Wei Huixiao, now 39, first impressed when she was studying at Nanjing University. Former US president George HW Bush visited and Wei – the captain of the university’s ‘etiquette team’ – presented him with flowers. “When she used her flowing English to congratulate Bush, he grasped her by the hand and said, ‘You’re a very beautiful woman’,” a member of the faculty told Legal Evening News.
Brains over beauty
After Wei graduated she joined Huawei and became an executive assistant to a senior manager. But she gave up a high salary to go back to study at Zhongshan University for a master’s degree. There she started volunteer work, moving to Tibet for a year to teach and then organising aid relief for the victims of the Sichuan earthquake in 2008.
In 2010, while working on her doctorate in earth sciences, Wei hit upon a new career goal: to join the navy and work on China’s first aircraft carrier. According to the state-run magazine Women of China, she wrote in her application letter, “My dream is to be an ordinary crew member and spend my days fighting the wind and waves.”
Wei joined the navy to serve on the Liaoning (which had been purchased from Ukraine and refitted, see WiC250) and has since become a vice-captain. That’s provoked a lot of commentary, although not much insight (according to regulations, Wei can now ‘manoeuvre a ship under normal circumstances’, the media reports). But her case is an interesting one because of its occasional parallels with the “model workers” of the past, whose life stories were intended to inspire the rank and file. Lei Feng, an infantryman killed by a falling telephone pole at the age of 22, was celebrated for his commitment to the Party. Wang Jinxi, an oilman, battled with tremendous hardship before striking China’s first black gold, and Qiu Shaoyun burned to death rather than alert the enemy (see page 18).
Wei seems very capable and it’s good news that women can aspire to senior naval rank. But there are occasions when the media lays it on a little too thick. In one early test, sailors were told to find 10 cabins around the carrier inside 30 minutes. “Wei completed the task in only 19,” China Youth Daily relates proudly. And naturally, Wei’s patriotism is intense – there are moments when she can’t help sobbing, overwhelmed by her “strong sense of mission.”
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