Woman (Nuxing)

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Brian Hennessy. China Australia Consult. 2005

Life in another culture can be a wild ride. Sometimes you are up, and sometimes you are down. But it is your spirit rather than your mood that is elevated when you live as an expatriate somewhere. Your senses are sharper, you notice things, and it is easier to connect the dots. And if you are not a one-eyed xenophobe, you can bring a global perspective to local issues.

Woman (Nuxing)


Early this morning on CCTV3, I saw a small strikingly beautiful woman from some minority group somewhere, probably Yunnan or Guizhou, being interviewed by a Beijing celebrity. It was one of those everyday talk shows that are beamed out around the Middle Kingdom.

Although I couldn't understand the language, it didn't matter. And as she spoke, a silent tear escaped from one brown almond eye and trickled slowly down her cheek – an illegal immigrant if I ever saw one, swimming for freedom on a CCTV3 set in Beijing. As she continued, another tear released itself, but she caught it before it got too far. A surreptitious dab with a tissue interrupted its journey south.

This is no self-centred sadness, I thought. This is a collective emotion. Something belonging to her people. I knew this. Felt this. No need for language. I had the dots… Perhaps it was from during the cultural revolution – her parents' generation suffered terribly during that time – particularly in Yunnan. Or maybe it was from some other time or some other suffering. Some other threat, invasion, or atrocity. Or perhaps drought, starvation, and natural disaster. A race memory of the cycle of prosperity and pain? A story of survival? Of loss? A poignant moment in recent history? Life as it is lived today?

The interviewer shedding a tear also, Buddha bless him, in silent respect for his guest as he steps back and allows her speak her truth – a moment of grace for us all.

This little lady, this little giant, smiling through more tears as she tells her people's story. No self-consciousness. Her spirit, her people's spirit, alive and electric before me. I feel it. Her son or brother sits beside her. Difficult to tell her age, but I suspect he is her son. He is also dressed in traditional clothing. Reflective, thoughts so palpable you could paint them.

The audience, her people, as proud and dignified and as she. She dances. The colours – the clothing meticulously woven or stitched or whatever – the beautiful colours. And simple graceful movements – subtle, silken, and suggestive. She sings. Telling the story again, affirming identity. A role-model for her younger sisters. Living proof of a viable ancient culture alive in a modern era. I envy their authenticity – their shared reality – their pride in their small surviving uniqueness. You can see the intelligence in her face. You can see it.

China has many such peoples – 56 minority peoples who are appreciated and valued now. These folks might be running last in the economic race, but on their own terms they are a runaway success. They are sure of their identity and their place in modern China.

This Chinese woman is aware of her responsibility to her younger sisters today. Her life is the example. No half-clothed vulgarity, yet sexual in her fully clothed movement and mystery. Nothing counterfeit – the genuine article. This lady – this woman – this representative of her minority culture in China today. This global ambassador for Woman. 

Naxi minority woman in Lijiang

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