Having backed a Kickstarter Campaign called "Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls"https://www.amazon.co.uk/Good-Night-Stories-Rebel-Girls-ebook/dp/B01N2P9RH4 last year and looking through the incredible women they have written about I thought I'd write about a particular Rebel Girl that I've only known for the last 11 years but am delighted to call my friend.
Back in October I was lucky enough to get back to China to attend the 90th birthday party of one of the coolest and bravest women I have ever met. The first day that I met her she had never seen a foreigner before, she welcomed me into her home and cooked for me every Saturday before we’d play Mahjong… I think she really liked the games of Mahjong because I always lost! haahaa Every Saturday (to help me lose and also to see what I was like after drinking) she would open a bottle of baijiu, which is a Chinese Whiskey that’s 50 - 60% alcohol. For every one shot that she had I’d have three - she said that this made things fair!! Once my Chinese started to get better and we were able to have conversations I found her very inspirational. She has been through the wars… and I literally mean she has been through the wars!
- Born in 1927 she remembers clearly the Japanese invasion of China. I watched a movie with her once called “1942” which was about the invasion and she wasn’t able to talk for a few hours afterwards. The things she saw still haunt her to this day.
- At the age of 16 she was a child bride, this was common at the time but 3 days after she was married, they embarked on the traditional trip back to the bride’s home, her husband was caught and executed. She doesn’t know the real reasons for his execution but knows it was political and China was in the midst of a famine so crimes were rampant.
- At the age of 18 she married again. Having been married previously tradition dictates that she was would not have a good marriage as it was frowned upon to remarry or to marry a widow. However, this time she married an older man with whom she had 5 children and was sometimes hungry but always happy. (She actually found out years later... he was married and had kids in another province... talk about history!)
- In the 60’s the Communist Party under Mao started the Red Guard which has been described as band of thugs that would go against anyone who was an independent thinker, sympathetic to the nationalist party or spoke ill of the ‘great leader’. Her husband was one of these men and a member of the nationalist party. Fearing for the lives of his wife and kids, he ran away to save them from the beatings and shame they would have to face. For years she did everything that she could to make their lives a little better, she worked where she could, sold what she could and helped who she could to get food and clothing for her 5 children.
- After the death of Mao in 76, China began to open up. Under Deng Xiao Peng, capitalism with a communist flavour started to present opportunities for those brave enough to try new things. She encouraged her children to go into the world and look for these opportunities and they did.
- In the 80’s she began to have grandchildren to look after, she stayed at home and minded them while her children started to make money in the new capitalist world. The stories of her home, traditional medicine, ear piercing and home made shoes are amazing, not to mention the toys made from bones!
- The 90’s was a time for great economic growth in China. There was food, money and she got to travel with her children and grandchildren. Her hard work and perseverance had paid off, her children had done well, her grandkids were happy and doing well in school and she finally began to relax a little.
- 2016 she was blessed with her first "Yang Wa Wa" translated to mean "foreign doll", my daughter. Watching them interact is truly beautiful.
I met her in 2006, as a friend of her granddaughter, we hit it off despite a language barrier and the 50-something years between us. I looked forward to Saturday evenings, her cooking was amazing and it was always good fun. When I proposed to her granddaughter in 2007, the family were completely against the idea of a foreigner marrying into the family, there were long conversation, interrogations and some not so nice comments made until she stepped in and, as the matriarch of the family, stated that if we wanted to marry we had her blessing - in the family she is like royalty and as such her word was not questioned again after that. (Can you spot me in the pic? I don't half standout!)
To this day she asks me to sit beside her at all family dinners, she still cooks my favourite dishes and she likes to see me getting drunk before a few games of Mahjong - apparently she wants to be buried with presents that I have bought her for the afterlife (not sure what that’s about but it is flattering all the same!)
Spending time with the family in China was great fun but I have to say, seeing the Granny, the original rebel girl, hit the big 90 was very special AND to see her, Shannon and Jade together was a complete joy and I’m looking VERY forward to seeing them all together again soon.