I grew up in a household of women. My father was the only man, so the Hui family was a woman’s kingdom. Every time I sit down to write about my family I imagine three women— my mother, sister and I, the three main characters of all my stories. I was raised by my mother. But if I’m being honest, I wasn’t only raised by her. There was Mei Fang. She was short, with a wide nose and hair scraped into a loose ponytail. She always smelled very faintly of fish. Rarely do I acknowledge the presence of her life in mine, and the times I do I am forced to reconcile with some knotted feeling of love and guilt, kinship and detachment. Perhaps I could have known her better. Perhaps what I don’t know about her illuminates something I have never explored. Here is her (re)constructed story. －
When I Try To Piece Together The More Invisible And Detached Parts Of Mei Fang’s Life
Mei Fang was my a-yi; the domestic worker that my parents hired when we moved to Shenzhen in 2002. What made Mei Fang different from basically every other person I met in Shenzhen was the fact that her family was actually local. They lived on Lingding Island off the coast of both Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Guangdong people through and through, Mei Fang’s family, pre-reform period, survived off fishing.
Shenzhen was China’s finest Post-Mao creation. Previously called Baoan County, it was a mainly compiled of fishing and farming villages. In 1980, Baoan County became China’s first Special Economic Zone, chosen for its geographical proximity to Hong Kong, a major commercial and industrial port. The population of young, skilled Chinese workers grew as they started working for transnational corporations that started to locate their factories and businesses there. In 1992, Deng Xiaoping embarked on the Southern Tour and visited Shenzhen for the first time. There, he crucially sided with the young workers actively rejecting the rhetoric of hardline Communist Party members who were concerned about Shenzhen’s turn towards consumerism rather than politics as their ideology.