Rural Chinese Girl Speaks to the World


By staff reporter ZHOU LIN


I first met Ma Feng at the opening ceremony of “Inspiring Women China” at the British ambassador’s official residence in Beijing. Speaking fluent English, the girl described her personal learning experience and launched the online application platform for the event which was attended by distinguished guests including the U.K. Ambassador to China Dame Barbara Woodward, Director of the British Council China Carma Elliott, Paralympic gold medalist Susie Rodgers; and Ching Tien, founder of Educating Girls of Rural China (EGRC).


“Inspiring Women China” plans to invite a network of successful women from a broad range of backgrounds who will volunteer their time to talk to students about their jobs, careers and the path they took to get there, in order to inspire girls and young women entering the world of work, to raise their confidence and aspirations and enable them to make better informed choices about their career options.


Studying in Beijing


Ma Feng comes from a rural area in western China and is now working at a private equity fund in Shanghai. This September, she will further her studies in finance at the University of Liverpool in the U.K. Thanks to her female mentor Ching Tien, Ma Feng was able to take a completely different direction in life compared to her peers.


Ma Feng, her young friends and Ching Tien take a trip to the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall near Beijing.

Ma Feng’s hometown is a small village called Dadayao in Yuzhong County, near Lanzhou, capital of Gansu Province. Yuzhong County is an impoverished county. Ma Feng lived there with her parents and her younger brother.


“Both of my parents were farmers before I was born. However, as the cost of living increased, my father was forced to work outside the village and could only come back during the busiest farming seasons and the Chinese New Year holidays. My mother had to do all kinds of odd jobs in and around the house.” Ma Feng recalled her childhood with only a hazy memory of her father.


Ma Feng went to primary and junior middle school in the village and had no exposure to the outside world. When she was about to graduate from middle school, her father took her on a trip to the city of Lanzhou.


“It was the first time I had ever been to a city and I felt dizzy from severe car sickness.” Ma Feng said that she was filled with joy but also worries and fear. “My father had little knowledge or experience of the outside world either, but during this short trip he wanted to tell me that studying at university was the only way I could leave our village and live in the city.”


From then on, Ma Feng studied harder and was finally accepted by the county’s most prestigious school, Enling Middle School, which profoundly affected the future course of her life.


“In that high school, I had a change to learn about EGRC.” Ma Feng was one of the lucky girls in the school who received subsidies from EGRC.


In 2008, the Olympic Games were held in Beijing and that same year Ma Feng was due to go to university in the capital. However, a rural family in Yuzhong County – an extremely arid area – could not even make enough money to live by selling the farm produce that they grew, let alone afford the expenses of a college student.


“My anxious parents tried to borrow money anywhere they could for my tuition fees and living expenses,” Ma Feng said. She was fortunate to receive a grant from EGRC to cover her living expenses and she applied for a student loan for her tuition fees through the special government education channel designed for poor students in colleges.


Eventually, Ma Feng fulfilled her dream of studying finance and graduated with a degree from China Women’s University in Beijing.


Dreams Come True


Ching Tien is the founder of EGRC, and Ma Feng affectionately calls her “Aunt Tien.”


“Everyone meets somebody on their path of personal growth who is there to give directions. Aunt Tien is the beacon light at the crossroads of my life. She sets girls like me an example with her own life. She teaches every girl sponsored by EGRC and is like family to us, but she is also a life coach who helps us with the direction of our future development.”


“Every time she came to Beijing, all students currently or formerly sponsored by EGRC would want to meet up and chat with her about our studies, daily life and future plans. And she would also talk about her most recent experiences, encourage us to learn English and to face all difficulties in life with confidence and boldness.” Ma Feng said all the girls learned a lot from Ching Tien.


Ma Feng doesn’t speak English at work, but Ching Tien constantly encouraged her to keep on studying in order to master this foreign language. Ching Tien promised that if Ma Feng succeeded in doing so, her life would change dramatically. Ma Feng accepted her advice and devoted herself to studying English.


Before Ma Feng applied to study overseas, she thought her dream was impossible. “I consulted a lot of friends who have studied abroad, are currently studying overseas, or are planning to do so. I was scared off by the huge expense.”


One day, however, she was chatting with a foreign friend who said her English was very good. Ma Feng then realized that she had totally changed and had become much more confident because of all the hard work she had put in studying English.


“Now, I am ready to realize my dream.” Ma Feng discovered that the reason she had almost given up was not lack of money but that she had not strengthened her heart enough to believe that she could become a much better person through her own efforts.


There are also many people who ask her why she wants to study abroad at this marriageable age since she already has an enviable job and her parents are growing older. Her answer was that “dreams cannot be destroyed and given up just because of desperate poverty.”


Guided by Ching Tien, Ma Feng has participated in various activities, including the annual Global Mentoring Walk, which invites female mentors to help young women make better career development plans, and also “Inspiring Women China” jointly held by the U.K. Embassy in China and the British Council. It was on this occasion that Ma Feng got the opportunity to acknowledge the President of the University of Liverpool, to whom she shared the news of her successful application.


Female Empowerment


Without the encouragement and assistance of Ching Tien, Ma Feng said she would have been forced to find a stable job in her hometown, considering the huge economic pressure her family was under, and she would have lost the courage and motivation to pursue higher goals. She would probably just have got married, all the while regretting not fighting for her own dreams. She would have become a mother with less confidence.


Ma Feng said, “Aunt Tien often mentioned that female independence must include both personal and economic independence.”


Ching Tien came up with the idea of financially supporting girls with their academic studies from a charity activity she participated in with her daughter. “My 14-year-old girl’s chorus in Vancouver was giving a fundraising show for UNICEF, and donations would be used to support women’s education in two African countries.” Ching Tien said that she was deeply moved, since she believed that if a woman was well educated then her offspring would definitely pursue education. Therefore, education for women helps to alleviate poverty, and is also the fundamental building block for a more harmonious society.


“We have two financial assistance programs now, for college students and senior middle school students from China’s poorest provinces, Gansu and Guizhou. So far, 698 female students have received our subsidies.”


Nowadays, the governments of most nations realize the importance of encouraging female potential in economic development. In May 2016, China’s Vice President Li Yuanchao delivered a speech at the opening ceremony of the Women-20 Meeting in Xi’an, at which he mentioned that if we eliminate discrimination against female workers and managers the per capita production rate would increase by 40 percent.


In 2016, Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong proposed that women be made the eighth theme of the UK-China People to People Dialogue, thereby making a positive contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals and 2030 Agenda for Sustainability Development.


Sir Ciarán Devane, chief executive of the British Council, remarked: “It is meaningful to inspire the next generation of girls to raise their aspirations in education, to fulfill their potential in society, and to make the greatest possible contribution to social and economic development. We know that no country can truly develop without unlocking the full potential of women.”


Talking about what can be done for young girls, Ma Feng said a special curriculum system of lifeskills and career development is very important, and should include professional knowledge, self-recognition, communication skills, problem solving and how to deal with emergencies.


“We should encourage women to discover and pursue their own dreams.” According to Ching Tien’s experience with girls from impoverished families, she thinks it is necessary to increase their knowledge and broaden their horizons.” In the process of their education and growth, we should nourish their hearts to help them feel safe and confident, which will definitely give them a brighter future.”


“Throughout life, we should never stop exploring our potential and becoming better people.” Ma Feng is confident about the future, “I feel satisfied with my current job and my major at the University of Liverpool is also financial risk management and investment. I hope to gain more knowledge and capability so that when I graduate and come back from the U.K. I can help my company become a first-class corporation like Sequoia Capital and Goldman Sachs.”