A Good Education for my Child

Lucy Wang, China

A bowl of bananas

We met Lucy Wang in a restaurant in Yangshuo, where she was on a tour with her colleagues from the American company in which she has a job. We talked in a hotel in Yangshuo, but she lives and works in Shenzhen, where we later visited Lucy in her modern apartment.

In the morning I hurry to my job, the bus is usually very crowded, and I start working at 8:30. I work for a foreign company, so I am very busy. I think about how to improve my job efficiency, and I think about if the things I do are valuable for me, for the company and for other people as well. - I often think about the values of my life.

I wish to take more responsibility than I do in my current job. I work as a customer service representative, this means that I support business by managing the supply pipe from forecast to delivery. We sell material, which is used to produce things of plastic. I leave work at 5:30 in the afternoon; many people in Shenzhen work overtime, so I am lucky not to do so.

My husband and I eat in the cafeteria at our jobs from Monday to Thursday. In the weekends we eat at home or in restaurants. Shenzhen is an immigration city with many young people, so we go out more than other Chinese do. Twenty years ago the city was just a small village. It was intended to become a window for high tech and market economy for all of China, but it has become a workshop for Hong Kong, Korea and Taiwan. People come to have a better chance in life.

In the weekends we also shop, play badminton, swim and play cards with friends. We have bought an expensive apartment, but we have no car. Buying an apartment means saving money, while buying a car means spending money. In China paying an apartment will usually require ten years saving for an upper middle class couple.

My husband and I are middle school classmates, and we go home to visit our parents in Sichuan province every Chines New Year, or they come to see us. We can afford air tickets because our salaries are higher than most Chinese.

Some parents move in with their children, when they buy an apartment in another city, especially if they have kids. We don't have any children, and our parents do not live with us. Living together with your parents is not always pleasant, because it can be difficult to maintain good relations, but it is a long tradition in China, and it saves money and helps the parents not to feel lonely, when they grow old.

My husband and I have considered buying another small apartment in the same area for his parents. Fortunately my father does not want to live with us, but if he gets ill, I will of course help him. When my mother had a serious stroke, our family spent all its savings on her expensive treatment. The two years, my mother was ill is the most painful time in my life. When we decided to move her to a better hospital in a larger city, she lisped: "I won't go to that hospital, we can't afford it." These were her only words for two weeks.

Most young people in Shenzhen send money back home no matter whether their parents are rich or poor, because it means something to the parents, and because in Shenzhen salaries are generally four times better than in inland cities. But in inland cities many parents give money to their children especially now, because some young people are unemployed, while their parents have a pension. I myself have a medical insurance and retirement insurance through my company.

I wanted to have a bicycle

I was born as the second child in 1976, at that time the one child policy had started, but was not controlled very strictly, so I have a sister. My father worked as a doctor of western medicine, and my mother as an accountant in a large state run enterprise. Both men and women worked, because Mao wanted one hundred percent employment although the working efficiency was low.

Companies would provide apartment, garden, kindergarden and everything for their employees. My parents still live in the same apartment; after the introduction of market economy they paid a small sum for it, but they can't sell it.

I grew up in a traditional family, my parents were born in 1937, when they were young they considered Mao a god, and they still think communism is good. They belong to a generation that was proud, because they were poor and pure at heart; but people's relationships were probably better then than they are today. In the 1960's many Chinese died because of lack of food, but Mao refused to take money offered by the American government. My parents' generation are proud of this, but I think it was silly.

When I was four or five years old I wanted to have a bicycle, but our family could not afford one, although my parents had a good salary compared to other people. We ate cheap vegetables and only had pork two or three times a week, but I believe that the food was healthier. I had my first real ice cream when I was around nine years old. When I was ten I watched my first kung fu movie from Hong Kong, and thought, "wow it is so nice". Most families didn't have a television, but we had a black and white one, everybody talked about that movie.

When I was 15 years old I began to have some independent thoughts. At that time many families watched CCTV news at 7 p.m. while eating supper, but I didn't like it, because it didn't give any useful news. Now less and less people care about the countries big issues and politics except very old people, who maintain their habit of watching the news. In the 1980's market economy was introduced, before that everybody was just thinking one thing, but suddenly something new hit their minds. I like to watch news from Hong Kong, they show a transparent and highly efficient government, and they show ordinary citizens standing in the street expressing different opinions. Only the part of China where I live can receive television from Hong Kong.

Money for our education

My mother retired, when I was ten because she thought, that her pension would be the same as her salary. But in the 80's salaries rose very quickly, and as my mother had retired our income didn't rise, and we had to save money for my sister's and my education. So my family had an ice cream and a cigarette stand, but people felt shameful to do a thing like that at the time, because it was not considered appropriate to have a personal business. But it was an easy way to earn money, and our parents wanted us to have a university degree so we could go to an office and not a workshop. They did this although in Mao's time workers, farmers and soldiers had a high reputation.

Until 1990 most people were still assigned a job. When my sister went to university to study Chinese not many people could go. Most students came there by passing an entrance exam, and only few people paid university by themselves and found their own jobs. But this was changing when she finished her education, and my mother visited a lot of people and paid money to get her a better job. My sister went back to our hometown to teach this was her only possibility; at that time only very courageous people went to cities like Shenzhen.

I entered university in Chengdu in 1994 to study electronic science, by then many students paid for themselves, and the score at the entrance exam could be lower, so it was easier for me. It can still give an advantage to have powerful parents when you look for a job, as they may help you to find employment in your hometown. But because my husband and I graduated from a famous university, and because we are quite intelligent, we were able to find jobs ourselves. The university arranged meetings with companies, and I got a job in Nanjing. The company had been privatised but still worked like a state run enterprise.

We were only ordinary friends then, but our relationship got more serious. We found jobs in Shenzhen and began living together without being married. This would not have been possible ten years ago, and my parents probably would not have liked it if they knew. My boyfriend found a job in an excellent telecommunications company. I found work in a small personally owned company, where we only had basic insurance; some of my friends who work for personal companies in inland cities have no insurance at all. But I was lucky to get a job in a large American firm six months later. Now our lives go better and better because our salaries get better and better.

When we married our parents had a banquet for their friends and we had one for our friends, and as the tradition is, the guests gave us money. I had a white Western and a red Chinese wedding dress. Most young Chinese find their own partners, but some parents may still wish to influence their child's choice of a partner.

I think about my future

I think a lot about my future, but have not found a clear course yet. One possibility is to go on like now and give birth to a child. My husband and I are satisfied with our jobs, and he gets very good pay. We know that we should improve, be competitive and get promotions. So another way would be to study, but we don't want to study in China, we want to go abroad and have a better education. This will however cost us ten years savings in China, and we would have to sell the apartment. Even going to Hong Kong to study would be expensive. Therefore this course seems difficult. We can also try to earn more money by making a small investment for instance buying an apartment and selling it later.

Our firm has some short term training, at present the chances usually go to people from Singapore, Hong Kong or Japan, but the Chinese get better and better, so this may change.

Our income now is enough to give a child average food and clothes, but not an education abroad, and we want to do that. On the other hand it is not a good thing to be old when you give birth and I am 28 now. I really wish to have a child, but I also want to be able to give it a good education and life quality. My husband and I do not care if we have a boy or a girl; this may be different for people in the villages.

China is improving in most areas, but we still worry about some things. Economic growth is important, our high technology products should be more competitive in the world market. Corruption and the large difference between rich and poor are also important issues. Farmers come to the cities to build beautiful, new houses for other people; in our eyes their life in the city is miserable, but still it is better than staying in the villages.

We can not build a good society and international cities in that way. If we don't do something to improve the living standard for the population at large and for the poorest people, China will end up being another Brazil. Foreigners always challenge China about its democracy, but most Chinese don't think much about that, probably because we have not had a democracy for thousands of years. Still I think that if political reforms don't follow the market reforms, it will cause problems in the long run. It is important that we have a legal system that suits the changes in the economy, and this is part of democracy building. If the other systems don't follow the economy can not go on improving.

It is good to work in international firms because of the wages and the insurance, but international firms still only place their workshop floors in China, so we don't reach the core of their business. Working in good state run Chinese companies is also good, because the core processes are in this country. It is important to China to develop quality products and a good reputation in the world market, so that we don't only do the simple work that pays relatively low salaries.

Honestly I don't know what China will be, and what I will be after some decades. Development in the last ten years has been so rapid, that there is a great difference between my sister's life and my life, although she is only six years older than I am.

November 2004

Return to Intercultural Dialogue