On February 24th, KvinnoKapital had the privilege to host Julia Axelsson for a virtual afterwork with the title “Glimpses of China”.
Julia is a well-known member of KvinnoKapital, given that she is also the founder of our network. She spent over 20 years in finance, covering different positions within portfolio management, asset allocation, fund management and risk management. Along with a successful career in finance, she has spent five years in China: 2008-2010 in Beijing and most recently 2018-2020 in Dongguan, Guangdong. Upon returning from China, Julia has joined Stockholm-based sustainable investment news and research platform NordSIP as a Senior Research Director.
The event was well attended: almost 25 ladies connected virtually at 5.00 pm on February 24th to listen to Julia’s experiences from China. Summarizing five years spent in China is really not easy, having lived and worked in two completely different locations (Beijing and Dongguan), with tons of photos available, lots of exciting places visited during these years, new friends made, both among locals and ex-pats as well as lots of people met on the job.
Julia decided to tell her story by introducing us to some of the interesting women she has met during her time there. Some of these women became true friends, others were just simple encounters, and some she met through work. By introducing us to these women, she shared with us what she has learned about the country and its culture, her impressions and experience.
One of these women is Tracy, a good friend of Julia’s.
Tracy is now a tourist guide in Dongguan, very knowledgeable about the city’s history and culture. She is a rare Dongguan native in a city to which more than 80 % of the 10 million population have migrated from other parts of the country. Deeply passionate about her job, Tracy is a person that embraces novelty and is unafraid but also a person extremely respectful of the traditions of her country. Being over 30 already, she is considered too old to marry, and she has simply accepted “her fate”.
Accepting fate and respecting culture and tradition was a consistent topic in almost all women’s stories told by Julia. Like the story of Li Cuiwei, the doll maker who decided to leave a successful career to take over the trade of making traditional clay dolls, just because the heritage would have otherwise disappeared with its last master. But Li Cuiwei is a very happy person and unafraid to leave her previous job to jump into another adventure.
Quitting the job even without a back-up plan or without having ensured another job is actually quite typical in China and for Chinese women. Chinese women are not afraid of changes. It is, after all, a very dynamic country and opportunities and job possibilities are just around the corner. But it is also a life of hard work, often sacrificing life balance.
Perseverance, diligence, hard work, lack of life-balance are characteristics that many women in Julia’s stories shared, like Jennifer and Linda. Jennifer, a hard-working engineer, sees her daughter only during the weekends due to her busy lifestyle. Working at a big Beijing market, Linda has successfully raised her status from immigrant to a respected businesswoman and often takes her children with her to the market so she can spend some time with them.
The story of the “Self-Combining-Women” almost at the end of Julia’s presentation was also an amazing one: these were women who decided not to marry, to go and work as maids for wealthy families and send money back to their families, supporting both families and the community. By sacrificing their marital status to work as maids their whole life, these women were welcome, upon their return to the village, to share a house with other women that have made the same choice, thus sharing sisterhood.
From one story to the next time flew and the picture of China that the audience received was of a very dynamic and creative country with a lot of opportunities and deep respect for culture and tradition. Unfortunately, for some women, this respect for the past is so strong that they do not dare to rebel or try to change their path or fate. So sometimes, this becomes a trap. It is for many women, a life with a very complicated working lifestyle and balance.