Shanghai Pathways Blog

Understand ​China​ ​From the Local ​Perspect​ive


December 2011

Compassion for Migrant Children

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There are an estimated 110 million migrant workers in China aged between 16 and 40 years old. They left home in the hope of building a better life for themselves and their family, yet when they start a family of their own, they are faced with a stark choice; either take their children to the cities and subject them to institutionalized discrimination, or leave them behind in the countryside in the uncertain care of relatives. 

Luckily in 2010, Shanghai became the first Chinese city to provide free education to all school-age children of migrant workers, through more government investment in facilities and teachers.  Compassion for Migrant Children(CMC) builds community centers in the heart of migrant neighborhoods, they offer programs for migrant children and their family.

The CMC Shanghai community center is about forty minutes drive outside of city center. It is located inside a huge wet market where you can find alive chicken, fish, meat and all kinds of veg. We went to join their reading program and worked with groups of 1-3 students to read kindergarten and first grade-level books in English. The program objectives are to help the students get excited about English, have fun learning English, and improve their reading skills.

Shanghai Girls

When I first heard about Lisa Lee, it is because of her famous book of  Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. However I was not able to find the book in Shanghai and so only watched the movie. Perhaps it was because that my expectation was too high, the movie seemed a bit disapporting. 

One day I find Shanghai Girls and I was really tired when I finished the book. It was one of those where I had to stay up one night to finish it because when I tried to put it down, the story kept turning over in my head. I do have to admit that part of me kept wondering what else could go wrong as the story progressed. This is a wonderful book filled with dynamic history and rich characters and more important it is about woman from Shanghai – the city where I was born and raised.

Shanghai Girls is about two sisters, Pearl and May, who leave Shanghai in 1937 and go to Los Angeles in arranged marriages. It is a story of immigration, identity, war, and love, but at its heart, Shanghai Girls is a story of sisters. Pearl and May are inseparable best friends, who share hopes, dreams, and a deep connection. But like sisters everywhere, they also harbor petty jealousies and rivalries.

Shanghai/China in 10 minutes

About China


About Shanghai

The Avocado Lady

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There is always something special about Shanghai, the famous Avocado Lady is one perfect sample. If you start talking about the Avocado Lady to English speaking Chinese people, probably none of them will understand what you mean and wondering if it is an urban myth. But to many expats she is one of Shanghai’s urban legends. Known as the Shanghai local business owner Jiang Qin, her claim to fame is the selection of imported foods she stocks at her small grocery store on Wulumuqi Lu which undercut prices at Cityshop and the like. Now, it’s easy to overlook the place (actually, the number of foreigners shopping in the place is a big hint to finding it and the store’s been so successful it’s doubled in size) but step inside and you’ll find a good range of imported cheese and rare finds (Do you like Sichuan pepper in your cheese? She’s got it.), meats and fish, herbs, spices, olives, mustards, jams, the list goes on and of course those famous avocados for 10RMB per piece.

The personal story of this interesting and hard-working woman is really inspiring. 20 years ago, she came to Shanghai from Nantong(a nearby city around 3 hours by bus). And she started small business of a vegetable and grocery store. During the years, she learnt how to speak English and western cooking from her expats clients. Amazingly, she is always able to find special things that her clients wanted to buy. This made her different and stand out from the crowds.

As I know from talking with her, Ms Liang tought herself English, and learnt it by being open, chatting with her clients. Without computer and internet skills, she is able to search things that people can not find in Shanghai. In 365 days, she will only rest for 3 days and go back to her home town during the Chinese new year, the store opens every day at 4:30am.

Honestly, I am not sure if I can do better…

The Rape of Nanking

Ever since that I got a group request of visiting the Nanjing Massacre Museum for Feb 2012, I started to reseach more about this part of the Chinese history. 

Little by little, I got access to books, photos and archives, but I did not read The Rape of Nanking until today. The reason is simple, the person who recommended me this book has said that herself could not finish the first 10 pages as it was very depressing to read, even its author Iris Chang suffered a nervous breakdown and killed herself in 2004.

Looking at Iris, she is beautiful, the best-selling author, mother of a boy… I am not sure what to say towards her tragedy.  So when I am finally decided to looking into this book, I have been prepared and ready to absorb all the disturbing historical infos….still it has been really overwhelming and too powerful to handle, cruel images and the craziness of the war filled up with my head and making me feel uneasy with the comfort of my real happy world.

Yet, I am still counting on the date of visiting the Nanjing Massacre Museum and the emotional feelings which will embrace me.

China has endured much hardship in its history, as Iris Chang shows in her ably researched The Rape of Nanking, a book that recounts the horrible events in that eastern Chinese city under Japanese occupation in the late 1930s. Nanking, she writes, served as a kind of laboratory in which Japanese soldiers were taught to slaughter unarmed, unresisting civilians, as they would later do throughout Asia. Likening their victims to insects and animals, the Japanese commanders orchestrated a campaign in which several hundred thousand–no one is sure just how many–Chinese soldiers and noncombatants alike were killed. Chang turns up an unlikely hero in German businessman John Rabe, a devoted member of the Nazi party who importuned Adolf Hitler to intervene and stop the slaughter, and who personally saved the lives of countless residents of Nanking. She also suggests that the Japanese government pay reparations and apologize for its army’s horrific acts of 60 years ago.

Art or Food?!

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There is one eye catching and breath taking place called the Pan Garden, it hides in one of the best protected old lanes in Suzhou. In the past, the house was a private home of the richest family in the city with a history of over 150 years. Now it turned into a very fancy Suzhou flavor restaurant named as Li Geng Tang. There are only 4 tables inside 4 different houses of this garden and you need to book it days in advance with a deposit. The min. charge per perosn is RMB400 and it goes all the way to as high as RMB2000. Interestingly, they do not have a menu.

Since I never miss a good meal, I went  there to check out, the experience was beyond my expectation…the food looks too beautiful to eat, the house takes you back in to the old life and more important the taste was very authentic.

Next to the dinning table, they even prepared a bed for you after the big meal….heaven on earth.

SSO Chamber Concert

Normally for concert, I will go to Shanghai Oriental Art Center – but honestly, I am not a big fan of classical music, just follow with friends who happen to have the extra tickets.  And every time when I was there, I wished that I know abit more about the history of the music or the story of the composer. 

So when I walks by Hunan road, I noticed the building of SSO Chamber Concert(Shanghai Sympgony Orchestra), finally yesterday I paid a visit with 2 friends. Strangly, it was so much better than what I thought it would be for a ticket of only RMB30 – that’s what would cost you for a starbucks coffee in Shanghai.

It is the only none – profit chamber music concert in Shanghai. The place is very basic, simple chairs filled the place and yesterday night was full with mostly Chinese people of different ages and back ground. There is a very friendly feeling compare with the big fancy SOAC, it is like a working place and the concert was great. I found out that I liked Faure’s music and listened to Piazzolla for the 1st time, good for the ear!

They play every Friday at 7:30pm, I will surely go there again.

They Chose China

Who would believed that such story happened in China? I wonder…. In the end, people are alike.

In this feature documentary, Oscar-nominated filmmaker Shuibo Wang (Sunrise Over Tiananmen Square) aims his camera at the astonishing story of 21 American soldiers who opted to stay in China after the Korean War ended in 1954. Back home in the United States, McCarthyism was at its height and many Americans believed these men were brainwashed by Chinese communists. But what really happened? Using never-before-seen footage from the Chinese camps and interviews with former prisoner of war (POWs) and their families, They Chose China tells the fascinating stories of these forgotten American dissidents.

Guanyin Pusa – Legend of Miao Shan

Guanyin is an extremely popular Goddess in Chinese folk belief and is worshiped in Chinese communities throughout East and South East Asia. Guanyin is revered in the general Chinese population due to her unconditional love, compassion and mercy. She is generally regarded by many as the protector of women and children. By this association she is also seen as a fertility goddess capable of granting children. An old Chinese superstition involves a woman wishing to have a child offering a shoe at a Guanyin Temple. Sometimes a borrowed shoe is used then when the expected child is born the shoe is returned to its owner along with a new pair as a “thank you” gift. Guanyin is also seen as the champion of the unfortunate, the sick, the disabled, the poor, and those in trouble. Some coastal and river areas of China regard her as the protector of fishermen, sailors, and generally people who are out at sea, thus many also come to believe that Mazu, the Daoist goddess of the sea, is a manifestation of Guanyin. Due to her association with the legend of the Great Flood, where she sent down a dog holding rice grains in its tail after the flood, she is worshiped as a rice goddess. In some quarters, especially among business people and traders, she is looked upon as a Goddess of Luck and Fortune. In recent years there have been claims of her being the protector of air travelers.

Believe it or not, there is an amazing story about her:

According to the story, a king asked his daughter Miao Shan to marry a wealthy man who is not caring, she told him that she would obey his command, so long as the marriage eased three misfortunes.

The king asked his daughter what were the three misfortunes that the marriage should ease. Miaoshan explained that the first misfortune the marriage should ease was the suffering people endure as they age. The second misfortune it should ease was the suffering people endure when they fall ill. The third misfortune it should ease was the suffering caused by death. If the marriage could not ease any of the above, then she would rather retire to a life of religion forever.

When her father asked who could ease all the above, Miao Shan pointed out that a doctor was able to do all of these. Her father grew angry as he wanted her to marry a person of power and wealth, not a healer. He forced her into hard labor and reduced her food and drink but this did not cause her to yield.

Every day she begged to be able to enter a temple and become a nun instead of marrying. Her father eventually allowed her to work in the temple, but asked the monks to give her the toughest chores in order to discourage her. The monks forced Miao Shan to work all day and all night, while others slept, in order to finish her work. However, she was such a good person that the animals living around the temple began to help her with her chores. Her father, seeing this, became so frustrated that he attempted to burn down the temple. Miao Shan put out the fire with her bare hands and suffered no burns. Now struck with fear, her father ordered her to be put to death.

In one version of this legend, when she was executed, a supernatural tiger took Guanyin to one of the more hell-like realms of the dead. However, instead of being punished by demons like the other inmates, Guanyin played music and flowers blossomed around her. This completely surprised the head demon. The story says that Guanyin, by merely being in that hell, turned it into a paradise.

A variant of the legend says that Miao Shan allowed herself to die at the hand of the executioner. According to this legend, as the executioner tried to carry out her father’s orders, his axe shattered into a thousand pieces. He then tried a sword which likewise shattered. He tried to shoot Miao Shan down with arrows but they all veered off.

Finally in desperation he used his hands. Miao Shan, realising the fate the executioner would meet at her father’s hand should she fail to let herself die, forgave the executioner for attempting to kill her. It is said that she voluntarily took on the massive karmic guilt the executioner generated for killing her, thus leaving him guiltless. It is because of this that she descended into the Hell-like realms. While there she witnessed first hand the suffering and horrors beings there must endure and was overwhelmed with grief. Filled with compassion, she released all the good karma she had accumulated through her many lifetimes, thus freeing many suffering souls back into Heaven and Earth. In the process that Hell-like realm became a paradise. It is said that Yanluo, King of Hell, sent her back to Earth to prevent the utter destruction of his realm, and that upon her return she appeared on Fragrant Mountain.

Another tale says that Miao Shan never died but was in fact transported by a supernatural tiger, believed to be the Deity of the Place, to Fragrant Mountain.

The Legend of Miao Shan usually ends with Miao Chuang Yen, Miao Shan’s father, falling ill with jaundice. No physician was able to cure him. Then a monk appeared saying that the jaundice could be cured by making a medicine out of the arm and eye of one without anger. The monk further suggested that such a person could be found on Fragrant Mountain. When asked, Miao Shan willingly offered up her eyes and arms. Miao Chuang Yen was cured of his illness and went to the Fragrant Mountain to give thanks to the person. When he discovered that his own daughter had made the sacrifice, he begged for forgiveness. The story concludes with Miaoshan being transformed into the Thousand Armed Guanyin, and the king, queen and her two sisters building a temple on the mountain for her. She began her journey to heaven and was about to cross over into heaven when she heard a cry of suffering from the world below. She turned around and saw the massive suffering endured by the people of the world. Filled with compassion, she returned to Earth, vowing never to leave till such time as all suffering has ended.

After her return to Earth, Guanyin was said to have stayed for a few years on the island of Mount Putuo where she practised meditation and helped the sailors and fishermen who got stranded. Guanyin is frequently worshipped as patron of sailors and fishermen due to this. She is said to frequently becalm the sea when boats are threatened with rocks. After some decades Guanyin returned to Fragrant Mountain to continue her meditation.

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