SHENG JUN: When I was a child, my family situation was not very good. My parents had married because their parents wanted them to, so they didn’t really have any basis for their relationship. Also, my father’s family was not in a good economic situation, so their life was rather difficult after they got married. I was born in 1977. When I was 7 or 8 years old we lived in a house made of bamboo twigs covered with mud. We were really quite poor. My parents were arguing all the time, sometimes they would have fights in the middle of the night. Growing up under such conditions, I usually dreamt of horrible things. At that time, the people in the countryside were using those plastic nets against mosquitoes. My worst dreams were all about those nets. In my dreams they were huge and I would fall into them and keep falling and falling without ever reaching the end. Sometimes I dreamt that the sky was full of eyes, that scared me a lot. Those were my most frightening dreams when I was a child.
When I was a little older, my parents divorced. They started to earn more money and their life got better. So I had less nightmares, although I still hadn’t completely stepped out of my childhood’s shadow. Dreams are a reflection of a person’s mentality, so the fact that I had less nightmares meant that I was slowly recovering. My bad childhood was still influencing me, but the influence became less and less. Then my mother got married again and our whole life situation got better. Before her second marriage, we had no place to live and my mother had to pay for all our expenses including my school fees, although she earned only about a hundred RMB per month. After she married again, we had a place to stay: my stepfather was somewhat better off, he had a small TV set and even a small tape recorder. I remember our first visits to his place. My stepfather is a very cheerful person, he recorded my voice and then we played back the recording together. The tape recorder was not very good, it had a wobbling kind of sound, so the voice that came out of it was not really my voice anymore and it made us laugh so hard we almost couldn’t breathe.
My mother and my stepfather were very happy together at the beginning. My stepfather has two more sons, so now there were three children in the family. His house was not very big, only 50 square meters or so. They divided the living room in order to make a bedroom for the two other boys, and they made another room for me on the balcony. My mother and my stepfather shared a room together. It was somewhat crowded but we got along quite well. To me, these were very good conditions. My life improved but that didn’t help me get rid of my anxiety. I was worried all the time. My childhood had left a mark deep in my heart, subconsciously I was still carrying the shadows. For example, at school I would suddenly start worrying whether there would be anything to eat when I’d get home. I was always worrying about such things that were completely normal and ordinary for other people. For me they were a constant source of anxiety. During that time, my dreams were mostly related to school and studying. School was quite demanding and I needed to be strong and independent because my stepfather didn’t treat me the same way as his own children when it came to economic matters or education or indeed our daily life in general. Also I knew that my mother wasn’t really able to take care of me, so the only thing I could do was study so as to get a good education and maybe improve my life in that way. At least that was the way I though about it.
My mother married my stepfather in 1989. I was in the fourth year of primary school at that time. I actually didn’t like studying at all. I was not a very good student, I was doing all right, neither too bad nor too well, but I just didn’t like studying. As often happens in remarried couples, my mother and my stepfather would sometimes get into fights over their children. Every time that happened, I wanted to escape, I wanted to run away from home. I thought about that many times, over and over again. I asked myself: “What shall I do when I run away? I don’t know how to survive on my own, I don’t have any money, I would have to come back and beg their pardon, and that would only make my stepfather look down on me even more.” So at that point I understood that the only choice I had was to study hard in order to change my life by going to a good school. From that moment on, I knew that I even though I didn’t like studying, I just had to do it to improve my life. But in the end I didn’t really study that much because the pressure was too high.
The primary school I went to was not a good one. Later I was lucky to get the highest grade in the entrance exam for middle school, so I could go to the best middle school in Suining. But after the first round of exams at that school, I was number 42 of the whole class, which was almost the last rank. I was very distressed because in my class there were all the best students from my town and I wasn’t doing well at all. I wanted to make it at least into the top twenty. So I forced myself to study even harder. Children usually go to bed quite early, but I kept reading and studying until late at night, like eleven or twelve, every day. When I was in the last year of middle school, my father told me that if I didn’t make it into high school, he would send me to work in a textile factory. That sounded like hell to me, so I tried to study very hard. I went to bed late at night and got up at six o’clock in the morning, I was reading and reading all the time. I took all my motivation from the hope that I could change my life. But actually the way I was studying was not very efficient. Sometimes at night I was just too tired, I tried everything to keep my eyes open but I could not memorize or understand anything of what I was reading. Sometimes I was reading in English and I just couldn’t make sense of the sentences, they all sounded like nonsense because I was so tired.
Still, I was lucky and I got better grades because of my efforts. I managed to get into the Suining high school quite easily. This was the best high school in my town. I was still doing all right at high school, I always ranked in the middle and never got any higher up. I wanted to go to a good university, therefore I never considered going to a college. I knew that my family would not be able to help me get a good job, we didn’t know anybody and we had no money, so I had to make it into a good university.
This had always been my motivation. Sometimes I would study late at night and then the next day during class I could hardly keep my eyes open, so my grades always stayed on the same level, I didn’t get any better. I felt quite discouraged but I couldn’t find a better way of studying. This made me feel quite stupid. My stepfather told me: “You shouldn’t try so hard, maybe you’re just slow by birth, maybe you just aren’t so clever. You’re always trying very hard to get better, but you’re quite alright where you are now.” He didn’t want to spend money on my university education. When I took the entrance exam for the university, I didn’t do very well. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to go to university. But I had no idea of what I could do instead, either. I wanted to talk to my parents to see if I could repeat the last year of high school and then try to get into university again. My mother cried when she knew that I hadn’t made it. She said she was sorry and she asked me to forgive her. I said “Why?” She told me that she and my stepfather had prayed for me not to pass the entrance exam, they didn’t want me to go to university because they didn’t want to spend so much money.
Later I was lucky. My teacher had a good impression of me and helped me to persuade my mother, so I went back to high school to repeat the last year. This time I did really well, I always got high marks in the exams. There were other students who were in the same situation as I. Some time later, in 1998, the company my father was working for was looking for new employees. He had never wanted to spend money for my university education, he wanted to save the money. All he wanted was to find me a job so he wouldn’t have to take care of me anymore. So he wanted me to accept the job at his company, but I wanted to go to university. At that time, knowledge was less important than social connections in finding a job, but I felt that knowledge would become more important one day, and I was young, I still had many decades to live, so if I didn’t get a good start, I wouldn’t get many opportunities in the future. That’s why I wanted to go to university.
There was a family who had moved here from Xinjiang. Their son studied in Xinjiang and he wasn’t doing very well. So his parents came to my parents to make them an offer, because they had heard that I wanted to go to university and that my grades were good. They offered my parents 6.000 RMB if they would allow them to use my exam paper for their son in a job application exam. Basically they wanted to buy my exam paper. My mother wanted to say yes because she knew that I wanted to go to university. But my father didn’t agree, he wanted 10.000 RMB. The family didn’t want to pay that much, so the deal was not made. So in the end I accepted the job at the company. I made second place in the application exam, and I’ve been working at that company ever since.
During that time, my dreams had mainly to do with the pressure of studying. I dreamt about English exam papers, mathematics exam papers, Chinese exam papers. There were questions and tests everywhere and I couldn’t solve them. There were too many exam papers to write and I woke up because I was scared. Later, I got to know my husband. It was actually a coincidence. I have a very open personality. I didn’t have a good family background and I couldn’t go to university, so I always try to make sense of things for myself. I think a lot about how to live, how to be a human being, how to change myself, how to improve my life. I got to know my husband because a good friend of his was in love with a good friend of mine, so I heard about him from my friend. For example, I heard that he once had a girlfriend whom he had gotten to know through somebody else, they were together for a week, then they broke up, but he always felt sorry for that girl. I know a lot of men who never feel sorry when they break up a relationship, actually in many of those relationships it’s only the woman who is in love. So when I heard that about this man, I started to like him.
When I met him, I found out that he likes to have things tidy and clean, he always dresses well, his fingernails are always clean and his hair and words as well. He is a polite person, not as rude as many other people. He also had a difficult family background, he had to do everything by himself. He went to university and changed his life. I admire that very much. He is a nice person, his friends treat him well and trust him very much. He went to a good university and is very talented. All in all I found him to be a really good man, so I wanted to go out with him. But at first, he didn’t have a good impression of me, maybe because of things that other people had said about me. But I tried very hard, whenever he appeared in some place I would join up with him and talk to him, invite him out, so he could get to know me better and see that I was not a bad person as some people were saying.
When we started dating each other, he soon found out that I had a good character, so he started to like me. Our relationship got serious about half a year after we got to know each other. But then I saw that his situation was better than mine in every respect. He is taller, I’m only just above 1,40 so compared to him I always felt small and weak. Also my family background is not good at all, I didn’t go to university and I don’t have a diploma. When I started working, my salary was 100 or 200 RMB, but his was 300 RMB. He worked for a very successful company, China Mobile. So I thought he was better then me in every way, and I always felt inferior to him. My dreams during that time were mainly about my fear that he might leave me. I dreamt that he had found someone else, that he would dump me, that he wanted to split up. I dreamt that we were fighting and arguing. Sometimes I would wake up because I was crying in my dreams. Then I tried to comfort myself. I have a habit of talking to myself, because when I was a child I used to be alone a lot and when there was nobody to talk to I would talk to myself to comfort me. Nobody knows better than yourself how you feel. So I always encourage myself and tell myself to relax and take things easy.
So I said to myself: “If one day he doesn’t like you anymore and wants to be with another girl, you can’t do anything about it. So instead of worrying about the future and being afraid that he might dump you, just make sure that you have a good life every day.” Day after day I said this to myself and now I’m starting to feel better. I try to look at the good side of life, to look for happiness and sunshine. If I treat everyone in this way, they will do the same to me. So now I feel that everyone is nice to me. At work, my supervisor and my colleagues take care of me, they teach me patiently when I don’t understand something, they help me with my personal needs as well. So now my family life and my career are going really well. Now I have pleasant dreams. I dream about watching movies, Kung-Fu movies or love stories. I also dream about playing Mahjong, which is the most widespread pastime in Sichuan. I dream about having good cards. So now I always have good dreams. That’s my life experience.