The changing role of women published on


Lijia Zhang is a wonderful writer and I am proud to call her my friend. This piece from her blog explains the changing role of women in China.

Originally posted on lijia zhang's blog:

Lijia Zhang

Writer, Journalist and Public Speaker

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by Lijia Zhang

Lijia Zhang is a writer, journalist and public speaker. She describes herself as a communicator between China and the world and has given talks at conferences about contemporary China and lectured at many top universities including Stanford, Harvard, and The University of Sydney.

Oct 29, 2014
The Changing Role of Chinese Women

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My grandmother was a prostitute-turned concubine, my mother a frustrated factory worker, and myself a rocket-factory-girl-turned-international-writer. The stories of three generations of women in my family illustrate the changing role of women in contemporary Chinese society.

My grandma’s story – a working girl turned concubine

At birth my grandma was named Yang Huizhen, but for many years she was known as Huang-Yang Shi – meaning the woman who was married to a man surnamed Huang and middle-named, Yang

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Season of mists and mellow fruitfullness in Mutianyu

A few weekends ago the DH and I, together with other friends, had a weekend away at a place called Mutianyu.                                                                                                                      Mutianyu is a village which nestles in a ravine on the southern slopes of the Yanshan Mountains, some 70 kms north-east of Beijing.  It is mainly known for being one of the three public access points to the Great Wall of China closest to the capital (the other two being Badaling and Simatai).Great Wall access map

Our friends had rented a house for two days and nights, and invited us to go along. What a joy to get out of the city for a couple of days, breathe clear mountain air, and take in the glorious views.  We set off loaded down with books to read, lots of food (we were self-catering), lots of wine, walking boots (not mine!) cameras etc. An hour and a half later we were there.

The house – La Petite Muraille – is owned by a French-American couple who used to live in Beijing.  It is now managed on their behalf by ‘Brickyard at Mutianyu‘, and we were the first guests to stay there.  What a wonderful place it turned out to be.

La Petite Muraille Mutianyu

La Petite Muraille

Two very ancient and delapidated adjoining houses had been renovated and turned into one spectacularly comfortable house, with every mod-con, but retaining a Chinese style.Mutianyu LPM bedroom Our bedroom had a fabulous Chinese style four-poster!

There were amazing views in every direction from both the house and the garden. We looked out over the magnificent vista with the nearby slopes displaying  every autumn colour dotted here and there with the wild persimmon trees which are characteristic of this part of northern China.

Needless to say the DH, who loves to climb hills, was in his element and one morning set off at 6.00am to climb up to the Great Wall to watch the sunrise.

Sunrise on the Great Wall

Sunrise on the Great Wall

He was rewarded with a fabulously clear day, and not a soul in sight (a rare thing in China!!).  Others took the cable car which runs from 8.00am onwards and then hiked back down.   I just relaxed on the terrace enjoying the peace and quiet, the beautiful scenery and the fresh air.  For the first time in ages I did some sketching – I’d forgotten how much I enjoy drawing, and have made a promise to myself that I will do it more often.

Great Wall in Autumn 1The one Chinese member of our party loves cooking and he happily set to and produced magnificent meals. After dinner each evening we all sat round a roaring fire sipping wine and discussing life in China and what amazing contrasts we have all experienced here.

Returning to Beijing on the Monday morning we all felt our batteries were fully recharged.  Truly a weekend to remember.

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What am I missing?

After a long summer away from China – it feels like a life-time but was a scant three months – I am back in the polluted air of Beijing and picking up the strands of daily living. I have to admit I have found myself suffering from ‘blog writer’s block’ but I hope this post will break it…a word of encouragement would be welcome!

Whenever I am in the UK friends and acquaintances are curious to find out about my life here.  If I had 10 kuai (£1) for every time someone has asked me what I miss when in China I would be sitting on a nice little nest-egg by now.

Of course there are many things I miss about the UK when I am here, and conversely there are lots of things about China I miss when over in Britain.  Here are two little lists (items in no particular order) of some of the things I really miss.


1.     Clean air to breathe.

This is obviously a no-brainer and would head any ex-pat’s list. I have a Vog Mask – in fact I am Self with masknow on to my second one – which I loathe using but it is essential.  Every morning when I wake up I (like thousands of other Beijingers) check my ‘China Air Quality’ app to see what the reading is. If it is 100 or less I will open windows and venture out.  100-200 I will go out but with mask on. Over 200 I cancel plans and stay indoors.   Earlier this year the British news media reported that it was over 30 in London and everyone got in a tizzy – man up Chaps! it was only 30. 100 is the nasty level from my POV*.     Just remember to be grateful for air that you can breathe without thinking about it – too easy to be complacent.


2.     The NHS.  

NHSThe National Health System, for those of you who are not British, came into being after WW2 and was charged with providing free health care to all  UK citizens regardless of their means, from cradle to grave. Whether it be treating something as mundane as warts, having your hearing tested, or a full heart and lung transplant, you do not pay. Over the years it has grown into a massive organisation – the biggest employer in the whole of Europe I’ve been told – and now gets as many brickbats as bouquets.    But the re-assurance of knowing it is there should you need medical treatment cannot be underestimated.                                                                              My family and I have been well served by the NHS, and still are. It provides me with the post-stroke medication I have to take every day, and I am truly grateful.                              Living in a country where there is no such system, and medical insurance is still in its infancy, has made me aware of what a jewel the NHS is. Sure it has lots of problems and needs a complete overhaul in certain areas, but we are very,very lucky to have it.


3.     Sunday newspapers.

Of course I can and do subscribe to on-line access to several British newspapers; Sunday papersreading them on my laptop or iPad is a regular part of my daily routine when here in Beijing.           However, there is nothing like having a pile of the Sunday papers to dive into whilst enjoying a lazy Sunday, sipping coffee, reading choice snippets aloud to one’s dozing other half, tut-tutting over the readers’ letters, idly filling in the crossword or attempting the fiendish sudoku – then finding one’s hands grey from handling newsprint.  Reading it on a screen doesn’t even begin to compare.  And you can’t use your screen to cover the table when the DH does his weekly shoe-polishing session!


4.     Zebra crossings.

Crossing roads here in China is often bloody dangerous.  Beijing is very modern  and in the center of the city the traffic lights on major roads usually have the green man/red man indicators, and on either side of the thoroughfare there are pedestrian buttons you can press to stop traffic. These also show a digital display of how many seconds you have to cross the road. Sounds good. Ha!  Traffic (which drives on the right here) is permitted to turn right even when there is a red light. So woe betide you if you are crossing at that time.  Despite the volumes of traffic, most drivers opt for short bursts of high speed and then slamming on the brakes at the last moment as the optimum driving style. Bicycle riders, pedicabs, rickshaws, electric mini-vans do not think any of the regulations apply to them.  Seriously, as a pedestrian you dice with death each and every day.  If you are lucky there is a pedestrian overpass which requires climbing up about a million steps to cross the road and then another million back down (hard for me as I am wobbly and have to use a stick ).      Zebra crossing beatles                                                                                                                                             In the UK we have what we fondly call  ‘Zebra Crossings’ – black and white stripes painted on the road geddit? – and for extra emphasis on either side of a zebra crossing is a Belisha Beacon.  Legally pedestrians have priority (over wheeled traffic) on such crossings; once a pedestrian has set one foot on a zebra crossing on-coming traffic from either side MUST stop and give way to the pedestrian. And they do! it is wonderful, it makes life so much easier for pedestrians.  China, you could learn from this!

5.     Wine Gums.

Wine gums 2Wine Gums are a type of sweet. They have been around for well over 100 years. THEY DO NOT CONTAIN WINE.   They are a stiff fruit-flavoured jelly type confection and I love them. Each wine gum is embossed with the name of a drink – Champagne, Port, Hock, Sherry, Burgundy, Gin etc.                    I have never had a particularly sweet tooth, but when, four years ago, I had several strokes my tastes changed. Actually, my ability to taste altered dramatically. I have been told that this is not uncommon post-stroke. For some, their sense of taste goes back to normal after time. This has not happened for me.  It is extraordinary how I now dislike anything sweet, and that doesn’t just include biscuits, cakes, desserts etc, but sauces with any element of sweetness, cereals, fruit yoghurts, ice creams. Chocolate tastes particularly foul.  I have no desire for any of these any more. The one thing that has slipped through the net is Wine Gums, heaven alone knows why.  So when in the UK they are a treat to enjoy, but I can’t buy them here. Maynards, get your marketing act together!



1.     Foot massages

There is nothing so heavenly as a foot foot massage 2massage after a long day on your feet, or climbing, hiking, pounding the pavements, or for no reason at all.  Here in China foot massages are very popular. You can get them anywhere and everywhere, in all towns and cities.               You don’t have to go to a fancy spa, there are little local places, or a foot masseuse will come to you. In the UK there are people who practice “Reflexology” which is rather new age-ish, and slightly ‘alternative therapy’.   foot massage 3                                                 Not here, foot massages are centuries old and extremely commonplace.   They are also very social. I have been with Chinese friends to a foot massage parlor where we have sat side-by-side, chatting, drinking tea and whiling away an hour or so.  There is a chain of extremely well run foot massage parlors called Liangzi, and I always like going to them, they are so kind and will let you sit and gossip for ages after the hour long massage is over.


2.    Chinese food

IChinese mealt is really difficult to find ‘real’ Chinese food in the UK. Most Chinese restaurants serve what they think westerners like: Spring rolls (bought frozen in bulk from the nearest Chinese wholesaler), crispy seaweed (dried shredded cabbage bought in bags from aforementioned wholesaler), sweet-and-sour pork (lumps of pork in heavy batter with a horribly gloopy sauce),  kung-pao chicken (chunks of chicken meat with cashew nuts and a mild chili sauce), stir-fried rice (containing yesterday’s left-over bits and bobs), the list goes on.

Nearly all the Chinese restaurants in Britain are owned/managed and run by Cantonese families who came over years ago.  As a result many Britons think that Cantonese-style food – dumbed down for us guailo/laowai – IS Chinese food. It is NOT.                            China is a country bigger than Europe, there are as many styles of cuisine as in Europe. Swedish is not the same as Greek or Italian, and neither is Sichuanese food the same as food in Shanxi.  Shanxi oat noodlesThere are of course some honorable exeptions to the average Chinese restauranters in the UK – Fuchsia Dunlop for one is breaking new ground.  Alas as far as Scotland is concerned I’ve found nothing, so if I want jiaozi I have to make my own.        Pot noodles anyone?


3.     Hi-speed trains

China hi-speed trainWe British invented the railways, they were part of the driving force that powered the Industrial Revolution and helped create an Empire.  Other countries cottoned on and we exported railway technology all over the world, to Europe, India, America, South Africa and Asia and that helped all of them to develop.  So it pains me to say that now, we in Britain, are being left behind.  China is a vast country, Britain is not, but we should be up with the Chinese in terms of our railways.

I use the Gaotie 高铁(High Speed Rail) here in China rather than fly to many places. china-high-speed-railway-mapIt is super efficient, goes like a rocket, is always on time and the journey is smooth as butter. You can stand a glass of water on your tray table and there will be nary a ripple even though you are travelling at 320 KmPH, and the loos are regularly cleaned during the journey .  Contrast that with one of my recent (regular) journeys between Kings Cross London and NE Scotland, on what is called a ‘hi-speed’ line.  There was Wifi to be sure, but the train vibrated and jiggled so much that any work requiring the use of a pen was well nigh impossible, the lavatories became disgusting after less than an hour into the journey.  There were delays on the line and one could never be sure one would arrive in time to make any onward connection. However I will say that in both China and the UK the staff on the trains were friendly and helpful.                                                                                                                                                Wake up Britain, we NEED  proper high-speed rail on dedicated tracks – once the pain of gettting it built is over, everyone will embrace it.   Hint – why re-invent the wheel, get a Chinese railway consortium to build it!

4.     Affordable made-to-measure clothes.

In the UK, like much of the western world, we have become used to buying our clothing ‘off the peg’. The dressmakers, tailors and seamstresses of yester year are long gone. And although you can have clothes made to measure they usually cost a fortune.                                                                           suits-you-sir AIn many Asian countries, China being one,  having clothes made specially for you is still possible, and at very reasonable cost. There are numerous skilled craftsmen and women who provide this service,and it has been a boon for me. I know what I like and what I am comfortable wearing. Being able to take a favourite garment to a tailor here, buying the cloth I like and having a ‘copy ‘ made is fantastic. When we first came to live here permenantly my DH had some suits and shirts made and I blogged about it.  They are worn regularly and are still in tip top condition.   When I know we are going to leave China for good, I think I will order a whole load of garments including a designer shroud – an item which would be hard to find on a UK high street!

5.     No tipping.

no tippingI wrote a blog post about this when we first moved here, and it is still one thing that I find really pleasing about China. Recently I was talking to a Canadian friend who is a long-time China resident. She was talking about her most recent trip home to Calgary and how her father was shocked when she treated the family to a meal in a local restaurant and then left without leaving a tip (he rushed back in to remedy the situation). “I completely forgot” she told me.  In the UK, most of Europe and north America tipping is mandatory – but the interesting thing is who gets tipped. Restaurant and cafe staff, hairdressers, taxi drivers all expect (and get) tipped..but does anyone tip the drycleaner, the butcher, baker or candlestick maker? No.  It is a system I loathe, it’s demeaning, we’d be better off without it.



*POV = point of view

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Chinese pears poached in spiced red wine

Pears which have been poached in red wine are a popular dessert in Britain, the original recipe must go back hundreds of years and is lost in the mists of time.                                    It is a dish that can be made a couple of days in advance which is always useful, and is simplicity itself to produce.

Last Friday I was having people for dinner and decided to make poached pears, but because I am in Beijing I tweeked the recipe to give it a Chinese flavour.  In the UK I would normally use Conference or Comice pears, but here I used what I call ‘Nashi pears’,  as we had been given a box of them as a gift .They are native to China and are also popular in Japan and South Korea.

Nashi pears

They look like a large firm pale yellow apple rather than having a traditional pear shape, and keep well in a cool dry place.  Some people in the west think they are a pear/apple cross but that is not so, they are a true pear. Often given as gifts, they are usually quite expensive.  They are frequently sold with each fruit wrapped in tissue paper and then covered with a little string-vest of polystyrene to prevent them from being bruised or damaged.

Chinese nashi pears



Serves 6

3 large Nashi pears                                                                                                                                 2 cups of red wine                                                                                                                                    70g granulated or caster sugar                                                                                                            3 star anise

Peel, core and quarter the pears.  Put the red wine, sugar and star anise Star aniseinto a saucepan large enough to hold the pears. Heat gently, stirring all the time until the sugar has dissolved.

Add the pear quarters.  Bring up to the boil, then turn the heat down so that the wine is simmering.  Simmer for about 1 hour, checking from time-to-time and turning the pears over if necessary so that they are evenly coloured.

After an hour they should be a lovely wine colour, still firm and holding their shape but a wooden toothpick can be easily inserted.   Use a slotted spoon to remove the pears from the liquid, and place them in a serving dish.

Bring the wine liquid up to the boil, and boil fiercely until it has reduced to a third of its volume, and seems slightly thicker.  Strain the wine over the pears, cover the dish with clingfilm and when cooled, place in the fridge until needed.

Poached pears 1


I served them with a dollop of Mascarpone Vanilla Cream.

This consisted of 250g of Mascarpone, 2 heaped tablespoons of icing sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, beaten together with an electric mixer until creamy. Pile it into a small serving bowl, cover and chill in the fridge until you are serving the pears.

AMM pears 2

Though I say it myself they were delicious, and the Star Anise gave it a really unusual oriental flavour.  I should have made double the quantity as everyone would have liked second helpings, but alas it was all gone.


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Expedition to the Watermelon Museum

Beijing, being the capital city of China, has no shortage of museums from the sublime to the unusual, and some which seem downright weird.

A fortnight ago I persuaded a friend to come with me to visit a fairly new museum – the Beijing Watermelon Museum 西瓜博物馆 .                                                                                A whole museum dedicated to watermelons! who could resist?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGetting there turned into something of an expedition.  I had found an address for the museum but when I looked it up, it was outside the municipal area covered by the Beijing City Map Guide .  It seemed to be quite some distance south of the city, in a village just off an expressway.

Blow the expense I thought, I’ll get a car with driver to take us there and bring us back.  Phoning Charlie, the driver I use from time to time, I outlined my plan. Charlie was sceptical. He assured me that he really knew everywhere of interest and he’d never heard of it – wouldn’t we rather go on a nice afternoon outing to the Great Wall instead?  No we would not! – been there, done that, got the T-shirt.  So after much grumbling he agreed to drive us.

Accordingly we set off just after lunch on a very hot Sunday afternoon. We drove south on the 4th ring road, crossed over to the 5th Ring Road, still driving south we came to the 6th Ring Road and drove on, and on, and on.  Phalanxes of grim tower blocks marched across the horizon on either side of the motorway – this is where many of Beijing’s workers live.    The roads were chock-a-block with traffic heading into the city – at least we were going in the opposite direction.

After an hour and a half we left the motorway and asked the toll-booth attendent if he knew where the museum was. Of course not – why would he?  But suddenly as we drove on there it was,  in all its watermelony glory!  Watermelon museum 1Most museums are heaving with people on Sundays so I was concerned it might be rather over crowded, but it was the only time Charlie was available. To my surprise, when we swung into the enormous car-parking area there were only three cars…. we had the pick of the shady spots to park.

As you can see from the picture, it is a modern building , a central domed entrance hall and two wings.  The entrance fee was 20RMB and the two lassies manning the ticket desk looked absolutely amazed to see two hot, red-faced, laowai intending to visit. In fact they seemed surprised that ANYONE would visit the museum.  Watermelon man 1

As my BFBJ and I strolled into the first section of the museum we were stunned by the shiny black marble floor, flashing disco-lights and faux bronze statues of men and women carrying watermelons.

It was as though we were in an episode of  Monty Python and we both became overwhelmed with the giggles and slightly hysterical trying to supress our snorts of laughter.

Charlie and the big watermelon

Charlie and the big watermelon

Charlie was most disapproving, he thought we were not taking the exhibits seriously and insisted I took his photo beside a whopping 88kg watermelon which he excitely informed us had grown in his own home town in Zhejiang province. Of course it wasn’t a real watermelon – none of the 400 varieties on display were real – they were all resin replicas! There were several examples of the specially grown square watermelons which are very popular as gifts.

Watermelons - square



The second section of the museum was all about the history of the watermelon, how it came to China along the Silk Routes, how it is cultivated etc.  The word for watermelon in Mandarin is xi gua  which means ‘western melon’.  This section also provided us with a stunning moment as we rounded a display board and discovered a large model of a space capsule apparently spinning through thWatermelon space capsulee heavens with a watermelon carved to look like the earth down below it!  As far as we could tell from the captions (all being in Chinese) this was to interest children in the fact that on one of the first of China’s space programmes watermelon seeds had been taken into space to see if weightlessness would enhance or hinder germination.  But there didn’t seem to be any conclusion so I can’t enlighten you.

Outside, in the grounds of the museum there are a variety of sculptures of people eating watermelons dotted about in a grassy area grandly called a ‘Sculpture Park’.

Watermelon sculpture 1

What I am curious about is who decided that what Daxing district needed was a museum, and a museum all about watermelons at that?  Who funds it?  It is not widely known about, and there are hardly hoards of visitors clamouring to get in,  so it cannot be making any money.  You’d need a helluva lot of school trips to justify keeping such an obviously expensive building open all year round, and there seemed no evidence that such trips feature regularly. Its a mystery to me.

So if you are living in Beijing or coming on a tour of China, my advice is to eat some cool slices of watermelon at the end of a Chinese banquet, and don’t waste your time trekking out to visit this museum – I’ve done it for you, and it really isn’t worth the hassle.

Watermelon eaters painting 1


STOP PRESS:   While I’m on the subject of watermelons, here is a piece of useless information!

Ali Mihan 128 yr old watermelon farmer

Ali Mihan 128 yr old watermelon farmer

The oldest woman in China (if not the world) is 128 year old Ali Mihan who was born on 25th June 1886. She has been growing watermelons all her life.  She lives in Xinjiang (in the far west of China) where she has a 1.3 hectare smallholding on which she produces 16,000 watermelons each year. She has now decided to move with the times and  sell her melons online!






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Jianzi – the ancient Chinese game copied by hacky sack

There is nothing new under the sun’ as the old biblical saying goes. Someone comes up with what they think is a great new concept and then they discover that it has all been done before.  That doesn’t always stop them from cashing in.

jianzi illustrationIn the early 1970s two Americans came up with a ‘new’ game which they called Hacky-Sack; they formed a company, trademarked the game and the little sacks/balls they manufactured with which to play it.  They subsequently sold ‘their’ game for a shed-load of money.

But truth to tell, Hacky-Sack is no more, no less, than the ancient game that has been played here in China for millenia – Jianzi (sometimes called Ti Jianzi).

KickaShuttleCock The only difference being that the Jianzi which gives its name to the game is a feathered, weighted shuttlecock, whereas a Hacky-Sack is a small weighted pouchy bag.  I am irritated by articles in the US media which refer to ‘Jianzi – The Chinese Hacky-Sack’ when what they should say is ‘Hacky-Sack – the American Jianzi’.jianzi illustration 2

Jianzi originated in China at least 2000 years ago during the Han Dynasty and was, and still is, played by young and old alike.  By the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) Jianzi shops had become commonplace in China, you no longer had to make your own shuttlecock, mind Jianzi 1you they are not exactly difficult to produce and there are lots of websites which will tell you how to do just that.

Here is a picture of my very own one which cost all of 35p! Since my strokes in 2010 I have difficulty standing/walking on two legs, let-alone balancing on one leg whilst the other kicks the feathery jianzi, so it is destined to just be another thing on my bookshelf gathering dust – alas!

Jianzi is played by kicking the shuttlecock to keep it from touching the ground, a player must only touch it with their feet or legs – hands are not involved.

It can be played by a single person, two, three or more people.  There are many variations of play.

jianzi3Much of the time it is just a knock-about with friends but in recent years a more formal, structured game with a governing body, fixed rules, competions, local teams, tournaments etc has emerged,  and this is gaining popularity too. Needless to say, money is involved in this development!

We live in a tower block of apartments, however the tower blocks on either side all contain offices so I often look down at the communal gardens and see groups of young white-collar jianziworkers jackets off, sleeves rolled-up, having a game of Jianzi during their lunch break.

In the early mornings here in China you see many elderly and middle-aged people in the public parks; they do Tai Chi, sword play, or fan dancing and ball-room dancing,  but many of them just play Jianzi on their own as it is excellent aerobic exercise.

It is well known that the Chinese invented gunpowder, fireworks, compasses, paper, umbrellas, moveable type for printing etc etc – but the pundits writing about Chinese inventions never mention Jianzi/hacky sack – so I decided I should redress the balance!

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Zuo yuezi – Sitting the Month – the 30 days after giving birth.

11-Taylor-111To our great joy we have a new addition to our family, our second grandson was born in the USA 12 days ago. Needless to say we are all absolutely delighted.  As you can see he is an absolute poppet, and I can’t wait to give him a cuddle.

When I have told Chinese friends about AMT’s arrival and how my DD and the baby are getting on, they are aghast. If my DD knew how she would be expected to behave in China during the postpartum period, I think she would be flabbergasted.

Here in China (as well as in Taiwan and Hong Kong) the ancient established custom of   Zuo yuezi  坐月子 still holds sway.   Zuo yuezi means ‘Sitting the Month’ and applies to the 30 days immediately after giving birth, and more-or-less means exactly that. The new mum (whether it is her first child or not) is expected to stay indoors at home and rest – with feet up.  There are many rules as to what she can or cannot do.

Zhou Chunzhi (R) lies on a bed in a tent

  • She must stay indoors for the whole time with few if any visitors apart from her mother-in-law (who is in charge) and her own mother.
  • She should spend most of the time lying in bed.
  • She should do no work, no housework, no lifting, cooking or anything like that.
  • She should keep warm at all times, and this means wearing pyjamas or long-sleeved t-shirts and long trousers, thick socks(essential), and in winter a warm hat and gloves are advisable.
  • Because she should keep warm, no air-conditioning or fans are permitted – even in the height of summer.
  • She is not permitted to take baths or showers for the full 30 days.       no showers
  • She is not permitted to wash her hair for the full 30 days.    [Some die-hard practitioners say she should not even clean her teeth!]
  • She should not read, watch TV or DVDs, send or receive text messages, take calls on her cell/mobile phone or a landline, play on her iPad.   Listening to the radio or music is ok.
  • Crying is not advisable during this time.
  • She should only eat ‘warm’* foods such as chicken, mutton, pork, ginger, garlic, oats, walnuts, leeks, and pumpkin to counteract the ‘coldness’ of the postpartum month.
  • She should not eat ‘cold’* foods such as fruit, raw vegetables, wheat, millet, crab, celery, cucumber, asparagus or seaweed.   No spicy foods, no salt.
  • She should drink plenty of lactation-stimulating soups made with ingredients such as pork trotters and peanuts, or fish with sesame oil, green papaya and goji berries.
  • She should not drink cold fluids of any kind, warm liquids are best but tepid are tolerated.
  • She must not take alcohol, caffeine or nicotine.
  • Needless to say, no sex.
  • She is advised to wear a post-natal girdle (which usually consists of about 10m of cotton fabric wound tightly round the belly area) in order to flatten the stomach.
  • She should not cuddle the baby too much as that will encourage dependency, and the baby’s soft bones may not become as straight as they should be. (!)
  • If she insists on breastfeeding the baby, she should do so lying down, with the baby placed beside her, rather than sitting up and cradling the baby on her lap.

During this period of time she will be instructed on how to care for the infant by her M-i-L and her mother.

These practices, which have been slightly amended for today’s world, go back to about the 1st century BC – apparently they are mentioned in the I Ching – and yet they are still observed by millions of  women here and in the wider Chinese diaspora, though not all of them stick to all the rules listed above.   I was curious as to why a modern young woman would decide to follow even part of such a very prescriptive regime in this day and age.  After talking to as many Chinese women as I could and asking lots of questions I came to the following conclusions:

1.   There may be a lot of pressure from the woman’s mother and/or mother-in-law to do so, and she wishes to please her husband’s family and her parents by doing the ‘correct’ thing.                                                                                                                                                      2.   She believes that, as TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) says, it will help her replace lost nutrients and regain her physiological balance after the birth.                                         3.   Having been told repeatedly that if she does not do so, she will suffer health problems in later years, she doesn’t want to take a chance.  This particular belief is widely held, I was told by one woman (now in her 50s)  that her current foot problem was all because she had not bothered to wear socks during her Zuo yuezi 30 years previously.

Here in Beijing, as well as in Shanghai and Hong Kong, luxurious post-natal facilities have sprung up to serve the well-to-do mums who want to spend their Sitting the Month in what is akin to a 5* hotel, with qualified nurses to attend the new-borns, doctors on 24hr call, appropriate meals prepared and served and every whim catered for (as long as it doesn’t break the rules).  These establishments charge up to US$ 500 per day, and for 30 days that amounts to quite a substantial sum to ensure that mum does nothing.

Having a new baby can be immensely tiring, and I would agree that in an ideal world (where you have someone to pick up the housekeeping chores ) having a week or two of quiet resting time after the birth allows both mother and baby to spend peaceful uninterrupted hours bonding and getting feeding well established – but no hair washing?  no showers, no phone calls, no air-con in the heat of summer?

If I tried to suggest such a regime, I can imagine what my DD would say to me!


** To explain ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ foods is difficult; in Chinese food culture these terms do not refer to the temperature of the food. Every food is catagorised as being either ‘warm’ or ‘cold’ and depending on one’s age, stage and health, one should be eating the appropriate type of food.  For example, foods that are considered ‘warm’ include: mutton, anchovies, chicken, ham, oats, pumpkin/squash, garlic, ginger, leeks, walnuts, cinnamon, soybean oil…   so a slice of cold roast lamb is a ‘warm’ food, if you see what I mean.  It’s a minefield.








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