To sleep or not to sleep? The realities of working in mainland for single young women

It’s the stuff nightmares are made of: it wasn’t like you didn’t have to work on overcoming your scruples before yielding to your boss’s sexual overtures, but yield to him you did, and here you are, sleeping in the same bed with him one night. Suddenly, his wife storms in. She howls at him, but naturally, it’s you who are the target of her rage. She shoves you off the bed, so that she can rough you up and get a better look at you – behind her is her camera-wielding entourage tasked with recording the proceedings for posterity. Wife posts the video online; it goes viral. 

When I saw the above broadcast on social media, I immediately thought of the time Patrick Nip (then Hong Kong’s Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs ) went to my alma mater Diocesan Girls’ School on the invitation of its headmistress Stella Lau to talk about “the challenges and opportunities of working in the Greater Bay Area.” I’m not privy to what Nip talked about that day; I only know had Mrs Lau invited me instead – arguably I’m even more qualified than Nip to speak on the issue, since I’d spent 10 years as a single young female working in mainland – the first thing I would have presented to DGS girls would be this video.

As I see it, one major challenge mainland poses for sheltered girls from good families is, they’ll be venturing into a territory where the government thinks it has a rightful claim over the life, liberty and property of its people, and people likewise invade each other’s boundaries when given the chance. So, if a single young female from Hong Kong doesn’t distrust and verify everyone she crosses paths with in the dog-eat-dog world that is mainland China, her naiveté will be felt and preyed upon.

Back to the girl in the video – whether it was love or wish for career advancement that motivated her to sleep with her boss is beside the point. The shock value of the video lies in its power to convey the idea that out of a lack of vigilance, a girl may not only find herself in compromising circumstances, but also hand over to others the opportunity to gather visual evidence of her being in compromising circumstances.

Fundamentally, it’s China’s political system that heightens the likelihood of women getting entangled in sexual intrigues; it’s no coincidence that within the party, it’s not uncommon for male officials and their female subordinates to have carnal knowledge of each other. The rights activists Li Yiping (李一平) analyses well the psychological forces at work: “it’s a grooming process. At first, the female underling may be only half-willing. Over time, however, she will graduate to the point where she will take the sexual initiative. Eventually, she’ll emerge from the process a more loyal party member, more eager to uphold CCP’s rule – because if the party loses power, she would have demeaned herself for nothing.” 

In the light of CCP’s dominance in every nook and cranny of the nation, it’s only natural that the party’s staff-management ethos will spill over to other sectors in society. So, had Nip given DGS girls the unvarnished truth about the realities of working in mainland, he would have cited stories like the male boss of a mainland investment bank who, in his late-night rebuke of his staff’s failure in meeting a sales target, thought it fitting to comment on their lack of appeal as sexual partners (“you guys are so wanting in the looks department that no one would loan you money even if you offer nude photos as security”)

I’m not sure whether Nip is familiar with the piece “Should a banquet without girls be called a banquet at all?” Written by a middle-aged mainland man, it went viral in China – an indication that the piece is a reflection of mainlanders’ milieu. Perhaps Nip could have designated it as required reading for DGS girls. Filled with sentences like “in the presence of a nubile woman, the air is charged with just the right amount of sexual energy, and men huddle around the table intent on not giving away whatever lewd thoughts they may be entertaining,” this piece could give DGS girls some concrete idea of how older mainland men view them.

I hope I haven’t given the impression I regret working in mainland. The truth is I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything. Dr CJ Symons, who presided over DGS as headmistress from 1953 to 1985, said in her memoirs she hoped to produce girls who would “ask WHY until the word strikes terror in (them).” I think what made my mainland experience so enriching was, by relentlessly “asking WHY,” I was able to develop street-smart on top of book-smart. And now that Hong Kong and mainland China are in such dire straits, to transform the current phase of my life into an experience I wouldn’t in retrospect trade for anything else, I can only come up with one thing to do: to speak truth to power as a bilingual writer in Hong Kong. So, while some may find this piece “revolting,“ for me, writing it was just the natural outcome of being a DGS girl.

I'm Michelle Ng (吳若琦), an Oxford-educated bilingual political writer and English writing coach based in Hong Kong. I'm currently an English columnist for Apple Daily and Ming Pao, and a Chinese columnist for 眾新聞. I have written for Hong Kong Free Press, The Wall Street Journal and The Vancouver Sun. 

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