Zhang Lijia

During her last-week speech at TedxMongkok in Hong Kong author Zhang Lijia described the differences in personal freedom from the time she worked in the rocket-factory in Nanjing and how in Beijing. A growing freedom in a cage, summarized on her weblog.

Zhang Lijia

Now back to my story. Fishing cicadas was fun but working for a rocket factory wasn’t, no matter how fascinating it might sound. Among other products, my factory produced inter-continental missiles that were capable reaching North America. I have to confess here that I was no rocket scientist and I didn’t know any top nuclear secrets. The job I was assigned to was to test pressure gauges, simple and repetitive. China today is a lot freer. Back then, working for a regimental military factory, we had to endure so much control: no lipsticks, no high heel shoes, certainly no fish-net tights. No dating within three years of entering the factory. Nothing was personal.

During my ten years at the factory, I never got a promotion because my bosses thought I wore a perm, while in fact I am one of the few Chinese who got naturally curly hair. In those days, only those with bourgeois tendency would wear a perm. I didn’t have the correct ideology therefore didn’t deserve a promotion.

It’s been so interesting for me to watch as China has developed in recent times. While tightly gripping to power, the authorities have also slowly granted people more personal freedom. People now can choose where to live and how to live their lives. You can curl your hair, dye your hair or shave off your hair. That’s your choice. There’s still control and a cage but the cage has grown so big that most people don’t feel its limit.

Back when I was growing up in the shadow of the rockets, things were very different.

Zhang Lijia at TedxMongkok

More on Zhang Lijia’s weblog.

Zhang Lijia is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need her at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers’ request form.

Zhang Lijia will be interviewed on Tuesday 29 May at 4pm Beijing time (10am CEST) about her recent opt-in piece in the New York Times on political reform in China. Do you have questions for her, do let us know. The interview will be available shortly after recording here, or can be watched at our YouTube channel (ChinaSpeakersBureau).

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