Mrs. Cai Xiaoli, spouse of the Chinese ambassador to the EU, at the Asia-Pacific International Bazaar and Fashion Show in Brussels on 18 June 2019. (Photo: China mission to the EU)


China celebrates women's day, despite corona epidemic

EU & the World
by Koert Debeuf, Brussels,

Interview with Mrs. Cai Xiaoli, spouse of the Chinese Ambassador to the EU.

EUobserver: There are now more than 80,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in China. How does that affect daily life in China?

Cai Xiaoli: The unexpected COVID-19 outbreak came right before the Chinese Spring Festival. It affects the normal life, the economy, especially the health and safety of people. The Chinese government made a quick and effective emergency response. The Chinese people followed the advice of the government, try not to go outside or have gatherings. To date, the outbreak in China has been well contained and positive signs have appeared. Spring is coming.

EUobserver: You must have family living in China. Are they panicking?

Cai Xiaoli: I am indeed concerned about my family in China, and worried about the situation of our compatriots at home. This is only natural because of the outbreak. An epidemic that is highly contagious and endangers human health causes fear. Fortunately, my family are calm and cool-headed. They do what needs to be done to protect themselves and others. I think fear does not make any difference and is harmful to physical and mental health. Take experts' advice, face the reality, and try to protect yourself and others.

EUobserver: The coronavirus started in China. In your contacts with European diplomats and other people, do you feel people are looking differently at China now?

Cai Xiaoli: I have been following the development of the outbreak and found different sayings about where it started. The virus is ruthless, but we humans have warm hearts. China has received donations and support from the EU and its member countries. Such warm acts have moved me deeply. I have noticed the discriminatory statements of some individuals and media agencies. But thankfully, what I have seen and heard in person are understanding, genuine sympathies and good wishes. Fear makes people irrational, so the key to winning this battle is to overcome fear and respond positively.

EUobserver: In Europe, there are now more than 2,000 cases in 18 different countries. What can Europe learn from China in tackling the virus?

Cai Xiaoli: The virus respects no borders. We need to face it together. China has put so much effort in fighting the outbreak, and has also gained valuable experience and bought time for the world. We are ready to share data and experience with our European partners and friends, and work with them to find a professional, proper and effective solution as soon as possible. I believe a country of 1.4 billion people that can put the outbreak under control so fast and efficiently must have some good experience to share. And this will be helpful to the European people.

I would also like to say that in Hubei province which is the epicentre of the outbreak, there are more than 100,000 female health care workers. I am proud of them! The Women's Day is coming. But they can't get a rest, nor to celebrate the holiday with their families. I would like to send them my very best wishes!

EUobserver: Do you think most Europeans are underestimating the outbreak if you compare it with how China is handling it?

Cai Xiaoli: Conditions differ from one country to another, and transmission varies from country to country and from region to region. As I see it, Europe has a sound public health system, good healthcare services, and rich experience in responding to epidemics worldwide. So I think European countries will assess the situation professionally and respond to the outbreak in the best way they could. I have confidence in Europe. And I don't worry.

EUobserver: We read that people who criticised the Chinese government for the handling of the outbreak have been arrested. Is this true? And if so, why?

Cai Xiaoli: I'm not aware of what you said. The Chinese society is open and inclusive, and the Chinese people are active in their thinking. If you speak Chinese, you will find different opinions on different topics on the Internet. I believe China, like European countries, is a country under the rule of law. In China, normal expression of opinion is also protected by law.

EUobserver: It is not often that wives of foreign diplomats and ambassadors want to speak up in the public and give interviews. What is the role of the Chinese ambassador's wife on a day-to-day basis and how do you find it to work as a woman in Europe in comparison to other parts of the world, where you have served?

Cai Xiaoli: Well, as the Ambassador's wife, I have the opportunity to get to know some friends in the diplomatic circle and friends from all walks of life in the EU and Belgium. I like to communicate with them. In the Chinese Mission, I'm an active organiser of cultural events, with singing, dancing, painting, handicrafts, cooking exchanges, full of interactions and happy sharing moments. Aside from being wife of Ambassador, I'm also a mother and a grandma. So I help organise courses for diplomats' children at different grades to learn Chinese, mathematics and the cultural arts. Therefore, I'm quite busy but happy, as I often hear diplomats saying "The Chinese Mission is like a happy family"!

I also used to be a professor in university, an executive of global enterprises and a chief consultant. Per my experience, I'd like to say European Women in general are more professional, independent, confident and ready to express themselves. I made friends with them, including some female journalists, who are really smart and humorous. We talked to the hearts as we are both women. I feel that cultural exchange is like a bridge, which can continuously improve mutual understanding and create resonance.

EUobserver: On 8 March it is women's day. How has the role of women in China changed through generations. How was, for example your mother's and your grandmother's life different to yours? And what changes do you expect for the coming Chinese generations?

Cai Xiaoli: As in Europe, great changes have taken place in the status and way of life of women in China. Chinese women's liberation has been a long historical process, but since the founding of the Peoples' Republic, the status of Chinese women has been significantly improved.\nFor example, my grandmother was a housewife who spent most of her time at home. She had bound feet and walked slowly. Her whole life was to about looking after her husband and bringing up the children. My mother, was encouraged to work like my father and be independent, holding up "half the sky". For my generation, I can choose the career I like, use my expertise and pursue goals of my own life.\nOver the past two years in Belgium, together with my female diplomatic colleagues, I enjoyed organizing a number of cultural exchanges and charity events, which helped deepen mutual understanding and friendship between the Chinese and European peoples.\nI believe that with the rapid development of China, the younger generation of women will be better positioned to achieve their own goals, as they have a global vision, stronger adaptability and competitiveness. They will create greater value and achieve greater success in their career development.

EUobserver: How important is 8th March in China and how would a normal family celebrate?

Cai Xiaoli: March the 8th is a charming day for women in China! Women usually take half day off and get together to enjoy the happy moment. We receive beautiful flowers and gifts. Husbands or boyfriends express their love and appreciation like "Valentine's Day". We feel a little pampered like the apple of the palm, and feel happy to be a woman!

EUobserver: Do you have a special message to women in Europe?

Cai Xiaoli: Europe has a long history of "women's liberation", with an early start and a solid foundation. As the global economy faces more challenges, I see many countries and regions where women still need help to improve their living conditions, education, health care, skills, and career development. I hope the vulnerable become stronger, and feel the warmth from the world. As we often say, love shall be without borders! Also, I hope my European friends will positively respond to the epidemic. I wish you happiness and good health.


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