Recalling a maiden in the Qin Dynasty like a grass leaf in a thousand-li distance

gender bias the edit issue 5 Dec 02, 2019

Recalling a maiden in the Qin Dynasty like a grass leaf in a thousand-li distance 

In London,/ a multicultural city, lives a Chinese woman./ The Chinese woman enjoys her exploration in books and words here,/ like riding a horse on a boat./ In retrospect of the past decay,/ she cheers herself up with her dream of being an idiot for long,/ with joy and tears./ The tears are shed/  for both the departures from/ and encounters of the known and the unknown./

 (written on October 4th, 2017 in London)

It is pleasant to read articles in THE EDIT and to learn about what it means to be women working in the sector. However, when it comes to writing something about my experience, I feel confused and a bit fearful about how to express my joys and sorrows over the process of pursuing my identity as a woman in multiple roles in contemporary China. Actually I am anxious and overwhelmed with the question if I have found another me inside through the English language, other than my mother tongue, the Chinese language. The two languages have given me double perspectives to view myself, though not in an equal or balanced way. With a complex of feelings, such as happiness, elation, gratitude, serendipity, loneliness, doubts and depression and pains, I may try to borrow 3 H (Hard work, Horizon, Headway) to encourage myself by means of English writing this time.

 Hard work

The first H is hard work. Without hard work, I may have had no chance to write for the EDIT at the moment. Without hard work, I may have had no idea of knowing about myself as a woman. Up to now, I feel greatly grateful for the opportunity of spending a year studying “blindly” and freely at UCL as a visiting researcher from Chengdu Sport University in 2017, as I had had little idea about what kind of life could be to study at a world-known global university in London before. I understand that it is mainly due to my hard work of years’ study and teaching that I could be able to stand out and win the scholarship in the university at first and choose London, a city of culture, history and innovation as my destination for exploration. Thanks to my hard work, I could manage to finish my project and achieve my dream of “you 游”(“a carefree and playful roaming”, or “travel into foreign or unknown space”, or “enjoy a leisurely activity”)like Zhuangzi (a Chinese philosophical Daoist in the 4th Century BC).

2017, 2018 and 2019, or even the past three decades have witnessed a tremendous change in my life through hard work and some overturns in my mindset: from an innocent girl living in a secluded town in the rural southwest Hunan province to an earnest student at Sichuan university in Chengdu, from a common English teacher at Chengdu Sport University (CDSU), to a global traveler during the working periods and vacations and to a visiting researcher at UCL and an explorer and experimentalist of my ideas about learning community building in CDSU and my neighbouring communities now. 

I, a common person, could start from a marginal and unknown place and embrace a chance to approach the central stage of academic and intellectual professionals and get visible and integrated with international people on a wide variety of occasions in and out of China with possibilities of having my voice heard. I could still return back to my common role and continue my efforts about how to localize my ideas in my surroundings or further. The movements of getting unique contacts and connection with elites and grassroots at different levels in different places, and efforts of building a cycle of periphery-core-periphery as a slow academic and professional in the sector in China are mysterious and irresistible to me. 


The second H is horizon. Many places may have walls, but they are barricaded against ideas, thoughts,or even dreams. Although I grew up in a small town, I am luckily living in the era of peace and development that call for open minds along with the rapid social, economic, technological and cultural changes in China since last century. What I have done and the distances I have covered may have been 100 times or 1000 times of what many of my female peers do, let alone my mother and my unknown grandmothers, grand grand mothers, who were illiterate and invisible in the chaotic history for over thousands of years but strong, creative and also bonded by the traditional Chinese culture and their social situations. Unlike my parents (Papa was deprived of his university education due to the political turmoil in the 1950's for over 20 years and Mama had only 2 year fundamental education in the 1960's. They didn’t meet and get married until the end of 1979), I am better-educated in a systematic and successive way from my primary school to universities. Have I revealed that my father is a survival of the Red Cultural Revolution in the 1950's-1970's? In spite of his wronged life as a prisoner during the “blind years”, he is a witness of many historic turmoils, like the WWII in China, Reform and Opening up and the new 21st century.

I am the only child to my parents who are now in their 80's and 70's. However, I could feel strong disappointment and indifference about being a girl from my father since my childhood, at the time he was a kind of old-styled Chinese intellectual still rooted in traditional Chinese culture as the eldest son in the family clan and had expected to have a son for the family aspirations in spite of his bitter memories of the past. Although my mother was half-illiterate thanks to early educational efforts after 1949, she is kind and creative to learn from the nature and from the local conventions and traditions as other women do. I even thumbed through the ancient genealogy book of my family sacredly in this summer and happened to find that there were several women of moral integrity granted by the previous imperial courts. A lot of time travel between the history and modern times, between the closeness and the otherness, I am always fragmented with clashes of values, cultures and identities, and those faraway “role models” in my blood.

Poetic language seems to be a doomed pathway for me to meet modern female role models in other worlds and broaden my horizon about the beauty of being a lovely and interesting woman. Through studies and exploration, I have got consistent inspirations from Christina Georgina Rossetti, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, to the English translation of Chinese female poets, like Xue Tao 薛涛(768~832) and Li Qingzhao 李清照 (1084-1155) who are my favorite female Chinese poets but also cast some shadow about the dilemma for many women in China in the struggle of obtaining some insights and expressive power in the male-dominated world and being driven to their unhappy ends despite their literary and expressive power.

The visibility of these female poets form a sharp contrast with overwhelming male dominance even nowadays. The International Poetry Week, Chengdu on Sept. 6th was a case in point. It was delightful that many female poets and poetry translators and artists were invited and attracted to the event, but it was still a reality that the poems on the show were all from male poets either in or out of China, as women barely had opportunities to get educated and heard and recorded in the history for centuries and only male poets’ name were celebrated on the stage: Du Fu, Li Bai, Lu You, Huang Tingjian( they are ancient Chinese poets), Jidi Majia ( contemporary Chinese poet), Aiqing (modern), Gaoyuanhong (post-85's young Chinese poet), and also foreign poets, like Czesław Miłosz, Pablo Neruda, Odysseus Elytis, Ataol Behramoğl, Bengt Berg, and so on, at the time. All of them are male, but there were more female MCs, singers and dancers and musicians. All those add poetic and dramatic power to my horizon about reality and humanity.

Besides, intensive exposures to people of different cultural, racial and religious backgrounds in London and Chengdu also expand my horizon. I can’t forget 2017 when I got kind help and encouragement about my research on a male-dominated topic (taijiquan, a kind of Chinese martial arts) from many female friends, such as Emma, Tuanqi, Deborah, Miko Shimizu at CenTraS; Prof. Dilly Fung and Prof. Huang Ju, Dr. Xu Zhuqing, Ms Faye Li (female promoter and coach of Taijiquan in the UK) and so. And the unforgettable workshops at KX base at UCL Enterprise with Helene Panzarino and other entrepreneurs with their venture projects, where I also met Susi and Akiko.

In 2019, I got my interests in gender issues refreshed during the talks with Dr. Linda Borish from the Western Michigan Uni, whose encounters in gender equality and inequality in the research on sports history and achievements also fueled my determination to be a better academic in the field of traditional Chinese sports culture, in spite of my gender. And the wonderful meets with Dr. Eva from CIT, Ms Sheila Purves from Canada, Dr. Paulina Schiappacasse from Germany in different workshops and forums about rehabilitation, health, children’s development, caring services, community planning and design, and cultural exchange in July and August seem kind of linkages for me to follow their roles in being more confident, innovative and caring with a broader horizon about life, health, world and love as a woman.

I got aware of being a woman rather than “an incomplete man” or “an accidental being” when I talked to, worked with and joined in a kind of collective journey of both professional and spiritual development with academic women. I realized that to people, especially women with a broader horizon, open minds and inclusive attitude enhance my belief that we all can do more and enjoy ourselves in such a new era for exchanges not discrimination, for inclusion not exclusion, for coexistence not conflict, in spite of gender differences. And I am positive that I am getting stronger, prouder and more mature to be an individual academic and professional in HE in Chengdu at now. 


The third H is headway. It cannot be denied that I am still making reflections upon a 20 year long journey departing from my birthplace for my university life as a student, teacher, researcher, and project leader since 1999. I am still making headway to face the rapid and profound changes and challenges in our urban life with more connections but less communications in the digital age. For a long time, like many of colleagues, I felt comfortable about or accustomed to the fixed and traditional lecturing and working style of being a teacher like a master or a boss in the class and an obedient employee in the office, with little awareness of going further and beyond the “safe zone”, in spite of my keen desire or hunger for information, good ideas and knowledge. I was a kind of “loser when playing on our own”, within a secluded and conservative community with self-contentment and frustrations about unknown future.

Since 2010, the first year of the mobile internet era in China, easy and equal access to online information has brought tremendous changes to billions of Chinese people, especially many women, who could get many things and connections with others for their pursuit of happiness and better life. I was still confined to my senior parents and the struggle for a life and a self-discovery through teaching, reading, translation, travels, and purchasing a flat for my settlement in the city. I was not that close and long enough to the academic circle until I attended some academic forums, meets outside the campus and arrived at the CenTraS, UCL. I appreciated all kinds of encouragement and inspirations of professors and doctors from other cities or countries and realized that I was timid and not confident to face the fact that my mentor at Sichuan University passed away in 2006 before my graduation and I had some biased opinion and ignorance about sports science and other social issues and failed to take care of my parents and myself.

However, I still keep on moving forward. I am proud that I didn’t abandon my efforts to found the English Joy Club in 2015 and encourage 5 volunteer students with shared aspirations to run it into a pool of innovation, devotion, and passion via the mini semi-bilingual wechat public platform for the need of sharing and helping in my Department at CDSU in 2017 after my father’s hospitalization and before my departure to the UK. The club is lively with an increase of new members. I could understand more about the separation between body and soul due to radically faster mobility in urban and modern life, and also the confusion about being a man and a woman as a whole for years….

I am happy to realise that taijiquan, a kind of Chinese martial arts and sports, has become my lifelong focus and guide for my future academic career and aethsetic life. I am more confirmative that I am making headway for my academic career now in the field of translation between English and Chinese, traditional sports culture, cross-cultural communication, global history, events and project management and so on, in spite of many handicaps and barriers. Finally, I am grateful that I could transform fragments of memories and desire of writing in English into action with a sense of design and with my own road map clearer for the journey of being a woman in HE. 

Attached are some poems (Chinese Ci) I composed respectively in my hometown, London and Chengdu. I think, poetry, as a most spiritual art form of humans, can build and enhance a bridge of friendship among people of different cultural backgrounds in an entertaining way. ( pinyin is added above the characters in case that anyone wants to feel about the sound effects of the Chinese language.)



Lovesickness on the Floral Day   (written on March 12th, 2017 in Anjiang, Hunan Province)

Mountains loomed in mist and fog, / And the river was overwhelmed with new flows./ The drizzle saw me say goodbye to my kith and kin,/ who cheered up with reluctance./   How lucky it is/ to leave on the birthday of flowers!/ If you are still in doubt of when my journey home will be,/ please look at the swallows, who know the route to their old nestles every spring./


Butterflies in Love with Flowers, a gift and goodbye poem to Prof. Theo Hermans    

 (written on March 8th, 2018 in London, a week before my return to Chengdu )

How time flies as a year’s gone in a blink! The sky is clear with pale clouds and light breezes, just before my home journey back to China. The memories of the first meet with you, my mentor and friend, are still fresh and enlightening.

After desperate searches and researches in libraries and public places in the UK, I, a clumsy learner of language and culture, realize that Taiji is what I can find myself belong to. This is also attributed to you, my dear Sir with wisdom, as your consistant questioning and critical thinking waken me to be true and brave.


An ode to myself before the 2019 International Poetry Week in Chengdu

After a root-seeking journey in my birth province for a taste of dark tea and tea poems in the past, I bid a farewell to the wonderful family time there, and find myself contented and determined with a poetic mind to embrace the life in Tianfu, Chengdu, the Land of Abundance.

The past two decades witnesses my lucky adventures over long distances to places along with songs and solitude, and anyone I encounter anywhere can bring about joy and wisdom to me. 


Jin Yan (1982-), female, born in Huaihua, Hunan, China. Lecturer of English reading and writing and researcher in the field of culture and translation studies in the Centre for Culture and Translation Studies in the School of of Foreign Languages at Chengdu Sport University. She obtained her MA degree of translation theories and practice in Sichuan University, China, in 2006. Since then she has engaged in English teaching for a variety of age groups and university students in Chengdu for over ten years and got involved in language services,training for Chengdu-based international sport event organizing teams and published some articles about English teaching, translation and culture in China. From 2017- 2018, she has an academic stay at the Centre for Translation Studies, UCL, as a visiting researcher with her funded project about the Research on Sports in Cross-cultural communication and translation: An overview of the dissemination of taijiquan to Britain in 2017 under the mentorship of Prof. Theo Hermans and Prof. Jorge Diaz-Cintas. After years reflection and unforgettable travels to many Chinese cities and universities, North America and European countries, she finds writing and taijiquan are her lifetime approach to her spiritual exploration. As an experiment, a witness and even a builder of changes in her communities and places she hopes to listen to her inner voice and help more Chinese women's voices heard in story telling.