Ella – only a girl

I met Ella in Shanghai. She had travelled from South China to make a living. She was only 16 years old, orphaned and without an education. A fatal destiny if you don’t have the genes of a Kongfu warrior.

Ella Zhao, Jinping Zhao in Chinese, might be the toughest woman I know. Beautiful as a blossoming cherry tree, graceful as a rice field and tough as a Kongfu warrior! Most Chinese take a western name in addition to their Chinese name. “I chose Ella, like Bella, which means beautiful in Italian,” Ella explains. The name is incredibly well chosen.

No Social Security Number – No Existence
Ella Zhao was born in the city of Nanyang in the Henan province in Southern China. She was the youngest of her five siblings. Her parents couldn’t feed all their children counting two boys and two girls and little Jingping, nor could they afford social security numbers. Without a social security number you cannot attend school, receive medical care or other public services. You literally don’t exist.

Ella was lucky. She was adopted by a local farmer family who had only one son of their own, Wenkun Zhao. They had the DKK 2,000 to pay for a social security number for Ella. Ella lost the contact to her biological parents and grew up with her brother and her new parents and never knew that she was adopted.

In China the one-child policy is still partly in force. However, today you can pay the state to get permission to get child number two or even three.

The Fight for an Education
Ella’s father died when she was only 11 years old. ”He might have survived provided we had been able to afford medical assistance,” Ella tells. ”My brother, Wenkun, needed to start working to support our family when our father died.”

When Wenkun married, his wife wanted Ella to stop going to school and start working to support the mother financially instead of Wenkun. In addition, she through that it was a waste to continue school. Ella was however only a girl. Ella’s mother decided to move into another house with a cheaper rent allowing Ella to continue school. When Ella was 16 years old, the mother also died and there was no more options for Ella to finish her education. Ella needed to find a job. As a last desperate attempt, she contacted her biological parents. However, they refused her pleads for money for food and accommodation allowing her to stay at school.

DKK 2,000 monthly, a Dormitory and Free Meals
Sad and alone in the world, Ella moved to Jiangsu Kunshan close to Shanghai in the northern part of China. A heartless huge factory area offering low pay jobs for those in need. Ella got a job at an assembly line in a Chinese electronics factory, a bed in a dormitory together with her fellow workers and one free meal a day. Her pay was DKK 2,000 per month for eight hours of work daily, six days a week. Sufficient to survive.

After five years in Jingsu Kunshan, the young woman Ella moved to Shanghai. A metropolis counting 18 million inhabitants, city of hope, China’s commercial centre. A myriad of expensive high street stores and fancy hotels and millions of cars and taxis on elevated highways intertwining the skyscrapers featuring breathless light shows every evening after dusk.

Here Ella found a job in a pearl store in the middle of the city’s tourist mecca, Yuan Garden. Ella now earns DKK 2,500 per month and learns English through the many foreign customers in the store. During the evening she learns more English through the Internet.

Man Wanted ….
When I met Ella for the first time, I remember her saying: “I am so very relieved not to be alone anymore and having to manage everything on my own.” She had found a boyfriend, and next time I saw Ella, she happily announced that she was going to get married.

A few months later, when asking about the progress of the wedding plans, Ella told me that her boyfriend’s family had not found her good enough for their son. He was an educated programmer. Ella did not have an education.

Wedding and Baby
Ella moved back to her home province and shortly after a young man invited Ella for dinner. His name was Jun. He was running a tea store and had studied marketing at the local university.

Ella found Jun suitable for her future husband, and a short time after Jun’s family invited 400 guests to celebrate Ella’s and Jun’s wedding. In China, a wedding takes three days. The first day is the official wedding day. The bride wears a red dress and the groom a suit. The next day is the party day where the bride wears a white dress, as it is customary in the West. The third day is photo shoot day where the newly married couple wears a white dress and a suit or even something completely personal. Chinese families save up to these mega wedding ceremonies often counting several hundred guests.

Ella has now finished a course at the local tea school to learn more about tea and be able to provide for herself. She works in her husband’s tea store in Zhuzhou in the Hunan province and lives a happy life – empowered through her skills as a tea specialist and happy about her new family now even counting a little baby girl called Victoria.


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