“I think I’m thoroughly a feminist,” pronounced Aya, who happened to see the news of the abolition of the United States’ abortion law while traveling through the bustling crowds in the ancient city of Kashgar. “Women, wherever they are, should have equal rights with men.”
Although she comes from a traditional Muslim family in Africa, Aya seems to be gradually “awakening”, finding ways to nurture the impulse to struggle against a male dominated world. Her first “struggle” was in 2018, when she attended Zhejiang Normal University, thousands of miles away from home, to study Chinese, despite her father’s strong opposition. The second “struggle” was to participate in the school-organized field trip to learn about life in China’s less developed areas.
Her mother was frightened when she learned that her daughter was going to Xinjiang, because she had heard a lot of negative information about the region, “You will be arrested”, her mother cried and begged Aya to cancel the trip. She understood her mother’s concerns, but she still chose to attend the field trip if only to discover those ordinary women in rural Chin who were also “fighting” against a male dominated society.
In the Performance Hall of the Xinjiang Art Theater in Urumqi, Aya met Guli, who, wearing traditional Uyghur dance clothes, performed the Dance of the Twelve Muqams. Guli loves to dance and practices in the palace-like building everyday. Guli says that dancing in the elegant theatre makers her feel like a princess and she longs to be on stage forever. At 28 years old, Guli is in the prime of her career. However, her parents and husband constantly urge her to have children as soon as possible. Stressed deeply by these expectations, she is constantly balancing her beloved career and family. In the end, she reached a compromise with her husband. “I will continue dancing for three years, devote these precious years to my career. After that, I will look to start a family with my husband,” Guli told her classmates. “I am working hard to practice Chinese. In the future, I plan to move to Shanghai to open a workshop and teach children to dance. I can make money and continue my love of dancing!”
Wearing a white headscarf and a traditional skirt, Aparhan, 65, sat at the door of her old house in the ancient city of Kashgar. Against the backdrop of the sunset, she herself seemed to become interwoven with the well-preserved traditional style buildings, some more than a thousand years old. Looking at the tourists passing by from time to time, Aparhan’s mind is conflicted. She doesn’t like seeing young girls wearing modern skirts, nor their makeup and strange hairstyles. She pleads with her granddaughters, “This is not our tradition”, but in vain. Her granddaughters like to show off their beauty. Economic development has not only greatly improved her material life, but also brought its share of troubles. Secularism made a huge impact on the traditional moral order. Aparhan sometimes feels powerless to struggle against it.
Meeting Pattiman was a story filled with romance, remembers Aya. At night, Kashgar sees a barrage of vendors flooding the streets, loudly soliciting their business. Except that people were wearing masks, no other effects of the pandemic could be felt, let alone the so-called security problems. Aya felt her mother’s worries were overblown. Nazar, a male classmate of hers from Turkmenistan, tall and handsome, attracted significant attention from the passersby. Locals were asking for group photos, and Pattiman was by far the boldest one. She was pretty, with long flowing hair. She stopped Nazar and invited him to drink juice in a nearby bar. The hearts of the handsome boy and the beautiful girl from two different countries collided. They communicated freely and warmly in both Chinese and English, discussing everything, from their majors to their favorite movies. Nazar boldly invited Pattiman to go to Turkmenistan for a visit. Pattiman said, “I used to study at Tianjin University. Because of my father’s request, I had to return to my hometown to work after graduation. But now I regret my decision, as the outside world is so exciting. I’d love to go and find you in your country.”
Around the world, modern women are facing constraints and pressures from society, family and tradition. Some are compromising, some are struggling, and some are practicing the long art of reform. In Aya’s view, the women she met while traveling were lucky. They had a fierce independent streak to their personalities and were self-confident despite the rapid development of society around them. They freely displayed their feminine side and expressed their likes and dislikes, freely choosing to accept or reject what they please. Despite each of their individual hardships, they held and status and respect in each of their respective “struggles”.
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