Pingyao, Wedding

Pingyao Wedding


On a typical rainy September day in Pingyao we visit the  wedding of Ma Zhiai  (bride) and Wu Huabing (groom).


Pingyao Wedding


In the morning the groom visited the bride’s home to meet her relatives, prepare for the wedding and have lunch with the guests. When we arrive, workers are disassembling inflatable arches on the street that marked the walking route of the wedding couple to the bride’s home.


Pingyao Wedding


A few hundred meters further to the east, the groom’s home is being prepared for the second part of the wedding day. A big inflatable gate with golden elephants on both sides marks the entrance to the street of the groom’s home. In the courtyard of the house a stage has been setup where local artists sing festive songs.  Because of the heavy rain, there is no audience in front of the stage; everybody stays inside the house.


Pingyao Wedding


When the couple enters the house, the bride is wearing a festive red wedding dress and the groom a dark suit with a pink tie. Under the groom’s suit collar there is a paper with imitation gold ingots and coins, folded to the outside in the shape of a little crown. It is an old tradition, but when asked, the elderly people do not know exactly why they do this, they just know that in order to ward off evil they have to do this.


Pingyao Wedding


Pingyao Wedding


Pingyao Wedding


Pingyao Wedding


Pingyao Wedding


Pingyao Wedding


Pingyao Wedding


Pingyao Wedding


Pingyao Wedding


Pingyao Wedding


At this point all of the groom’s family elders have to hide, not to see the bride, because the bride has to recognize every relative. The groom went through a similar test in the morning at the bride’s home. After the bride and groom have finished their made up they enter the lobby of the main building where two straight-backed chairs are setup for a tribute. Behind the chairs are two men sitting behind a table. They take care of collecting and administering the (financial) gifts to the wedding couple.


Pingyao Wedding


Pingyao Wedding


The bride and groom are standing in front of the chairs. Family of the groom will appear one by one, or if married, couple by couple. The groom introduces the family by the type of kin (e.g. “cousin”) and the bride will greet them with their names. Gifts are received as plain cash or as cash in red envelopes. If relatives are older, the bride and groom should also bow while addressing them. To spite the new wife, some older family members will let the couple wait a while before showing up. The process is quite lengthy and takes almost an hour.


Pingyao Wedding


Pingyao Wedding


As the last family members to pay respect to, the groom’s parents appear. The father must be dressed as a traditional character, such as the Monkey King or a pig. His relatives will dress him up and will paint his face in a clown’s make-up. The outfit is further decorated with a big red flower and a banana with two bell peppers symbolize his male productive organs. This whole process is called “pa hui” (*) and is meant to make the father of the groom realize that the bride is not just a girl he could fall in love with anymore, but that he should know that she is his daughter now. At the same time, the way the father is dressed and made-up “ugly” should prevent the bride feeling attracted to him on this wedding day.  The mother of the groom also gets some make-up, but this is for fun and has no traditional meaning.


Pingyao Wedding


Pingyao Wedding


Pingyao Wedding


Pingyao Wedding


Pingyao Wedding


After the meeting with the groom’s parents, the ceremony has ended. The couple and the guests will go to a restaurant for a festive dinner and after that the bride and groom will be sent to their own room in the house of the groom’s parents.


Pingyao Wedding


Text: Xie Bing

(*) 扒灰, “pa hui”, literally means “incest between father-in-law and daughter-in-law”  



Nanjing, M.O.E. Maid Coffee

M.O.E. Maid Coffee


M.O.E. Maid Coffee is located on Ruyi Li. A street name translated by my assistant as “dolls street”. A literal translation of “ruyi” could be “as one wishes” (adjective) or, in this case more likely, refer to an S-shaped ornamental object that was usually made of jade and used as a symbol of good luck. “Li” translates as “neighborhood”.


M.O.E. Maid Coffee


M.O.E. Maid Coffee, it is not only a café where female staff serves coffee, but also a place to play board games. Visitors are welcomed by a girl in maid clothes with greetings in Japanese.


M.O.E. Maid Coffee


The store owner is a 28-year-old young man, who introduces himself as “zhai”, a Chinese translation of Otaku (a Japanese term that refers to people with obsessive interests in anime and manga). According to my assistant, obviously more knowledgeable in the anime and manga sub-culture, he really complies with the character of an Otaku; he is very shy, uses few words and is obsessed with Japanese animation and related board games. Before opening his café, he used to work at an advertising agency for 2 years.


The business is very good he says and, although had has moved the location of his business three times since he started in 2009, he has a loyal group of customers – all of them anime fans – that come to play board games regularly.


M.O.E. Maid Coffee


The “Maid” is the biggest selling point of the store; lace scarf, black dress, white apron, knee stockings, with a slightly exaggerated “kawaii” (cute) makeup; all elements copied from the Japanese anime . Most of the dresses are tailor-made, sometimes bought by the girls themselves, for they are fans of Japanese anime and love the Cosplay (short for “costume play”; usually related to anime, video games or cartoons and very popular in Asia).


Zhai started his business in 2009 because of his love for the Japanese anime. “I got the idea of opening such a shop when I was still a student. I believed I knew the needs of the guests” .


M.O.E. Maid Coffee


“If people come here to play board games, they should, next to the price for coffee and snacks,  pay a fee for the games: for 20 RMB per person they can play as long as they like. Apart from this, if you want a maid girl to play with you, you should pay another 26 RMB per hour. The girls will get a commission on the 26 RMB per hour. We have customers who will come specifically for a special girl.”


“There are about 8 to 9 waitresses in total, but only 2 or 3 at the same time, for all of them are part-time, and most of them are students. Their salary is 8 RMB per hour.”


M.O.E. Maid Coffee


When asked about the planning for the future, Zhai says: “It is not so clear, I just wish more people will like it here and come to relax themselves. Apart from board games, we host many activities, for example during the Christmas Day we will host a party with singers and, of course, Cosplay. “




Nanjing, Qijiawan “BanQian”

Nanjing, Qijiawan



QIJIAWAN, NANJING, MARCH 2013. We spot two giant characters “搬迁” (“BanQian” – “remove”) on Mr. Yang Guoshun’s house. These characters, like everywhere else in China, indicate that the house has been designated for demolition; most likely to make way for a new real-estate development project.


Next to the door, on a wall made of wooden planks, we see sentences written with chalk in the traditional top-down direction:

“It is easy to deprive the public for the sake of the government’s own interests. It is hard to serve the public for the sake of the people’s inviolable rights. (Lao Xuan, Republic of China)”

“Despite its shabbiness, our house is the sanctuary protecting us from bitter winds and rains. Despite its smallness, our house is the relic weathering political changes from Nationalist to Communist. (Yang Guoshun)”

“If the ruler himself is upright, nobody goes against his will even though he does not give orders. If he himself is not upright, nobody follows his leadership even though he forces his orders. (The Analects)”



Nanjing, QiJiaWan



Since he was born, Yang Guoshun, a 68-year-old Hui (a predominantly Muslim ethnic group in China), has lived in his one-story house in Ganyu Alley. As he once worked in the department of city constructions in his working place, he appears to be better educated than other residents here. The brick-concrete structured house has a history of more than 100 years. Mr. Yang tells us that before the government’s removal plans, the three generations of his family all lived here. His children and grandchildren lived in the small attic built on top of the house.


When the removal started 3 years ago, they moved out, leaving Mr. Yang in this house alone. Even though the officials have ordered him to move out for 5 times, he never followed the order. He insists that his house is a cultural relic, which should be protected rather than removed by the government. Mr. Yang shows us a document to the Department of Cultural Relics Preservation, complaining about the damage caused by the removal activity to his house.



Nanjing, Qijiawan



According to Mr. Yang, the neighborhood is the gathering place of Hui people in Nanjing. The number of households has declined from 4,200 three years ago to 1,300 today. Without an effective leadership and a united organization, he says, they are taking the pains to prevent the unjustifiable removal activity all in their own manner. They hope the government will show concern for the real interests of the residents here, rather than merely expelling them from their living place.


Mr. Yang provides some materials he has collected in order to support his complaint. The government’s removal plan is not only for the improvement of the city’s image, but also serves the goal to establish a tourist spot in this area. Named “Jiangnan 72 Workshops”, the planned tourist spot will be built in an antique style based on the ancient “Ming 18 Workshops”. With this program, the government wishes to reconstruct the image of the old Nanjing and display the time-honored Jiangnan cultures. One of the documents Mr. Yang shows contains a promise of the government that they will provide 3000 apartments for the remaining 1350 households.



Nanjing, Qijiawan



Yang Guoshun believes the so-called “Jiangnan 72 Workshops” is merely an excuse of the government. He questions the justifiability of the program: “Why does the government enlarge the number of workshops from 18 to today’s 72? Because it is a lie! Because the government wants to auction more land for money!”  Also, he insists that the process of removal is unwarranted, because the removal began before the approval of the “Jiangnan 72 Workshops” plan. He says that he, and the other remaining residents, crave for being listened to and respected, rather than being taking advantage of in the interest of increasing profits for the government.


“My job was closely related to city construction, so I may know more about this area,” Mr. Yang tells us. “The usual measures to settle residents who lost their properties are to allocate new apartments to them or to give a certain amount of money for compensation. The standard of compensation, which hasn’t changed the last 3 years, is 7,000 RMB per m2.” The residents have been informed that in the upcoming new round of the removal activity, they still will be compensated based on this old standard. Most of the residents who accepted the house allocation measure are suffering from poor living conditions. The apartments provided by the government are all located in the remote suburb areas. What is worse, many of those who accepted the money compensation are still homeless today.



Nanjing, Qijiawan



At this time, Mr. Zhao, a middle-aged man joins our talk. Mr. Yang introduces him to us: “This is my neighbor. He has a lot to tell you.” Mr. Zhao tells that he used to belong to the Hui people, but later changed into Han (i.e. he is not a Muslim anymore).


“I slept on the side of the road during 1970s,” Mr. Zhao says, “There were six people in my family. We all slept without a shelter. The government expelled me to the countryside and then deprived my property. When I came back to my living place, I had no right to step into my own house any more. Therefore, I had to sleep by the road every night for 10 years.” According to him, all his family could afford was a piece of uncomfortable matting.


He continues to recall the living conditions then: “Even in the coldest winter, my parents, my younger brothers and sisters had to sleep by the road, right here in the prosperous Baixia District. At that time, nobody ever asked us to leave. Nobody ever showed little concern about our living conditions. Do you have any idea about what we ate then? We ate the scraps from the garbage and the unfinished dishes from the restaurants. The government seemed to be blind for our conditions.” He tells us that in Nanjing, about 170, 000 people were living in the same conditions at the time.


Mr. Zhao explains why they had no place to live: “In the city, our house was bought by the government. They forced us to receive the so-called re-education for the poor and peasants. In order to comply with the appeal of the government, we gave up the life in the city and went to the countryside. When we arrived there, we realized that we still could not have our own house. The properties were possessed by the rural government, not by us. They had all kinds of dishes on their dinners, while we could only have wheat every meal.”



Nanjing, Qijiawan



According to Mr. Zhao, he was poorly educated. He dropped out in his fourth grade in primary school. He says: “I did not have the right to go to school. When we were expelled to the countryside, I was at the age of ten. Over one decade of my life was wasted in the countryside.” He is almost unable to read and write. He sighs: “People like me, who are almost illiterate, have been abandoned and forgotten by this society. We are thought to be inferior. Without a decent education background, we are now thought to be the most humble class. We are thought to be nothing.” He smiles bitterly: “Everyone has to grow, isn’t it? I have been forcing myself to be tougher.”


Mr. Zhao does not have a stable job. He earns money by picking and selling garbage and doing a small business called “danbang”. According to Mr. Yang, the so-called “danbang” is to sell goods from Nanjing to people in other cities and make money on the price difference. Mr. Zhao complains: “Most people here, who are not intellectually and physically competent, can hardly find a job in today’s society. You must think it is a shame that I haven’t had a job for over 30 years. I spend my days outside all day long to find some minor jobs. I feel myself like seaweed without a root. I feel my life is even more wretched than that of a cow or a horse.” However, Mr. Zhao manages to pay money for his social security account, and hence will be able to receive a pension every month after he turns 60 years old.



Nanjing, Qijiawan



Mr. Zhao is married and has a daughter who is 21 years old. She is a sophomore student majoring in graphic and 3D animation design. He says: “The only thing that can give me joy and hope is to see my little girl grow up day by day. Yet when I walk out of the door into the hopeless society, I become depressed again.” He does not know what his daughter will do in the future. Neither does he know how to help her. He worries that she may not be as tough as he is, and may not be able to survive all the bleak conditions.


“In the past, we could not stuff ourselves and possess our own houses, whereas now nothing has changed. The government has begun to destroy our houses and force us to go back to the countryside again. It seems that the history is repeating itself,” Mr. Zhao says, “This house was taken by my family from the government in 1981. I love it. However, the government wants me to leave. Honestly, I myself don’t know what I have to think and what I am going to do. Should I leave or stay? I don’t know. I just love it here.”

Mr. Zhao is rather angry that the government is going to force them again far away from the city. He sighs: “If we agree to move there, we will lose the only ways of supporting ourselves. We’ve already been living in the hell of the society, but life there will be even more wretched.” Mr. Zhao and the other residents are so clear about it, because their old neighbors who have moved out are struggling in miserable conditions. Many of them haven’t found a shelter yet.



Nanjing, Qijiawan



In spite of the possible trouble this interview will bring to them, they all allow us to put it on the Internet. Mr. Zhao says: “I’ m not afraid of death. To me, death will bring me to the heaven, where I can enjoy my life eventually.” The other residents agree with him. Mr. Yang states: “We show our patriotism to this country by virtue of defending our own rights. Imagine a country where the ordinary people dare not to challenge the privilege and supervision of the government. Without any control, the public power in this country will turn into a monster, trampling on the dignity and pride of the people. Consequently, the monster will exhaust people’s faith in this country and jeopardize the stability of this regime. “


The residents concertedly believe that if the public power and interrelations continue to override legislation, the lower class will never be treated equally in this society, let alone realize the ideal of a harmonious society. “To enjoy the sunshine, we have to remove the dark clouds.”


Mr. Zhao now invites us to his home. Before we leave we notice some interesting small works of art and several animals like turtles and a cricket in Mr. Yang’s house. Mr. Yang smiles and says: “We Chinese know to pursue the beauty of ordinary life, however tough life itself is.”



Nanjing, Qijiawan



Mr. Zhao then guides us to his home. His house, which is located in another alley near Pingshi Street, is officially as big as 14.4 m2. Apart from the legally registered area, he has built another three illegal rooms. At the time everybody did this and the government did not mind. Now however, the area of the rooms that are not registered is excluded from the removal compensation.


Pingshi Street was called Pishi Street in the ancient times, which means the market of animal leather trade. The majority of houses here enjoy a history of more than 100 years. A middle aged woman tells us: “Pingshi Street used to be the golden section in Nanjing, even more prosperous than today’s downtown Xinjiekou. However, four years of removal has ruined all the landscape here. Hundreds of thugs walk around every day, in an effort to “convince” the families to move out!” The woman denies that the government will offer reasonable compensation programs. She along with her neighbors refuses to leave their home to the outskirts, where they can find no job at all. “We won’t give up. We have filed our petition last year to Premier Wen Jiabao, and we will continue this effort until the final victory.”


When we leave the Qijiawan area, we pass the front gate of a former campus on Dingxin Road.  “The Command Center of Removal” is written on the gate. A passer-by gives us his opinion on the removal activity: “Houses here are too old, shabby and dangerous for people to live; I see no reason for preservation.”



Nanjing, Qijiawan


Another post on the Qijiawan area can be found here.



Nanjing, Mr. Gong Hongjian

Boats on the Yangtze river


In the remote western area of Hexi, a new urban district in the west of Nanjing, runs a narrow branch of the Changjiang (Yangtze) River. Ships and boats, big or small, are moored alongside the river. On one boat, we see Mr. and Mrs. Yu, who welcome us aboard.


Mr. Yu, 65 years old, has been a fisherman for the last forty years. Compared to the earlier days, he is catching fewer and fewer fish these days. According to him, the heavy contamination in the Yangtze River is to blame for the decrease of fish. With the Qinhuai River, which flows through the downtown area of Nanjing, flowing into the Yangtze a few hundred meters north, the Yangtze river has to receive tons of polluted water each day. Besides, he complains, the newly established residential area, which is half a mile away from the river, has aggravated the situation.



Mr. Gong, a friend of Mr. Yu, is the owner of the boat. He was born in 1958 in Xinyi, a county in the northern area of Jiangsu and moved to Nanjing in the 1970s. His parent’s generation made a living by fishing, whereas he left the fishing business and started work at a chemical plant, which gave him a better job security. After his retirement in 2006, he bought this 24 meters long boat for 30, 000 RMB to pick up fishing again.


The fishing boat is not his home, but his working and leisure place. Usually, Mr. Gong and his fellow fishermen fish in the morning and sell their spoils on the market in the afternoon. He likes to invite his friends to the boat to drink, play cards or to “chew the fat” now and then.



Also according to Mr. Gong, fish catches are not predictable anymore these days. However, fish of big sizes is still not rare. In a large container on the boat next to his, we see a big fish, which is almost one meter in length and weighs around 4 kilograms. Mr. Gong tells that one kilogram is worth at least 160 RMB on the market. He also shows some smaller fish which were caught in the morning. They will earn him 30 RMB per kilo. If they are lucky, they can catch wild carps, which can be sold at 200 RMB per kilo or more.


Apart from the fishing, Mr. Fong is an amateur craftsman who makes ship models from wood. For the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, he spent over two months to make two large models. Unfortunately, he did not finish his work before May and missed the deadline to denote the models to the IOC. Today, one ship is on the display in the hall of Nanjing Sports Bureau; the other is preserved in his private collection at home.



Since the ships were specially designed for the Beijing Olympics, they carried numerous meaningful symbols. They are both 2.08 meters in length, indicating the year of the event. They both have five masts, standing for the five continents that take part in the event. He engraved the Chinese Character “京” on the first mast, the Olympics flag on the second one and the map of China of the third; also the main one. On the roof of the three-story cabin in the middle of each ship, he carved four dragons, the well-known totem of China. On the rear deck, he placed a miniature bird’s nest which was also made by him.


Mr. Gong says he did everything he could do to donate his works. He asked the Nanjing Sports Bureau to negotiate with the IOC for many times, but the IOC declined him in the end. Only official donations rather than folk artworks were accepted after the month of May. Realizing that it was unlikely to donate the models to the IOC, he decided to present one of them to the Nanjing Sports Bureau.



Now, he has a bigger plan: to make a 2.14-meter-long model for the 2014 Nanjing Youth Olympics. He admitted that he was less passionate this time, because making a model in such size consumes both time and money. For example, to make the two models for the Beijing Olympics, he worked more than ten hours each day for two whole months. Since he pursued every detail of his works, he selected premium timber as material, which did cost him nearly 8,000 RMB.


Mr. Gong tells that he once cherished a dream of becoming a real craftsman. However, he soon found the dream to be a fantasy. Right after retirement, he decided to rent a room in the downtown area of Nanjing to sell his ship models. With only a handful of models sold, he quit after one year. He knew that the reason of failure were the high prices. For example, a simple model of 70 cm long was sold at 500 to 600 RMB. Considering time and money he had to spend, he believes such a price was reasonable. He shows us a model with a few decorations on it. “Even such a small model takes me a week,” he says, “I could spend the week fishing, which guarantees an income of at least six hundred. That’s why I now rather fish than making these models.”



Instead, Mr. Gong now takes making wooden ship models only as a hobby. He says he dares not to dream of someone buying his models at a considerable price any longer. That was the reason that he chose to donate, rather sell, his works to Nanjing Sports Bureau. He expected only the official recognition of his efforts. He felt sorry not being able to show us the photo of him and Xu Guoping, who was the managing director of Nanjing Museum and the child of the renowned Chinese painter Xu Beihong. “Now the simple wish of me is to win the recognition of people like him”, he says.


In the end, Mr. Gong says: “In the early years, I loved photographing, but I could not afford a car which could take me everywhere. Such was the same in my childhood; I loved school, but my family could not afford to pay for the tuition fee.”



Nanjing, Pastor Yin


Mr. Yin is the pastor at the Christianity Jiangsu Road Church.


He tells us that, though not in large scale, this church already has a history of over 60 years. It started in 1941 by some local Christians and changed its locations for three times from 1947 to 1999. During the period of Cultural Revolution (1966-1981) it was closed and occupied by the government for other uses. In 1999 it moved to the current location.


Mr. Yin was born in a small city in Jilin, a province in the northeastern part of China. He has been in Nanjing for 15 years and now has become a local here. He entered the Nanjing Union Seminary in 1996 and continued his graduate study to get his master’s degree in 2003. Asked why he came to such a faraway city to study theology, he explained that in China only the seminaries in Nanjing are recognized throughout the nation. According to him, seminaries in China can be classified into three levels, namely the national, provincial and municipal level. Comparatively, the nationwide seminaries enjoy more abundant teaching resources and more authoritative status.


Since priesthood is still a rare job in China, we are curious why he decided to study theology and chose it as his lifelong career. He tells us it was decided by his family and his experience of understanding Christianity. Because his parents are both pastors, he was exposed to religious culture at young age. During his teens, he felt that his life has been elevated by his belief and therefore he confirmed his willingness to believe in God. At the decisive crossroad of life where he had to choose his future career, he heard Jesus’ calling from inside and was determined to dedicate his life to God.


Last year, after being a preacher for six years, he was promoted to pastor. His main duties include preaching, giving services, dealing with the everyday affairs of the church, teaching religious knowledge to pastors of other churches and acting as the host of weddings and funerals. In the past, he says, some people taking part in the Christian funerals would mind abandoning the Chinese traditions like the burning of paper money. However, with more and more people beginning to respect the Christian rituals, these conflicts do not exist any longer.


Mr. Yin is also responsible for hosting the annual baptism ceremony. Usually, there is only one big open ceremony in July. For people with special needs, such as the elderly and the disabled, they go their homes for the baptism. Next to all these tasks, Mr. Yin acts as a consultant in the church. People come to him for various reasons. Some of them come to relieve their confusion in belief before deciding to become a Christian or convert to Christianity. Others come to solve their questions in reading and understanding the Bible. There are also people who come to ease their mental stresses caused by family, social relations or work. “It is estimated that in China 60% to 70% of the population have psychological problems to different extents,” he tells us, “so it is important for us to be their listeners and help them to live with love, hope and belief.



Talking of his family, the pastor shows a wide smile on his face. He got married in Nanjing and now has two daughters. The older is 7 years old, while the younger is a baby born in May 2012. They live a typical Christian life, praying before dinners and reading the bible before sleeping. “I am happy,” he says, “ to see my children grow in the blessing of the Lord.”


Mr. Yin is also excited to tell us about the development of Christianity in Nanjing. Twenty years ago, there were only 2,000 to 3,000 Christians in Nanjing, whereas the number has increased to 150,000 today. Most Christians here are protestant. He gives us two reasons to explain why the development of Christianity is going so fast in the past 20 years. The first is that everyone has a need for belief. In the Chinese society where dramatic reforms and changes are taking place, numerous values spring up. When exposed to the voices advocating individuality, profits, efficiency or any other values, many people gradually lose the sense of belonging. In such cases, they need a spiritual support, a voice that can firmly tell them what is the truth. The second reason is that the development towards a more liberal society in China allows for the existence of religions. In the Cultural Revolution period, religion was regarded as superstition and strictly forbidden. People had craving for belief, but where deprived of the right to exercise their belief. However, now the society begins to recognize religions and to respect people’s freedom of choosing a religion.


Mr. Yin denies the thought that the Chinese churches are simulating the traditional Western churches. Though Christianity originated from, and has had a two thousand years of history in, the Western countries, the values it has been advocating transcend the boundary of nations. The mission of Chinese churches is to practice and spread these values in the most acceptable and effective ways. He highlights that they do not rigidly exercise the rituals of Christianity, but focus on the essence. “We often play anthems with erhu and guzheng, build churches in Chinese traditional style and preach with Chinese examples, and so forth”, he says. “Chinese elements can be found almost everywhere in our churches; such as music, poems, books, rituals and buildings.”


In the end, Mr. Yin discusses with us the relationship between Chinese churches and the Chinese government. First, there is not an official organization that leads all the churches, nor a leader like a cardinal or a bishop. Churches of different types disperse all around the country, including some family-run ones and even illegal ones. Second, Chinese churches do not have to pay any tax to the government. Third, the attitude of Chinese government toward Christianity has changed from inhibition to respect and support. One example is that the Nanjing government is investing in building a large church which can accommodate 5000 people in a suburban area (near the Olympic Sports Center). According to Mr. Yin, churches need the support of the government, because the government is able to provide sufficient financial security to help them.



Nanjing, Ms. Tao Rong


Ms. Tao, 42 years old, is the manager of Jiyinian Psychological Counseling Center in Nanjing. Although she majored in literature rather than psychology in university, she developed an interest in psychological analysis, especially the theory of psychodynamics. She became the student of a Norwegian psychologist to systematically study psychoanalysis in 2003 and started her counseling career in 2004.


Jiyinian Psychological Counseling Center was established by Ms. Tao and her friends, Ms. Yang and Mr. Chen, in 2006. In its infancy stage, it was rather difficult to run the center. Therefore, in the next year, both Yang and Chen left the center for better careers. Ms. Tao remained till now but did not enlarge the scale of the center. There are two full-time counselors in the center and several part-time psychologists who come at times for academic exchanges. She explained that she neither has ambition or time to manage a center on a larger scale.


According to Ms. Tao, the history of psychoanalysis in China is rather short; it can be traced to the years before the Cultural Revolution. At that time, some Western psychoanalytical theories were introduced. The development was suspended during the Cultural Revolution Period and slowly restored when medical colleges re-introduced Psychiatry as a subject. The first generation of students majoring in Psychiatry after the Cultural Revolution, have become the backbone of the psychoanalytical profession. Many of them, she says, are her teachers.



Ms. Tao tells that in China counselors mainly utilize Western approaches, such the psychodynamics of Freud or the TA methodology (Transactional Analysis) in their counseling. However, many of them are making endeavors to adjust these traditional Western methods to better serve Chinese people. Their major attempt is to introduce Chinese ancient philosophies into psychoanalysis, such as the thoughts of Zen, Confucius and Tao. In the last few years, she herself has pursued the wisdom in Zen and tries to practice her findings in counseling.


She believes this attempt is necessary in China. First, the disasters China has weathered in the past one and a half century, namely 150 years of war and 10 years of Cultural Revolution, have torn a huge trauma on people’s sub-consciousness. Second, Chinese people show little concern on children’s mental health both in the traditional and modern education. This ignorance distorts the personalities of many children. Therefore, Chinese people have their own psychic wounds that cannot be cured merely through imported psychoanalytical methods.


“In psychodynamic treatment, counselors take respecting their clients as the primary principle”, said Ms. Tao, “so we call clients ‘visitors’ or ‘cases’ instead of ‘patients’.” Ms. Tao cannot give an average age, education level or social background of her visitors, because they are from all walks of life. Yet she is sure that all her visitors can afford the consulting fees and young people at the age of 20 to 30 account for the majority. In the exam season, many adolescents who are going to take the entrance examination for college or high school come to her to relieve their pressures.



In the psychoanalytical theories, mental illnesses can be classified into three kinds based on the severity; namely schizophrenia, personality disorders and neurosis conflicts. In European countries such as France, psychological counseling centers provide psychotherapies to all the three illnesses, whereas those in China are currently lacking the conditions to treat schizophrenia. Therefore, visitors coming to Ms. Tao usually suffer from personality disorders or neurosis conflicts.


In most cases, visitors are unaware of their personality disorders or neurosis conflicts. Visitors come to Ms. Tao to solve various types of common problems, for example, their difficulty in dealing with colleagues, friends, lover or pressures from their job or study. These problems are in effect only the symptoms of certain mental illness. Ms. Tao needs to utilize complex techniques and skills in psychoanalysis, which are mainly based on Freud’s theory of defense mechanisms and Bowlby’s theory of attachment patterns, to trace the root causes beneath these symptoms.


It is crucial to distinguish whether the visitor suffers from personality disorders or merely neurosis conflicts. For an experienced counselor, it takes only one or two sessions of talking to resolve the neurosis conflicts. Nevertheless, the treatment called “personality integration process” can last up to several years if the visitor has been assessed to have personality disorders.



Ms. Tao told that both personality disorders and neurosis conflicts find their roots in the childhood experience of visitors. People with such illnesses did not have a good connection with their “mother”, a metaphor of guardians like parents, grandparents, other family members or nannies. Any hurt feelings related to their “mother” could be deeply embedded in the sub-consciousness of them. Personality disorders are more severe than neurosis conflicts because they originate from the early stages in life, when people did not know how to deal with them.


Personality disorders can be caused by a variety of psychic shocks occurring to the visitors before they were three years old. The psychic shocks include the early death of parents, early divorce, domestic violence, abandoning or disregarding girls. Ms. Tao added that parents with psychic traumas, for instance, thanatophobia (a specific fear of death) or fear of being abandoned, tend to transmit their illnesses to their children. For instance, during the “Three Years of Natural Disasters” (1958 to 1961), people had to face the death of many family members. In some families, only one or two children survived out of ten. These miseries were ascribed to the thanatophobia of that generation and exerted a far-reaching effect on their next generation.


Most of the people with neurosis conflicts have an Oedipus Complex, which means, they have failed to establish a healthy relationship between father, mother and themselves. They were exposed to severe external shocks at the age older than 6 years old.



Ms. Tao tells that the charges of the psychological counseling service in her center are 300 RMB for a 50-minute talk for regular visitors, while new visitors need to pay 400 RMB. Visitors’ medical insurance does not reimburse the counseling fees. She said it is lower than the average level in Nanjing. Some counselors with less experience of counseling, ask 500 RMB. Visitors with severe symptoms, come twice per week, whereas others come once every week.


In China, it is now easier to get a license to work as a psychological counselor. Ms. Tao has such a certificate for her qualification. In the opinion of Ms. Tao, having a license is not equivalent to having the certification to be a good counselor. Many people who memorize book knowledge to obtain the license are short of clinical knowledge, which is critical in the practice of counseling. She accumulated experience through a 3-year clinical study following her Norwegian teacher in Wuhan, Hubei Province.


She stresses the importance of experience. She developed a set of methodology in counseling by reflecting upon every case she ever took. However, she avoids applying her experience to her new visitors. “It is necessary for us to keep curiosity for a new visitor, even if he has symptoms I am already familiar with,” says Ms. Tao, “for individuals are distinct, and their psychology changes all the time.”



Nanjing, Still Water Counseling Center

Mr. Sun, thirty years old, is one of the three shareholders of Still Water, a private counseling center that was founded last year after two years of preparations.

In China, more and more private counseling and psychotherapy companies emerge. However, Mr. Sun claims, it is not an easy business to run. Last year three counseling centers, including Still Water, were founded in Nanjing, but only Still Water survived. The overall demand for psychotherapy services is absolutely growing, but Mr. Sun thinks not many people can afford it right now.

As an example he mentions psychoanalysis, which requires an intensive and long-term treatment process. Usually, the treatment needs three to four sessions in a week. The price of each session depends on the counselors’ experience, which is decided by the accumulated therapy hours and supervision hours. Prices for one hour therapy sessions at Still Water are 200, 300, 400 and 600 RMB. Mr. Sun’s price is 300 RMB per session. Most of the people coming here, especially the younger generations born after the 1970s and also teenagers, can afford up to 30 sessions.

Today, the government issues official licenses for the counselor profession. Mr. Sun explains that it is the Labor Department of China that is responsible for issuing the psychological counseling certificates. There are two levels of certificates; one level for senior counselors and one for junior counselors.

The criteria to get a certificate includes passing basic psychology and clinical psychology tests, as well as concluding a certain amount of counseling cases that will indicate your ability to the conceptualize cases. The scientific foundations of the tests lie in the most prevalent psychotherapy approaches. The first is Freud’s methodology of psychoanalysis, because it is the earliest and most classical approach in history. All the counselors have to read some materials from Freud, not the original version but some abstracts. The second approach is the Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), an evidence-based approach with a “natural scientific flavor”, as Mr. Sun describes it. Through CBT, counselors learn to explore the stimuli and responses of their clients. The third includes a more humanistic approach. Mr. Sun refers here to Transactional Analysis and similar derived approaches.

Mr. Sun gives us a short introduction to the history of psychotherapy in China. Psychotherapy already existed before the establishment of the Republic of China. His grandfather was a psychologist. Together with colleagues he conducted psychotherapy research and practice.  However, the Cultural Revolution wiped out the whole discipline between 1966 and 1976. In a communist country like China, which puts material as the first substance, psychology with its concentration on spirituality was regarded as a fake and Bourgeois science. The early generation of psychologists either committed suicide or were captured. His grandpa, one of the captured, was forced to perform ridiculous tasks, like cleaning toilets.

The whole discipline was totally destroyed during the 10-year disaster and was not rebuilt until 1980s. Before 2001, there were only psychologists who prescribed pills. Therapies where psychologists would have sessions talking with their clients were nonexistent. It was in 2001 that the first new generation of counselors got their licenses from the government. According to Mr. Sun, at that time the government realized that some mental diseases cannot be totally cured by pills and they decided to issue the psychological counseling licenses.

When asked, Mr. Sun explains that there is not yet a market for affluent middle-class people who do not have serious disorders but want to take therapy sessions get to know themselves better.  His clients for therapy are mainly the neurotic persons, such as those suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD). All of his clients come to him after having extremely serious quarrels or fights with their family and they have become too depressed to overcome the problems on their own. He shares with us an interesting finding that almost all his clients are from private companies or starting their own business. He speculates that civil servants working for public institutions live a pretty happy life, so none of them has the need of psychological counseling.

Since all the supervisors of Mr. Sun are Swedish, he has access to plenty of European cases of psychotherapy. Based on his comparison of the foreign and domestic cases, he tells that most of the foreign clients have problems deeply rooted in their family background, whereas the Chinese clients have problems driven by social changes taking place in the last decades.

According to him, the majority of Swedish clients suffer from personality disorders and neurosis conflicts caused by family miseries at their early ages, for example, sexual abuses and physical abuses. Thanks to the stable society in Sweden, few people have problems in adapting to social changes. However, for the last two to three decades, people born after the 1970s in China have undergone dramatic social changes. When they were in their primary schools, they were taught to love the country and the communist party. However, after they grew up, they found this cramming of ideology was fake and useless. They were exposed to and were forced to adapt to the brutal competitions for materials in the jungle society. They pursue so hard to own a house, a car and other materials, seen as necessities for marriage and life nowadays, that they lose their focus in the spiritual world as a consequence.

Now that the problems are driven by social changes, Mr. Sun sometimes feels that he cannot do anything to exterminate the root of these problems. However, he and his colleagues are endeavoring to guide their clients to address the problems with a peaceful state of mind. One of his colleagues joked that as a matter of fact, they are all working for the government, because their main job is to wipe out the anger of their clients and to make them more adapted to the society.

However, after years of practicing, he is more willing to describe his duty as growing the personal freedom inside his clients. He and his colleagues now share the view that if we get more personal freedom, sooner or later our society would be freer. He cites from one of his colleagues, that a free country cannot be built with a bunch of slaves. He says that “our people” are suffering from an inner constriction that they easily knee down to the authority of the government, and even worse, cherish “worship with a fever” for the authority. Through the communication between him and his clients, he believes that they have more courage to defend their own rights in their life and more knowledge to earn their money and status without abandoning their dignity.

We continue our conversation with the focus on Mr. Sun’s personal experience. He majored in English and Chinese Comparative Literature in college. In 2005, he pursued a master’s degree in clinical psychology and now has one year before getting his doctor’s degree in the same major. Till now, he has practiced clinical psychology for seven years. He will go to Norway next year for further study.

He describes his personal counseling style as the combination of Western methods and Buddhist theories. Despite utilizing the Western methods to analyze and research, he makes the wisdom of Buddhism the foundation of his counseling. The goal of Western psychotherapy is to cure people, while the marrow of Buddhism is to accept. For example, he uses Western techniques such as the double chair, i.e. he asks his clients to communicate with their family members as if they were present. However, if they refuse, he accepts and changes to another technique. The foundation based on Buddhist philosophy enables his clients to have the feeling of being accompanied in their most difficult period, not being treated as a patient. He is sure that this accompanying is curative to his clients.

Mr. Sun says that three or four years ago, he would agree that the western psychology attaches so much importance to the value of individual that it helps create too many selfish people. However, now, after further study and reflection upon Western theories and Buddhist philosophy, he has changed his view. First, more theories with the premise that human beings exist in relations, such as the “Dasein” analysis approach, are burgeoning in recent years. Also, he does not think there is a conflict between the emphasis on ego and the emphasis on relationship any more. The Buddhist, especially the South Buddhist theories, also focuses on the individual. What they advocate is that if people can love themselves, they will have more strength and power to love others. He further illustrates that if people have more personal freedom, they will have more chances to build the intimacy with others, while those haunted by inner constrictions find themselves hard to establish and maintain relationships.

Mr. Sun admits that seven years of study and practice of clinical psychology exerts a far-reaching influence on his own development as an individual. In the past, he could not bear some personal conflicts, but now he becomes more emotionally stable, peaceful and happier in his life. His professional goal in the next ten years is to develop his own approach and original therapy theory, which can better fit the Chinese people’s psychological need. He has been forging the way of integrating the Western methods and the Buddhist philosophy, theoretically and practically.

“Still Water”, the name of the counseling center, according to Mr. Sun, was derived from the movie “Almost Famous. There was a rock band called Still Water in this movie. He added that they were also inspired by the famous western saying, “Still waters run deep”.

Seven young therapists work in the center and they all want to go deeper in their counseling career and psychological research. For the first two years of this center, they invited supervisors from Sweden and America to have workshops and one year ago, they all thought it was high time to receive clients on their own. Clients can find them on their website through their advertisements.

At two o’clock p.m., a weekly salon begins in the center. About fifteen people participate in the salon, including three therapists, college students majoring in psychology in Nanjing Normal University as well as people interested in psychology. This week’s theme of the salon is peoples’ expression of their anger. All the participants are asked to share their experience of getting extremely irritated.

Mr. Chen, one of the therapists, lost his temper with a bunch of college students in Wenchuan during the post-earthquake (2008) reconstruction period. His team and the college students were both sent there to carry out psychological consultation to children. Since no task was assigned to the students, they were playing all day long and making a lot of noise. Mr. Chen, dissatisfied with the students for rather a long time, finally lost his temper because he could no longer bear their noisy behavior.

The two college graduates following Mr. Chen’s story have both identical stories. They both want to become psychotherapists in the future, whereas their parents insist that they have to do more stable and income-guaranteed jobs, such as a salesman or a civil servant. One of them left home when he had failed to control his resistance to such pressures.

Another girl was irritated after a sexual harassment. The boyfriend of her roommate touched her butt while she was washing her hair. She described her feeling at that moment as being instantly detonated. She poured all the water on him, slapped him in his face and did not allow him to come to their dorm any more.

Most of the participants regretted their outrage afterwards. However, Mr. Sun tells them it was the outrage that visualized their emotional needs for them. Through expressing their anger, they could see a clearer self and hear a clearer crave from the inside.

Nanjing, Tanker Shipping Sailor Training School


In the middle of a residential area, located in the west of the Gulou district in Nanjing and just 1.5 km from the Changjiang (Yangtze) River, a ship rises between the buildings. Closer inspection learns that it is only half a ship. Fourteen years ago the ship was built for training students at the Tanker Shipping Sailor Training School.


Mr. Qi is 55 years old and has been a teacher at the school for the past 10 years. He tells the school is affiliated with Sinotrans and CNS Holdings CO Ltd. Established in 1984 it moved to its current location in 1998. The school employs around 10 full time teachers and a handful of part time teachers. Though small, it is the only official training institute for sailors in Nanjing.



The school issues official shipping licenses. As sailor is considered to be a stable job, there is a steady influx of up to 300 students every year. Not only young people apply; the age of students varies from 18 to 60 years old. While some female students enroll every year, the male students outnumber them at least 1:10.


The school offers three different kinds of courses: the training of river transportation, coastal shipping and ocean shipping.


Before becoming a teacher, Mr. Qi used to be in charge of the supply of electricity on a ship. He describes his early life on the water as both “boring” and “free”. He tells that in the 80s and 90s of the last century telecommunications were not that advanced in China. He and his fellow boat mates could not surf the Internet, watch TV or even listen to the radio on the ship. All they could do to kill the time was to have a little drink, play chess or cards and read some books. However, they always had a good time when their ship was berthed at a port. They were usually given six or more hours of free time, which they used for short, yet exciting, visits to the city areas around the ports. He enjoyed a feeling of freedom in meeting people and discovering cities unknown to him.



This all changed after he got married. He felt bound to his family and did not enjoy the freedom anymore. He refers this period as a “hard time”. In the end he quit his job and became a teacher.


When asked if dealing with loneliness and being far away from your family for a long time is a subject that is part of the school’s curriculum, he explains that such subjects are not discussed with the students. Everybody has to deal with that in his or her own way.



Mr. Wang Xinqiao, 57 years old and a teacher at shipping schools for the past 30 years, joins our conversation. He speaks some English which he learned when sailing the world for 11 years as a young man.


We briefly talk about the school again. The level of education of most students is not very high. The teaching is quite relaxed; the subject matters they teach are easy to acquire. Classes are from Monday to Sunday, but teachers don’t need to work many hours in the office; they just come and go for classes.





Beijing, Real-estate development in Jiugong


The area near the new Jiugong subway station, in the southeast of Beijing, is bustling with building activity. Several new high-rise residential compounds are almost completed and elsewhere workers are preparing building grounds for more real-estate development. The area used to be farmland. We visit the remnants of, what once was, a farmers’ village.



The one and two story houses of the village have to make way for another development project. Two third of the village has already been demolished, but 40 families refuse to leave.





We talk with Mrs. Li Shulan, almost 79 years old, who has lived in the village for the past 54 years. Mrs. Li is a mother of four daughters and two sons, who still live with her and her husband. The project developer, she tells, offered her family two apartments as compensation, but according to her that was definitely not enough to house her family. Apart from that, the apartments offered where of very bad quality and they were destroyed after the case was exposed in the media.


All houses in the village should have been demolished by June 2011 according to the developer’s planning. However, 40 families decided to stay because they were not satisfied with the compensation.


Mrs. Li tells that in June last year the water and electricity has been cut off and the public toilet has been demolished. For water they now go to a neighbor across the street and instead of going to a toilet they use the open land around the village.


Because of the harsh conditions, Mrs. Li wants to move. “What else can I do?”, she says. How and when she can leave is not clear.


Mrs. Li was born in the Shandong province. 54 years ago she and her husband moved to Beijing to work as a farmer at the Nanjiang farm. At that time, there were so many farmers that the farm could not provide enough accommodation in the dormitories. Thus, they built their own house in the field and settled down.


Now she and her husband, who stays in the house because of health problems, are retired. Together they receive a pension of 4,000 RMB per month.


Mrs. Li tells that there are many old people living in this village and a lot of them got ill due to the sanitary conditions and the worries about the future demolition of their houses. A few of them passed away in the past year.


When we leave the village we meet some people who live in the neighborhood. They explain that many of the residents in the village have spent all their lives living here, they invested a lot of money in their houses and feel it is hard to leave all their memories behind. Next to that, the compensation fees are too low.

They tell about an old lady from the village. Every night so goes to her daughter’s house to sleep and early the next day she returns to her old house in the village.


We also hear a lot of muttering about the rich people who drive poor people, who lived their whole life in this place, out of the city. They express a resentment against the rich, and the preferential treatment of government officials, that we have come across a lot lately.






The area near the new Jiugong subway station, in the southeast of Beijing, is bustling with building activity. Several new high-rise residential compounds are almost completed and elsewhere workers are preparing building grounds for more real-estate development. The area used to be a farmland and we visit the remnants of what once was a farmers’ village.

The one and two story houses of the village have to make way for another development project. Two third of the village has already been demolished, but 40 families refuse to leave.

We talk with Mrs. Li Shulan, almost 79 years old, who has lived in the village for the past 54 years. Mrs. Li is a mother of four daughters and two sons, who still live with her and her husband. The project developer, she tells, offered her family two apartments as compensation, but according to her that was definitely not enough to house her family. Apart from that, the apartments offered where of very bad quality and they were destroyed after the case was exposed in the media.

All houses in the village should have been demolished by June 2011 according to the developer’s planning. However, 40 families decided to stay because they were not satisfied with the compensation.

Mrs. Li tells that in June last year the water and electricity has been cut off and the public toilet has been demolished. For water they now go to a neighbor across the street and instead of going to a toilet they use the open land around the village.

Because of the harsh conditions, Mrs. Li wants to move. “What else can I do?”, she says. How and when she can leave is not clear.

Mrs. Li was born in the Shandong province. 54 years ago she and her husband moved to Beijing to work as a farmer at the Nanjiang farm. At that time, there were so many farmers that the farm could not provide enough accommodation in the dormitories. Thus, they built their own house in the field and settled down.

Now she and her husband, who stays in the house because of health problems, are retired. Together they receive a pension of 4,000 RMB per month.

Mrs. Li tells that there are many old people living in this village and a lot of them got ill due to the sanitary conditions and the worries about the future demolition of their houses. A few of them passed away in the past year.

When we leave the village we meet some people who live in the neighborhood. They explain that many of the residents in the village have spent all their lives living here, they invested a lot of money in their houses and feel it is hard to leave all their memories behind. Next to that, the compensation fees are too low.

They tell about an old lady from the village. Every night so goes to her daughter’s house to sleep and early the next day she returns to her old house in the village.

We also hear a lot of muttering about the rich people who drive poor people, who lived their whole life in this place, out of the city. They display a resentment against the rich and the preferential treatment of government officials that we have come across a lot lately.

Beijing, Legal proceedings


We walk in XiCheng district at a place were a few years ago you could walk through old hutongs. The residents have all been relocated to suburbs and the place is now a construction site of mid- to high-end apartments for retired government officials.


Mr. Huang Genhua approaches us. He asks if we are journalists. “No, we are not”. He likes to tell us his story anyway; for this blog. Knowing that a published story with his photo could cause him problems, we ask him again and he insists that is what he wants.


In 2005, Huang Genhua worked as a foreman at a construction site in Hebei. At a given moment the boss refused to pay the workers. Mr. Huang then paid the workers himself, but the boss still owns him 5,000 RMB.


According to Mr. Huang, he started a legal action against his boss in a local court. However, the court ruled before the scheduled proceedings without hearing him. The court ruled that his boss only needs to pay him 1,000 RMB. Mr. Huang appealed and when to an intermediate court. The judge in that court confirmed the ruling of the local court and asked Mr. Huang to apologize to his boss. When he attempted to continue legal proceedings, the court terminated the case.


Up to now he never received the 1,000 RMB his former boss should have paid him according to the court ruling.


Mr. Huang felt the treatment by the court was unfair. He claims that his former boss settled the matter with the judge by treating the judge with a dinner.  It is for this reason, he said, that the judge ruled before the scheduled proceedings that never took place. Now he has come to Beijing to start legal proceedings against the court.


Mr. Huang tells us that he needs exposure in the media and repeatedly stresses that he has all the evidence needed to confirm of what he said.


Finally, Mr. Huang and two of his friends show us some bruises and scratches. Mr. Huang says they were beaten up three days ago because he did not let go of the case.