he pulled a small bunch of leaves off with a gentle tug and placed them in my hands. They were a light and exuberant green, a shade recalling the uplifting joy of warmer spring days and the return of more sunshine. I tucked into my pocket those leaves, which were the most precious souvenir of my trip, a real physical reminder that I had stepped among the fields of my most favorite tea.
As International Women’s Day is coming up on March 8, stories of women who stand strong, particularly when it comes to the headwinds of societal expectations on romance, have been on my mind. Not that long ago, China Daily published a story highlighting the challenges that Chinese women in their 30s and even late 20s face when they’re single — and the courage it takes for them to live their lives.
In China, where conformity and traditional family values have always been highly prized, her solo lifestyle is still considered unconventional. ….
…after dinner a few days ago with colleagues, most of whom are in their 20s and early 30s, Feng came across a phrase she had never heard before－mu tai solo. This combination of the Chinese words “mu tai” and the English word “solo” refers to people who have never been in a romantic relationship. “Unfortunately, I am one of them.
When I told my colleagues I had been mu tai solo for nearly 40 years, they looked shocked and sympathized with me,” Feng said. “It was very embarrassing. I just made fun of myself, saying that my new year wish is to find my first love and then experience my first heartbreak.
“There has always been a phrase for single women－sheng nyu, or ‘leftover women’. Now, there is this new one, mu tai solo, which is disparaging. It’s not my fault that I’m mu tai solo, because when love happens, it happens. You cannot force it.”
When she told her mother about this experience, her 67-year-old parent sighed and said, “See, this is why you need a boyfriend to help get you out of this situation.”
Feng said: “But I really don’t think so. I don’t need a relationship to prove that I am one of ‘them’. I don’t want to get married under any kind of pressure. Finding what makes you happy is the most important thing.”
While not single, I can relate to the pressure felt when bucking societal expectations (such as the fact that I have no children). Not everyone ends up living in a way that follows convention — but, as Feng points out astutely in the piece, you don’t have to prove yourself that way. You just have to seek your own happiness, and be content in that.
You can read the full story here. And to all the women out there who read this blog (and the people who love them) wishing you a happy International Women’s Day on March 8!
China Daily published a column of mine detailing the story of a guesthouse in Zhejiang province that managed to open and thrive in a tough year. Here’s an excerpt:
“In 2020, the most important thing is not what you’ve already lost, nor what you’ve yet to achieve, but rather what you have now. Let go of the past, and laugh for the rest of your life.”
Yu Jianping, who wrote these words in a post on his WeChat page, might just have been imagining his recent entrepreneurial venture. He and his wife, Huang Li, opened a guesthouse and restaurant in Tonglu county, Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, during the star-crossed year of 2020, but still survived and thrived.
“No need to give us jujube dates－we have plenty of them.”
This message from my in-laws, delivered by my husband Jun after he returned from a quick trip to his hometown in rural Zhejiang province, exploded my annual Chinese New Year tradition of sending all the family members packaged gift boxes of large Xinjiang jujube dates. After years of believing I had hit upon the perfect gift for the holidays, I was now left scrambling for an alternative.
And the options in my usual online supermarket didn’t look promising. As I ticked off the possibilities with my husband－Beijing-style haw cakes or ginseng or chocolates－he vetoed every one, saying the family could probably buy them or already had them. His mom had even tucked into his backpack a heaping plastic bag of assorted chocolates in flavors ranging from toffee to brandy, a reminder of the increasingly global goods available in the village of his childhood, making my search for something unique even more challenging.
After what felt like the 100th time of fruitlessly scrolling through Chinese New Year goods online, a picture of a gift box of goji berries, a specialty of Ningxia Hui autonomous region, suddenly drew my thoughts back to my 2020 reporting trip to the region for a video shoot. I went to Ningxia to explore how it was leveraging some of its most celebrated agricultural products－including those renowned goji berries－to alleviate poverty, mainly through online sales. And I’d made a number of friends along the way, who welcomed me to contact them anytime.
Surely, they must have some Chinese New Year goods, I thought.
The episodes on Inner Mongolia have recently gone live, so now you can see me in action — and get the chance to watch me learn more about tech and telemedicine at a local hospital and discover how medical coverage for all has helped the poor live better lives.
I’ve heard this phrase uttered to me countless times by people in China when the holidays roll around, whether Christmas or Chinese New Year.
I once thought the comparison a bit of a stretch, wondering how the holiday of Santa Claus of my childhood in the United States could possibly resemble a celebration involving fireworks and lion dances. But over the years I’ve recognized that Chinese New Year and Christmas share fascinating, and sometimes surprising, commonalities.
Here are some interesting ones I’ve observed:
Many Chinese New Year customs I’ve experienced at my in-laws’ home in Zhejiang province revolve around auspiciousness, such as the red couplets and firecrackers used to ensure a propitious start to the new year. But Christmas traditions I’ve grown up with are also said to represent good fortune, including the centerpiece of all decorations: the Christmas tree.
The color red
Red is a beloved shade for Christmas and a lucky one for Chinese New Year.
While Chinese New Year signals the start of the new lunar year, Christmas once fell on the exact date of the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and a time traditionally marking the “rebirth” of the sun.
Both Chinese New Year and Christmas dazzle with plenty of lights in decorations and rituals. My father-in-law loves adorning the family home in Zhejiang with traditional red lanterns for Chinese New Year, just as my husband and I enjoy decking our Christmas tree and home with strings of colored lights. Growing up, my family would drive to Christmas light displays in town where we would gaze upon twinkling Santas, reindeer and stars. So naturally, I felt right at home attending my first Lantern Festival in China, surrounded by huge, glowing displays shaped like Chinese zodiac animals.
This year has witnessed an alarming spike in hate incidents against Asians around the world. The surge of openly racist and xenophobic attacks has only exacerbated the dark reality of a cruel pandemic overshadowing the globe.
But this tragic situation has also sparked hopeful activism, forging some new heroes in the battle against racism and discrimination — including Xiaojiu Zhu PhD, MBE, a distinguished lawyer at the Cruickshanks firm in London, UK.
In the face of rising reports of discrimination against the Chinese community in the UK, including stories of children being targeted at school, Zhu believed something needed to be done. And as a lawyer, she considered it her duty to help people in the Chinese community protect their interests and legal rights.
Zhu came up with the idea of having an online forum for Chinese communities on responding to racism during the pandemic. The May 27 event, organized by the UK Beijing Association, the UK Society of Chinese Lawyers, and the Roundtable of Southern California Chinese-American Organizations, featured keynote speakers — including Zhu — who encouraged people to take positive action against racism and discrimination, such as reporting incidents to authorities and taking legal recourse.
More than 8,000 people from over 10 countries attended the forum, and the online replay attracted some 10,000 views. This extraordinary reception was a testament to the significance of racism to Chinese around the world, and made Zhu realize the need for an international group to forward the cause.
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